George Zimmeman was found not guilty by a six-woman jury late in the evening of July 13, 2013. To try to understand why they came to that decision, consider the closing statements of the prosecution and defense. In many ways, they forecast that verdict.
In this backwards case — defense attorney Mark O’Mara called it the “bizarro case” — the prosecution plumbed improbable depths once more by springing a motion to send an alternate charge of third-degree murder to the jury. Third-degree murder in Florida is murder committed during the commission of a felony. The supposed felony here? Child abuse. Even Judge Nelson couldn’t warp the law to conform to that degree of lunacy, and eventually settled on second-degree murder with a lesser included charge of manslaughter.
The state’s closing argument:
Bernie de la Rionda’s closing was laced with supposition, innuendo, misrepresentation of evidence, unsupported accusations of Zimmerman’s lying, hysterical arm waving, pacing, and yelling at the jury. It stuck entirely to the narrative, not to the testimony. There were many mentions of Skittles, hoodies, and characterizations of Trayvon Martin as essentially a 17-year-old baby. De la Rionda presented virtually no evidence to fulfill the elements of either offense or to disprove George Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.
– De la Rionda infantilized Martin, initially saying he was “a barely 17-year-old man; I think he was three weeks past his birthday.”
– During his non-emergency call to the Sanford Police, Zimmerman, under his breath, muttered “f***ing punks,” and “a**holes,” obviously referring to the criminals — coincidently all young black males — that had been plaguing his neighborhood. De la Rionda, more times that can be easily counted, barked those words at the jury, actually shouting them out, claiming they were absolute evidence of ill will and hatred – the evidence of a depraved mind necessary for a second-degree murder conviction. This was as close as he would get to trying to prove any element of second-degree murder.
– De la Rionda claimed that Zimmerman was a master liar, concocting lie after lie, yet produced no actual evidence of his lying.
At one point, he grabbed the iconic photo of Zimmerman, his nose broken and bloodied, and dramatically slapped his hand over the mouth, yelling sarcastically that there was blood on Zinmerman’s head but not on Martin’s hands.
– As Dr. DiMaio — perhaps the most impressive witness and a man de la Rionda repeatedly mocked – testified, when one dies blood no longer flows. Also, he testified that what blood might have been on Martin’s hands — there was no evidence presented of blood on his hands — could easily have been washed off or wiped off (Martin’s body remained outside in the rain for hours). There was blood on Zimmerman’s head because he was continuously bleeding, replenishing any blood washed away by the heavy rain, and he was quickly put inside a closed police car.
– De la Rionda raised the idea – repeatedly — that because Zimmerman had two general law enforcement survey classes, he “studied the law” and could concoct lies based on an intimate knowledge of the statutes. This was a gross misrepresentation of the evidence. Neither of the teachers of those classes could testify that they taught any specific material to the class, or that Zimmerman was present, or that he was tested, or that he knew anything about those sections of Florida law.
– De la Rionda spent substantial time talking about his star witness, Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old woman who spoke with Martin by phone before his death. He actually minimized her intelligence and tried to convince the jury to believe her because she wasn’t very smart and was an awful witness, but she was “speaking the truth.” He produced no evidence of that “truth,” spoken by Jeantel or anyone else.
– It didn’t take long to play the first race card. De la Rionda actually told the jury not to disregard Jeantel’s testimony just because her family is from Haiti.
Jeantel’s horribly inappropriate behavior, her admitted perjury, and her lies and prevarications on the stand were more than sufficient grounds for the jury to accord her no credibility.
In one of several dumbfounding moments, he offered this gem:
Nobody knows if Rachel Jeantel is telling the truth but her.
De la Rionda’s second invocation of the race card was monumentally awkward and exploitative: De la Rionda referenced Martin Luther King’s stirring “I Have A Dream” speech. Like King, he began with “I have a dream,” but rather than urging equality, de la Rionda urged the jury not to judge Jeantel by her “colorful personality,” but instead by the “content of her testimony.”
– A continuing prosecution theme was that Zimmerman might as well be Anderson Silva. Di la Rionda claimed Zimmerman had “18 months of MMA fighting” training. This was a blatant misrepresentation of the testimony of Zimmerman’s trainer, who testified that after 18 months of training, Zimmerman’s skills improved from a .05 to a 1.0 on a 10-point scale.
– De la Rionda made much of the fact that no DNA or blood was found on Zimmerman’s gun. Yet this means nothing more than that: there was no DNA or blood on the gun. In this case, it proves nothing at all, and that too was established in evidence during the trial, making this yet another gross mischaracterization of testimony, as was his assertion that there were no fingerprints on the gun. One was indeed found, but as with DNA and blood, that had no bearing on the case.
– De la Rionda launched into a strange exposition about one drawstring on Martin’s mythic hoodie being longer than the other. He appeared to be suggesting that this was somehow Zimmerman’s fault and that it somehow indicated something bad, but there had been no such testimony and de la Rionda made no sense.
– In another strange rant, he ridiculed Dr. DiMaio (the man who actually wrote the book on forensic pathology), making fun of the fact that the brain has a minimum 10- to 15-second oxygen reserve, allowing movement and thought even if the heart is destroyed. He clumsily pantomimed removing his heart, mocking the time frame in a sarcastic, sing-song fashion. He ended that deceptive and strange comment by telling the jury: “I don’t know; you decide.” Decide what?
– Then, Skittles made an appearance. He kept mentioning that part of the narrative in a continuing attempt to portray Martin as a helpless, innocent child, as though anyone carrying Skittles could not possibly do wrong. Bizarrely – and in a manner that could legitimately be deemed racist — he added:
Skittles that he didn’t even steal from the 7-11, that he legitimately bought!
There had been no accusation that Martin stole Skittles. De la Rionda added that the innocent Skittles-carrying Martin was also wearing a hoodie, apparently asserting that there can be no more obvious indicators of innocence and virtue than a hoodie and Skittles.
– In perhaps the most cruelly cynical and deceptive statement of his closing, again trying to suggest that Zimmerman was once a martial arts powerhouse, de la Rionda said:
George Zimmerman was pretty fit then. Compare how Trayvon looked in the M.E. photograph.
De la Rionda was referring to the photo he showed the jury of Martin dead on the medical examiner’s autopsy table.
– In one of the most embarrassing moments of the trial, de la Rionda played portions of Zimmerman’s Sean Hannity interview, particularly focusing on Zimmerman’s clumsy use of “skipping” in describing Martin’s manner of fleeing. Zimmerman obviously was trying to say that Martin wasn’t in a full sprint, but was traveling at a faster than walking pace. De la Rionda adopted the mocking manner of a little girl, put his back to the jury, and actually skipped about 20 feet, lisping “he’s skipping away, la, la la!”
– In yet another bizarre moment, de la Rionda grabbed a mannequin another prosecutor had used, mounted it on the floor, and yelled “armpits, armpits!” He was trying to suggest that Zimmerman could not have removed his gun from its holster, and actually shouted: “How does he get the gun out?” He ended this bizarre spectacle by exclaiming: “The truth did not lie!”