Lessons From Zimmerman Part I

July 13, 2013
Dan Griffin

I am writing this within minutes of George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murdering Trayvon Martin on Feb 26, 2012. For those who have been following the case, you’ve seen that it has been a roller-coaster of evidence releases and governmental interference, both federal and state.

There are too many questions and issues to deal with in one piece, so perhaps I can address this in future columns, if needed. Initially I’d like to deal with just two, discrete, small but important pieces of the trial: justification and evidence.

Okay, I hear you laughing. Small, you ask? That was the entire trial! Perhaps not small, but relatively simple would perhaps explain it better, at least compared to the way the trial played out. I would note that this is neither an exhaustive nor a scholarly study of the trial, but just my opinion.  Perhaps Part 2 can be a response by one of our respected firearms attorneys as a rebuttal to Part 1. Let me see what I can do. Stay tuned.

We can debate whether George Zimmerman’s actions prior to the physical altercation with Trayvon Martin were wise, but they were not unlawful, so we’ll dismiss those for now. We’ll focus on one and only one facet of that encounter: the physical interaction.

George Zimmerman stated that Trayvon Martin attacked him first, punching him in the nose, driving him to the ground, and then straddling him, continued to beat him mercilessly while driving his head repeatedly into a concrete sidewalk. In fear for his life, Zimmerman drew his lawfully carried handgun and shot Trayvon Martin once in the chest. That 9mm bullet pierced Trayvon’s lung and lodged in his heart, killing him.

The State (prosecution) questions this scenario, positing that possibly Zimmerman started the affray and then ended up on the bottom, the worse for wear. In any event, the evidence supports the facts that Trayvon Martin was on top, pummeling George Zimmerman beneath him.

Some, including the State, however, argue that George Zimmerman’s injuries weren’t serious and didn’t warrant shooting his assailant. The question was asked during the trial, “Would the next concrete blow to the head have rendered him unconscious, or worse, even dead?”

Experts, including doctors and police, were asked that during questioning. Without exception they all stated that all it takes is one blow to incapacitate or kill someone, and that not defending yourself would be the wrong choice. One of the leading forensic pathologists in the entire country, Dr. Vincent DiMaio, testified in open court that you can get severe head trauma without ever sustaining an outside injury, and that the medical community sees skull fractures with no outside visible injury often.  Lacerations from a flat surface just shows how bad the impact was.

How do you tear your skin from impact on a flat surface? It’s pretty hard to do. Zimmerman had them. Additional blows compound the head trauma.

That’s not the way it works from direct, flat hits on flat surfaces. It wasn’t a scraping, it was a bash so hard it split the skin. Take the edge of your hand where you have some bone and smash it hard, straight down against a flat surface. How hard do you have to hit it to smash the skin so thin it tears? That’s what the doctors said happened to Zimmerman.

People die from compound trauma all the time, and it may not even happen immediately. Cases of high school football players who get their bell rung during a game but appear okay, then the next game when they get their head hit again, they die were brought up. It’s not the cut on the outside of the head, it’s what’s happening inside.

How much physical damage and injury should one be required to endure before defending himself or herself?

How insignificant would those injuries have been if Zimmerman had been unarmed? The gunshot was the only reason Trayvon stopped. Would those people have been as affected had Trayvon kept at it until Zimmerman was dead? Would any of us have even heard of the case if Trayvon had beaten Zimmerman to death?

As to evidence, I am not talking about physical evidence such as injuries or blood or DNA, I am talking about voluntary statements made by the defendant himself.

George Zimmerman thought he had done nothing illegal. In his mind he had only defended his life when absolutely necessary, thus he had nothing to fear. Or so he thought. He called the Sanford police nonemergency number and reported suspicious behavior, voluntarily spoke with the police all that night after the shooting, then did a video recreation of the incident with them the next day.

That is the only evidence the prosecution had against George Zimmerman, his own words.

At first they tried to use his words during his initial police non-emergency number call against him, trying to infer that since all the previous burglars had been black, that George Zimmerman hated and was profiling blacks, never mind that George didn’t describe the suspicious person as black until asked by the police, and that George had a lengthy history of helping blacks by tutoring them and advocating for them against the police.  It probably won’t surprise you to learn the prosecution hid this from the jury.

The prosecution also tried to use Zimmerman’s own description of the events to the police against him. George Zimmerman spent hours and hours with various patrol officers and detectives going over the sad events of that night. He voluntarily performed a video recreation of the event the next day. I’m sure he thought he had nothing to fear from simply telling the truth. Unfortunately he thought wrong.

The State of Florida, under pressure from the federal government, took authority away from the city of Sanford. State Attorney Angela Corey canceled the Grand Jury less than 24 hours before it was to convene to hear this case and decided to prefer charges herself because I think she knew the Grand Jury would no-bill it (choose not to prosecute).

In the end George Zimmerman found himself in court facing Second Degree Murder and a lesser charge of Manslaughter with no evidence against him except his own words. All the evidence the prosecution admitted was either easily proven wrong, perjured, or it actually supported Zimmerman. In its closing arguments, the prosecution said it presented evidence that didn’t support its assertion because it believed they had a duty to present all the evidence to the jury, even evidence that did not support its case. That is quite a fatuous tale. The fact is the State had little to support its case, but had to put up something. The prosecution tried to impeach many if its own witnesses. It was humorous and sad at the same time.

The prosecution (the State) then spent two hours in summation remaking its entire case that Zimmerman lied in his statements to the police, which they played in great detail point by point. They contrasted miniscule point against miniscule point, and they weren’t above lying outright, which they did nearly a dozen times that I counted. They never relied on their evidence, because it was either unreliable or actually supported Zimmerman. In the State’s summation they made an entirely new case that Zimmerman lied because in hours and hours of voluntary statements without an attorney, they perceived a few inconsistencies, whether they really existed or not. They used those to paint Zimmerman as an intentional liar and that he was trying to craft a defense after the fact out of whole cloth.

If this case does not stress the point of never talking to the police without an attorney, I don’t know what does. Most readers have probably already seen this video, but if you haven’t, stop what you are doing right now and watch it. Your future may depend on it.

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