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!”
He was again misrepresenting evidence. Zimmerman did not testify that Martin was always in that position, quite the opposite, and the fact that he was able to draw the gun — and the forensic evidence fully supports his account — negates de la Rionda’s assertion.
Just as the prosecution was not able to produce any evidence to prove the elements of the crime in the charging affidavit or to produce any evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s self-defense claim at the beginning of the case, they failed to do either in the closing as well.
The prosecution theory of this case remained the narrative, which is nothing more than leftist, racist philosophy about how things ought to be rather than a coherent code of law or social conventions. Trayvon Martin is innocent, childlike, helpless, and a victim because he’s black and was wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles, and that is all that should be necessary to convict a “white-Hispanic” of murder, because racial grievance-mongers anticipating an enormous payday and political advantage say so.
A detailed account of de la Rionda’s closing is available here.
The defense closing argument:
The defense closing ran a bit over three hours. It was a model of decorum, effective tone, organization, adherence to the law, and honest and precise analysis and presentation of the evidence. Mark O’Mara led the jury through a comprehensive tour of the evidence, just as a highly competent prosecutor normally does in a normal case. But this is the bizarro case, the backwards case, and de la Rionda had already delivered the B-movie defense closing.
O’Mara, speaking in a calm, measured voice, never screaming at the jury, explained that the prosecution’s closing was full of “what if,” and “could have been” — which have no place in the courtroom — and asked the jury to make assumptions and to rely on “common sense.” Whereas he asked the jury to rely on the law and the evidence.
He further told the jury that rather than prove reasonable doubt, he would prove that Zimmerman was absolutely innocent.
– Ill will, spite, and hatred: O’Mara ridiculed de la Rionda’s obsessive recitation of these accusations, rightly noting this was nearly all he said, and de la Rionda produced no actual evidence in support of these claims. O’Mara often challenged the prosecution to rebut him; they never did.
– The phone call: O’Mara asked what Zimmerman did when he saw Martin. Did he immediately chase him, draw his gun, and shoot him? No, he immediately called the non-emergency police line.
Zimmerman knew he was being recorded, O’Mara said. He acknowledged that Zimmerman used a few obscenities toward criminals, perhaps even including Martin because he matched the descriptions of the criminals plaguing the neighborhood.
He pointed out that Zimmerman provided Martin’s race only after being asked. This fact is of primary importance to the case, and was deliberately excluded in NBC’s reporting last year, which helped fire up the protesters. O’Mara has already initiated a suit against NBC since the verdict was announced.
O’Mara said that the jury should remember that it was de la Rionda and prosecutor John Guy who screamed obscenities — not Zimmerman. He noted de la Rionda wanted the jury to think Zimmerman guilty because he spoke a few obscenities under his breath on a recorded call to the police. O’Mara asserted that was evidence of innocence, and surely not of ill will or hatred. O’Mara told them there had been enough swearing, and that he would not do it again. He sharply stung the prosecution by saying that he had a tape of the prosecution screaming obscenities, but decided not to play it.
He encouraged the jury to compare their obscene screams with what Zimmerman actually said and how he said it.
– The “T”: O’Mara asked if there was any evidence that Zimmerman ran anywhere or ran after Martin after Zimmerman told the dispatcher “OK,” or even that he walked anywhere after Martin. There was not, and O’Mara again challenged the state to show that. They did not. O’Mara recited the credible witnesses, who in support of Zimmerman’s account, placed the beginning of the action at the “T” in the sidewalks.
– The four-minute gap: O’Mara produced a brilliant bit of courtroom theater, reminding the jury that Jeantel said that Martin was running for home. He gave the jury four minutes of silence to make the point. It seemed a very long time. After the time elapsed, he said: “That’s how long he had to run, about four minutes.”
The point: Martin had far more than enough time to be indoors and gone, but he chose otherwise.
O’Mara paused before a brief recess by asking if the prosecution showed the jury what Martin was doing for four minutes before the fight began at the “T”. Of course, they did not, a point the jury took with them as they left.
After the break, O’Mara told the jury they have to think about what Martin was doing for those four minutes. He said the first man ran a four-minute mile when he was about 12, and the distance Martin had to cover was only about the distance one could throw a football. He told the jury that they knew Martin had the opportunity to go home, but he didn’t.
