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The Trayvon Martin case

June 27, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
I'd really like to know why the prosecution decided to charge George Zimmerman with second degree murder in the death of 17-year-old teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012. At the very most, Zimmerman, 29, might be guilty of manslaughter. Based on what I know of the case, I don't think he should have been charged at all.

Zimmerman, a volunteer Neighborhood Watch captain, stands accused of profiling and following Martin, who was black, as suspicious and starting a confrontation that ended with the fatal shooting of Martin. Martin had gone to the neighborhood store to buy some Skittles. Zimmerman, who is half Hispanic and half white, claims he killed Martin in self defense after Martin jumped him and banged his head into the pavement.

The trial is ongoing in Sanford, Fla. According to ABC News online, this week jurors heard the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin's who talked with Martin on his cell phone just before the confrontation began. Jeantel testified that Martin told her a "creepy ass cracker" was following him. She told him to run and he said he was close to home. She said she heard Martin ask someone, "What are you following me for?" and then a "hard-breathing man" say "What (are) you doing around here?" She said the last thing she heard was Martin saying "Get off, get off." Jeantel couldn't say who threw the first punch. Other witnesses who testified didn't appear to have seen who started the fight either.

There was earlier testimony about the call that Zimmerman had made to the police complaining about Martin. Zimmerman claimed that the teenager acted suspicious because he was "loitering in the rain." During the call, he grumbled to himself about the "f--- punk" and said "these a----- always get away." The dispatcher told Zimmerman the police did not need him to follow Martin. The dispatcher testified this week that Zimmerman didn't sound overly angry or aggressive in the phone call.

Martin's autopsy indicates that the 5 feet 11 inch, 155 pound teenager was shot in the chest at intermediate range and had one small abrasion on his left ring finger. The defense released pictures taken of Zimmerman following the confrontation that show a bloodied head and facial injuries.

None of that can tell the jurors for sure who started the fight. Still, Zimmerman had a legal, concealed carry permit, was under no legal obligation to follow the dispatcher's instruction not to follow Zimmerman, and was legally permitted to defend himself with deadly force if he felt his life was endangered. If the confrontation had ended the other way around, with Zimmerman dead, Martin would likely also have been able to claim self defense. This sounds to me like a tragic set of circumstances that didn't have to happen, but certainly not second degree murder or even manslaughter.

How closely have you been following the Martin case? What do you think the verdict should be?


Article Comments



Jul-10-13 11:17 AM

I've seen some interesting analysis of the self defense statute and what "reasonable, prudent man" actually means. Was it reasonable for Zimmerman to get out of the car and approach Martin, if he in fact did so? If Martin did, in fact, punch Zimmerman in the face and knock him to the ground, banging his head against the pavement, was it reasonable for Zimmerman to pull the trigger to protect himself from further injury or death? The whole fight happened in a span of seconds -- I don't imagine a reasonable man would have had time to think rationally about the extent of his injuries or other scenarios for ending the fight. "Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife," to quote the Supreme Court in Brown v. United States.


Jul-09-13 10:48 PM

Thank you, angeR, for being Paul Harvey.


Jul-07-13 11:37 PM

"Under the Florida statute, a man has a right to use deadly force if he fears for his life or his physical safety. "

Andrea, I think the standard is that the use of deadly force is justified if a "reasonable person" would fear for his or her life or physical safety. So there is a test to be met. You can't just walk down the street, shoot someone, and say "I was afraid for my life."

That said, both the police AND the Assistant State's attorney Wesley White believed Zimmerman had reasonable cause to fear for his life AND that Zimmerman was NOT the aggressor. Charges were not brought until the story blew up in the press, and the prosecutor's office bowed to political pressure and filed charges under false pretenses. State's Attorney Angela Corey has since been indicted for falsifying Zimmerman's arrest warrant.


Jul-05-13 1:03 PM

Racism doesn't just hurt Black folks. We are all diminished by evil.


Jul-04-13 2:39 PM

This is a racist newspaper. Disgusting and disgraceful.


Jul-04-13 2:12 PM

Again, click the report abuse button on any post you think is inappropriate. I can't physically remove posts. Only the editor has that ability.


Jul-03-13 11:16 PM

I don't have the ability to remove comments. That's at the editor's discretion. Click the report abuse button on any comment you feel is inappropriate.


Jul-03-13 8:57 PM

There was no law against him getting out of the car, following or profiling Martin. The question is who started the fight and whether Zimmerman believed his life or physical safety to be at risk when he pulled the trigger. He claimed Martin punched him in the nose, he fell and Martin banged his head into the concrete. Martin supposedly saw his gun and Zimmerman feared he was going for it, so he reached it first and pulled the trigger.


Jul-03-13 2:01 PM

I can't believe how many people don't find anything wrong with this! I guy doesn't like the way a kid looks so he gets out of his car, against the police dispatchers advice, follows this kid and ends up shooting him dead! If he didn't break any laws, the laws need to be changed. I think the self defense claim goes out the window when you take your gun and follow someone just because you don't like the way they look. Seems to me Zimmerman was the one looking for a confrontation, not Martin. I wonder if the attitudes of all these gun toting vigilanties would be different if it were their un-armed kid lying dead from a wanna-be cop?


Jul-02-13 12:43 PM

So far, I have to say, all of the prosecution witnesses look more like witnesses for the defense. Unless the prosecution is saving its most powerful testimony for the end, I am distinctly unimpressed. The evidence looks very weak.


Jul-01-13 12:32 AM

I should have written "buying snacks to eat while watching a game on TV."


