The evidence continues to roll in on the Zimmerman case. While the new evidence is not entirely bad for the prosecution, it does contain some evidence that will likely bolster the defense of George Zimmerman in the second degree murder trial over the killing of Trayvon Martin. Regardless of the ultimate impact, the evidence again shows (in my opinion) that prosecutor Angela Corey over-charged the case in Florida.
Some of the new evidence shows that Martin had traces of THC (the active ingredient of marijuana) in his blood stream and urine. Martin was suspended from school due to a marijuana offense (though it involved an empty marijuana baggie). Another benefit to the defense is that Martin father is shown denying that the voice calling out for help was his son — though he later changed that view when he says he was given a better recording. Other witnesses have indicated that it Zimmerman who was calling for help.
Generally, the existence of drugs in the system of a victim or defendant is admissible. The suspension would appear inadmissible under standard evidentiary rules.
There is also evidence that some neighbors described Zimmerman as a bully and a racist. That would help bolster the reported hate crimes prosecution being considered by the Obama Administration, though I still have reservations based on the evidence as it currently stands. Also the police viewed the shooting as “avoidable” — if Zimmerman had left the matter to the police.
I am not sure how much of the neighbor’s view of Zimmerman as a bully or racist could come into evidence. Such accounts, however, can have the benefit of further discouraging Zimmerman from taking the stand as a witness — always a benefit to the prosecution because (while they are told that a defendant has a right not to testify (jurors expect to hear from defendants).
On the whole, however, I would view the evidence as more positive to the defense. First, I have previously said that I was most interested in the distance of the shot and forensics. It now appears that Martin was shot from an intermediate range (no more than 18 inches and as little as an inch away). That would support the claim of Zimmerman that they were in a wrestling fight when the gun was fired. The greater the distance the stronger the case for the prosecution. The defense will likely present expert testimony to try to reduce the range further on the stand. Also, the report does have people at the scene saying that Zimmerman’s nose appeared broken — supporting the later medical report of the family doctor (though such injuries could occur from Martin defending himself).
Moreover, at least two witnesses appear to support Zimmerman in describing the man in the hoodie at straddling the other man and throwing punches. The report state that the man in the “‘hoodie’ [was] on top of a white or Hispanic male and throwing punches ‘MMA (mixed martial arts) style.’ He then heard a pop. He stated that after hearing the pop, he observed the person he had previously observed on top of the other person (the male wearing the hoodie) laid out on the grass.” One report also says that Zimmerman can be heard yelling for help 14 times on a 911 call recorded during the fight.
While the reports blame Zimmerman for getting out of his vehicle (he says that he was trying to get a house number for the police), that is not itself a crime. Of course, none of this means that Zimmerman was not the aggressor. Given the presumption of innocence and the need to prove the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, this evidence presents an added problem for the prosecution in my view. I have expressed skepticism over the way the case has developed and how it has been charged from the outset. As a criminal defense attorney, I would view this as a strong defense case even on the manslaughter charge, particularly given the poor police work at the scene.
What do you think?
Here is the police report.