“Somebody decided they were angry,” he observed. “It wasn’t over with the running; it only just began.”
O’Mara said it wasn’t about a cop wannabe or “stand your ground.” Martin didn’t go home when he had the chance. He laid in wait. O’Mara asked the jury to use their common sense.
– O’Mara made the point that Zimmerman gave the police six voluntary statements without the benefit of counsel. He emphatically asked the jury : “Tell the state: don’t ever come back before us with a case like this. Don’t ever do this to us.”
– Witness photos: O’Mara then began a PowerPoint series of photos of every witness that testified, along with brief text either explaining how their testimony supported Zimmerman’s account — most of the slides — or why they lacked credibility. Most of those slides were actually prosecution witnesses, whose testimony either fully supported Zimmerman’s account or who managed to destroy their own credibility.
O’Mara treated all of the witnesses gently, particularly Rachel Jeantel, saying that she didn’t want to be involved at all. He suggested — admitting it was conjecture — that it was her mother that wanted her to write a letter to Sybrina Fulton, but Rachel didn’t want to do that.
He pointed out that virtually no one can remember the specific contents of a phone call made long ago, saying: “Oh yeah, you want that too … ” just as Jeantel did in the interview with de la Rionda, a comment suggesting that her testimony had been coached.
O’Mara said: “Some of her frailties came out on TV and in the courtroom which she never wanted to come out.” He then took off the kid gloves, noting that her interviews were badly handled by attorneys, saying it was “horribly inappropriate” not to get her immediately to law enforcement (Benjamin Crump’s fault), and also to place her on a couch right next to Martin’s mother (de la Rionda’s fault). O’Mara did not specifically identify them.
– O’Mara told the jury he could not have imagined anyone better able than John Donnelly to identify a voice under deadly danger: “a medic in Vietnam,” a man who ran to screaming voices, able to identify them even as they screamed.
– Forensic and related evidence: throughout the day, two life-size gray fiberboard cutouts of Martin and Zimmerman had been leaning against the far wall of the courtroom, facing the jury. O’Mara stood them before the jury, and the difference was striking. Dressed as he was that night, Trayvon Martin was not only significantly taller than George Zimmerman, he appeared to be substantially larger and heavier as well. The cutouts were returned to the wall, a constant reminder.
– O’Mara held up the photo of a shirtless Martin from November 2011. He said “autopsy photos are horrific. They’re meant to have negative impact.” He explained that corpses have no muscle tone, in contrast to the muscular, unsmiling Martin three months before his death. He asked the jury to remember that was how Martin looked in February of 2012.
– Self-defense: O’Mara read the law to the jury, noting that “following someone is not unlawful under Florida law.”
– What the state hasn’t proven: nearing the end of his closing argument, O’Mara focused on the state’s omissions. He excoriated them for failing to call Tracy Martin, noting that if the state was really seeking justice, why did he have to call Tracy and Officers Serino and Singleton to give the jury the testimony from Tracy, who initially said the screaming voice in the Lauer 911 recording may not be Trayvon?
Why didn’t the state tell the jury about all of the burglaries in the neighborhood?
Why didn’t they produce experts on the use of force?
Why didn’t they produce experts to counter Dr. Di Maio? O’Mara said: “They don’t have to, but it’s their case, their burden.”
Is there one piece of evidence that George Zimmerman landed one blow (there isn’t)?
O’Mara challenged Guy to produce evidence that Zimmerman did anything to cause the attack. He would not.
– Then, O’Mara carried a large chunk of cement and put it on the floor in front of the jury, pointing out that it was sidewalk concrete, a weapon.
He said: “That is not an unarmed teenager with Skittles trying to get home.” He said the suggestion by the state that such concrete was not a weapon capable of causing great bodily harm “is disgusting.”
O’Mara said: “There was ill will and spite and hatred. The pictures of George Zimmerman [his injuries] are proof.”
O’Mara ended with a powerful point indeed, telling the jury that they must consider reasonable doubt and the evidence, and that if they find that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense, “we are done.” There is no need to consider anything else, because self-defense is an affirmative defense to both charges.
O’Mara’s closing was complete and focused not only on the evidence introduced during the trial, but also on the evidence the state did not introduce or tried to conceal from the jury. He also focused on the law and on asking the jury to decide the case by the law and the evidence.