Jul-01-13 12:10 AM

I don't get cable, but based on what I've read about her testimony, I think Rachel Jeantel may have been unfairly criticized based on her demeanor on the stand, her accent, her appearance, her perceived lack of education, etc. She isn't the one on trial, after all, and she testified about what she heard during the phone call. Since she didn't actually witness the fight or know who threw the first punch, I don't think her testimony necessarily helped the prosecution. None of the rest of it is really relevant.

I don't think Martin's past is necessarily any more relevant than Zimmerman's. Martin was going to the store to get some snacks to watch during a game. Anything he did the day before doesn't really matter because Zimmerman had no way of knowing about it. All that should matter for the verdict is the seconds before the trigger was pulled and whether a reasonable man would have feared for his life or safety.


Jun-30-13 2:23 AM

There was no law in Florida against Zimmerman following Martin or asking what he was doing in the neighborhood. He wasn't legally obliged to follow the instructions of the dispatcher. Yes, it would have been wiser for him to do so. The tragedy could have been avoided if he had. But there's a difference between moral and legal culpability.


Jun-29-13 12:59 PM

It's a terrible tragedy and it didn't have to happen. But all the sorrow and outrage in the world over the death of a kid still can't be used to convict a man of murder.

Under the Florida statute, a man has a right to use deadly force if he fears for his life or his physical safety. I think both Martin and Zimmerman were in fear for their lives and either would have been found to have used justifiable self defense if the fight resulted in the death of the other. Unfortunately, Zimmerman was the one legally carrying the gun. It might have ended differently if he hadn't been.


Jun-29-13 11:44 AM

Reading this trash has made me sick to my stomach.

Had this been your teenaged child gunned down in the street like a dog -- I bet then you'd think the murderer should be charged.

This is a sickening disgrace to all that is decent and good in this world, and to God himself.


Jun-29-13 11:43 AM

Reading this trash has made me sick to my stomach.

Had this been your teenaged child gunned down in the street like a dog -- I bet then you'd think the murderer should be charged.

This is a sickening disgrace to all that is decent and good in this world, and to God himself.


Jun-29-13 9:44 AM

==Continued== That was law in effect in February 2012 when Martin was killed.


Jun-29-13 9:37 AM

It should have been "pavement," not "oavement" in the last message.

To answer your other question, Trayvon Martin was shot because he and George Zimmerman were engaged in a physical fight and Zimmerman felt his life was threatened by having his head banged into the pavement and his nose broken and he happened to be legally carrying a gun. Under that Florida statute, a reasonable person has to believe he's at risk of great physical harm or losing his life before he's justified in using deadly force.

None of this had to happen and Zimmerman bears a great deal of moral culpability for setting the chain of events into motion. But I don't think that makes him legally responsible under the statute. If the situation was reversed and Martin had killed Zimmerman, I think Martin would also have been able to claim self defense under the same statute.

Florida law might be dangerous because it includes no duty to retreat under those circumstances. That was the law in effec


Jun-29-13 9:08 AM

I'm typing on an iPad that garbled the last sentence. I don't think there is sufficient proof that Zimmerman was "gunning" for Martin. He called the police to report suspicious activity in the neighborhood, apparently followed Martin and asked why he was there. It wasn't illegal for Zimmerman to do any of those things. Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him. That's also not illegal. At some point it turned physical, but it isn't clear who started it. The witness testimony and Zimmerman's statement suggest Zimmerman was on the losing end and his head had been cracked into the oavement when he pulled the trigger.


Jun-29-13 12:49 AM

I doubt it. If he does end up being killed, It would say something pretty sad about the state of our society Under the strictest reading of the Florida statute, this guy should not have been charged.


Jun-28-13 8:45 PM

No difference. I still don't think he should have been charged and neither did the original prosecutor on the case. It was a fairly clear cut case of self defense. It would also have been self defense if Martin had killed Zimmerman. Mutual combat, ended in death because one of the men was legally carrying a gun. The only thing that matters legally is Zimmerman's state of mind and what was happening in the seconds before he pulled the trigger.

Now that he's on trial, I am still not hearing anything that suggests he should be convicted. It doesn't Zimmerman him a good or a wise man or mean that Martin did anything wrong if he tackled a man who was following him before Zimmerman had a chance to tackle him. It just means Zimmerman's life was threatened and he pulled the trigger in self defense.


Jun-28-13 3:18 PM

They just had another neighbor testify that he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman and Martin was making "downward motions" with his hands. He thought Zimmerman was the one calling for help. Earlier, yet another witness said she thought Zimmerman was the one on top. If they were rolling around, I suppose it's possible both were on top at different times. It's going to come down to who the jury believes is credible, but I haven't heard any testimony that would make me feel comfortable finding Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


Jun-28-13 2:36 PM

I'd probably find "not guilty" too. The evidence to convict just isn't there.


Jun-28-13 10:10 AM

Specifically, the relevant Florida statute says that a person is justified in use of deadly force and has no duty to retreat if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent imminent commission of a forcible felony. Under such circumstance, the statute says that the person is considered justified in use of deadly force and is immune from prosecution and civil action, unless he used force against a law enforcement officer performing his duties.

Sadly, I think that statute applied to both Zimmerman and Martin on the night in question. Both feared for their safety. Zimmerman had a gun (and a legal carry permit.)


Jun-28-13 9:13 AM

-- Continued --

But, again, Zimmerman's character leading up to the shooting doesn't really matter here, any more than Martin's character matters. Zimmerman is claiming self defense; under Florida law, all he needed to pull the trigger was a reasonable belief that his life was being threatened.

In a civil trial, it might be a different story.


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