2012/04/12

Trayvon Martin 1: Zimmerman Charged With Second Degree Murder

The right to search for truth implies also a duty: one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.
     --Albert Einstein

Now I'm really confused.  Or maybe not.


Yesterday State Prosecutor Angela Corey charged George Zimmerman with second degree murder, which is initially puzzling.  What evidence could she possibly have to support that charge?


If you've been living under a rock and aren't familiar with the Trayvon Martin shooting, scroll down for the facts and my comments in the section entitled Introduction.


I had started writing a post on the shooting about three weeks ago, but the draft snowballed out of control, into several subsections.  I will break down my analysis into several posts.  The most important post is my timeline analysis (to be the fourth post) which shows that Trayvon Martin must have laid in wait for George Zimmerman, leading to a physical encounter, and finally the shooting.


Getting back to the second degree charge, it was a "WTF" moment for me.  I had anticipated that political pressure would have forced State Prosecutor Corey to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter, even if conviction was unlikely.  While I have not studied Florida criminal law, the requirements for conviction for murder in general require a "malice aforethought" element which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  Manslaughter does not require any premeditation.


What evidence could Corey have to support a charge of second degree murder?  Possibly forensic evidence like bullet trajectory and gunpowder "tattoo" (or more importantly, lack thereof) that might possibly show that the shooting was not at close range, and more like an execution.  Possibly the bullet exited Trayvon's body and was recovered from the ground at the shooting scene (showing Zimmerman must have been on top during the fight).  But these possibilities are pure supposition.

Without conclusive forensic evidence she must convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman exited his vehicle and followed Martin with the express purpose of doing him harm.  Or that after they met up in the dark area between the townhouses Zimmerman was the aggressor in the physical encounter between the two.  Eye witness testimony is unreliable and probably is not a major part of Corey's case.  There is evidence in the public domain (initial partial police report) that is supportive of Zimmerman's claim of self defence.


Remember that Florida has what I call a "shoot the burglar with impunity" law, which is most often referred to as the "stand your ground" law for another provision, not dealing with burglars:
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
I'm uncertain whether the "stand your ground" defence can be raised prior to the murder trial, forcing the prosecutor to overcome it before proceeding to trial, or whether it can be invoked only during the murder trial.  Defence counsel in news reports seem to indicate the former is a possibility.  Which means the second degree murder charge could get blown out of the water before trial, and Zimmerman walks.


It is possible that Corey over-charged Zimmerman with the intent of scaring him witless, and forcing a plea bargain of a manslaughter charge.  Over-charging by police and prosecutors seems to be relatively common.  Considering that about 95% of criminal offences are settled through plea bargains, this allows the defence counsel to bargain down to a sentence that the prosecutor thought was appropriate for the crime.  The down side to over-charging is that the accused may not negotiate and may demand either a trial or exoneration; overly greedy prosecutors can get caught with their hands in the cookie jar.


A final consideration is that this is a presidential election year in America and Angela Corey is up for re-election.  She was fired by her boss, the State Attorney, in 2006 when she announced that she would run for his job.  She was elected in 2008 to that job, and did a purge of supporters of her former boss.  

Corey has a reputation as a "tough on crime" prosecutor; her critics, which seem to be largely from minority races, contend she abuses the authority of her office.  Currently she has a troublesome case where she "bumped up" a 12-year-old minor, Cristian Fernandez, to adult court on a first degree murder charge, but later made public comments that she didn't intend to try the case, but was looking for a plea deal.  See my comments on over-charging and prosecutors getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar, two paragraphs above.


Everything is political in the Unforgiving States of America, including who gets the licence for the hot dog stand at small town Independence Day celebrations.  By charging Zimmerman with second degree murder Corey caters to the black voters who have been whipped into a frenzy by the shooting.  Most whites will still support her anyway because of her overall "tough on crime" stance.


I'm no longer puzzled.  It is likely the murder trial will commence, if at all, after the elections on Nov. 6.  This gives Corey time to remain "tough on crime" and make numerous public appearances before the election, and then sneak her hand out of the cookie jar after.


Isn't American "justice" fascinating?  Of course this is only my opinion.
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UPDATE, April 13:  I posted the above material the morning of April 12 without checking to see what legal analysts had to say on the second degree murder charge.  This morning I came across this interview with Alan Dershowitz, famous defence counsel.  Note the similarities between what I wrote and his comments later that day on over-charging and politics.  


I would like to believe he reads my blog, but in reality those with legal training and a good analytical mind will tend to come to similar conclusions -- unless money, power, or politics intrude (and they usually do).


The material above and below this update remain unchanged.
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Introduction  
A fatal shooting occurred on February 26, 2012 at approximately 7:16 p.m. EDT in a gated community named The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida.  The deceased, Trayvon Martin (TM), was a 17-year-old black male. The shooter was a 28-year-old part Hispanic, George Zimmerman (GZ), (white father, Peruvian mother).  

Trayvon had been walking in the rain, returning from a 7-Eleven (hearsay only) outside the community to his father's girlfriend's residence in the community.  George Zimmerman had been driving the opposite direction, leaving the community, when he spotted Trayvon acting in a manner that George thought was suspicious.

George was the head of the community neighborhood watch, formed in 2011 due to several break-ins in the community, and phoned the police to see if they could dispatch an officer to check out the youth.  That call lasted four minutes six seconds; at two minutes seven seconds George stated "He's running", and exited his vehicle to follow Trayvon; the police dispatcher advised him "You don't need to do that."

George followed Trayvon, sounding as if he was running for about 20-30 seconds, then talking calmly as though walking for the remainder of the call (about 1 minute 15 seconds to 1 minute 25 seconds).  He apparently lost sight of Trayvon early in the pursuit.  

George and Trayvon met, probably about one minute after his call to police dispatch ended.  Then there was a struggle with screaming for less than a minute, prompting several residents to call 9-11, and finally the fatal shot.  Police arrived a few minutes later.


Newspaper and television coverage has been shoddy sensationalism filled with inaccuracies, so I wouldn't advise accepting anything from the media as truth.  Lately some of the worst Zimmerman bashers have been backing off their aggressive, biased accounts.

One of the best descriptions, as of today, is the Wikipedia entry.  It has links to most of the events, including calls to police, and police reports. 

Below is an image of the area from the 7-Eleven (A) to Trayvon's destination (B), a distance of about 0.9 miles according to Google maps.  (click for larger image)
I expect future posts to be:
Trayvon Martin 2: Community Crime Information
Trayvon Martin 3: Spin on Trayvon
Trayvon Martin 4: Trayvon Lies in Wait (timeline analysis)
Trayvon Martin 5: My Theory on the Shooting
Trayvon Martin 6: Similar Mob Rule Events
Trayvon Martin 7: Why is This Newsworthy?
Trayvon Martin 8: Politics
Trayvon Martin 9: Conclusions

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