Ultimately, he succeeded in not only proving reasonable doubt, but in proving Zimmerman’s innocence.
The prosecution rebuttal:
In this backwards trial, the prosecution made a classic defense rebuttal, asking the jury not only to disregard the evidence and the law, but to make its decision based entirely on emotion, and on a medieval conception of anatomy: that the heart is the seat of intellect and reason.
Rather than addressing any of the very damaging points O’Mara made in his closing statement, points that all but disintegrated every prosecution theory, rather than actually offering a rebuttal, prosecutor John Guy launched into a dissertation on the human heart, saying it makes us do things, and if we really want to know what happened, we must “look into the heart of that grown man and that child.”
From de la Rionda’s closing to Guy’s rebuttal that rebutted nothing, Trayvon Martin was transformed from a “17-year-old man” to “a child.”
The jury learned in short order that Zimmerman had “f-ing punks” in his heart, but in Martin’s heart was fear. Then Guy waxed poetic: “As a man speaks, so is he.” He didn’t attribute it. He noted that Martin’s last words were: “What you following me for?”
In so doing, Guy essentially admitted that it was Martin that verbally accosted Zimmerman, thus beginning the confrontation.
He also ignored the testimony that Martin’s last words were actually “You’re going to die tonight mother***er,” and “You got it” or “You got me” after being shot.
To Guy, Zimmerman’s expressions of frustration at the criminals plaguing his neighborhood and terrorizing young mothers – one had testified of the horror of a recent break-in — provided a “window into George Zimmerman’s soul.”
Unlike his earlier performances, Guy began by being quiet. But he then repeatedly swore and even yelled at the jury, but not quite as often or as aggressively as he previously had.
An essential part of de la Rionda’s closing was to assert broadly that everything Zimmerman said was a lie. Guy continued this tactic, repeatedly claiming that Zimmerman lied about everything, and asking in mock concern why he had to lie about everything. Yet there were no actual examples of lies. Some examples:
– Guy told the jury that he had evidence that Zimmerman followed Martin after he told the dispatcher “OK,” and suggested that Zimmerman wasn’t actually going back to his car as he told the dispatcher and testified — but he presented no evidence to back up that assertion. That was as close as Guy would get to producing evidence or rebutting O’Mara.
– Guy provided his own nonsensical aphorism:
It’s not a case about self-defense; it’s about self-denial.
Guy may have been trying to suggest that Zimmerman was engaging in self-deception of some kind, but it’s impossible to be sure, as the saying popped out of nowhere with no context for guidance.
– Guy claimed that the fact there was no blood on Martin’s hands was somehow a Zimmerman lie, and actually claimed that Zimmerman’s head was not smashed into a concrete sidewalk, suggesting that if it were, Zimmerman would have had far worse injuries. This, despite all medical and forensic evidence to the contrary.
– Guy argued that Zimmerman was not hit “dozens of times” and that Zimmerman “was not injured seriously, not close, not close.” He added “it wasn’t that bad; it wasn’t bad at all.” Not only was this contradicted by medical testimony, it ignores the fact that injury or its severity has no bearing on the law.
As did de la Rionda before him, Guy apologized for his witnesses, particularly Jeantel and Dr. Bao. He told the jury he didn’t get to pick his witnesses, and argued that if the jury didn’t like his witnesses, they should … blame Zimmerman, because Zimmerman was responsible for every choice in the case.
Guy ended where he began, asserting that Zimmerman had hate not only in his heart, but in his words and his actions. He spoke of Martin as being “16 years and 21 days” old, and called him a “son, brother, friend,” and sadly intoned: “The last thing he did in this earth was try to get home.” Unfortunately for Guy, the evidence proves otherwise.
He finally spoke about “the physical evidence, which refutes his lies,” but of course, there was no evidence presented nor a single example of a lie.
A detailed account of the defense closing and Guy’s rebuttal is available here.
There can be no doubt to an intellectually honest observer that the defense was able to create more than a reasonable doubt, and arguably Zimmerman’s absolute innocence. There is also no doubt that the prosecution did not prove its case.
The prosecution behaved as defense attorneys of the lowest caliber. The defense upheld the highest standards of the legal profession and argued a prosecution case. The rest was up to the jury.