The video may not be for the squeamish.
The eyewitness adamantly claims that he saw Trayvon Martin in the top-mount position, with George Zimmerman on the bottom crying for help. In 911 calls placed by apartment residents, Zimmerman can be heard crying for help 14 times over a period of 38 seconds, as counted by Sanford Police investigators. These cries for help immediately preceded the shot that ended the fight and caused Trayvon Martin’s demise.
Much of the media has chosen today to focus on editorializing done by the Sanford Police Department investigator in his capias request (request to arrest), which concluded:
The encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement, or conversely if he had identified himself as a concerned citizen and initiated dialogue in an effort to dispell each party’s concerns.
The investigator concluded that there was probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman for manslaughter, a request ultimately rejected by the prosecutor at that time.
It is undoubtedly true, in hindsight, that if George Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle there would not have been as great a chance of a conflict, but Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson says that is “legally irrelevant“:
Getting out of the car, in itself, is not provoking the use of force. The prosecution would have to show Zimmerman started the fight, not merely that he was in a place he has a right to be.
Even so, Zimmerman would have had legal protection even if he initiated contact if the counter-force were deadly or threatened serious bodily harm and there was no way to escape. There would be a fact issue if, as some reports say, Zimmerman were on the ground being beaten.
These nuances will be lost in the media blitz, and you will hear how Zimmerman must be guilty because he got out of the car.
Trayvon Martin mounted George Zimmerman and began raining strikes down on him for more than 38 seconds, despite the fact that Zimmerman was clearly beaten and cried for help 14 times during that time period.
Legally this is where self-defense law, and possibly the “stand your ground” provision that is part of that law, becomes relevant, and it is the first and only time that it is relevant for either man in this conflict.
At this moment, did George Zimmerman have reason to believe that the continuing assault on him could result in his serious injury or death? Put another way, could a “reasonable man” in this exact same position and unable to retreat suspect that he was facing the possibility of death if he did not use lethal force to end the threat?
The information provided by this witness completely changes the dynamics of what we now know about the case.
There is the possibility that something is still sealed or in redacted testimony (or in George Zimmerman’s statements that were not released as part of the evidentiary process) that could provide enough evidence to warrant going forward with the criminal trial. After spending last night reviewing all 183 pages of released information, however, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion except that while Trayvon Martin’s death was both tragic and avoidable, it was ultimately a legally justifiable self-defense homicide.