The evidence has been presented and duly weighed by six jurors who were unpersuaded by the state of Florida’s case, and today George Zimmerman is a free man — or as free as one can be under his present circumstances. But to watch the news today, it’s almost as if there was never a trial.
Zimmerman stands as demonized today as he was before the trial began, perhaps even more so. He is barraged with death threats, not just against him but to his family as well. There is nowhere in the country he can go where his name and face would not be recognized and where he would be free from fear of attack.
From the outset, even before Zimmerman was charged, I was skeptical that he would be convicted of any crime. As I wrote here at PJ Media in March of last year, “I fail to see how prosecutors can win a conviction unless they can produce some damning evidence not yet revealed.” None was.
With your permission, if you haven’t grown weary of the Martin-Zimmerman matter, I have some random thoughts on the case that I hope will clear up some of the many misconceptions that persist despite the thorough airing of the evidence the trial provided. None of what I present below will be new or startling if you paid even passing attention to the trial.
The Sanford Police
Some still believe that Zimmerman was given a free pass on the night of the shooting, that the Sanford Police Department was somehow less than thorough in its initial response and investigation. This is false. When police officers respond to the scene of a shooting and find one person dead and another standing there with a gun, the default position is and ought to be to disarm and detain the one with the gun. This was done, and Zimmerman remained handcuffed until being taken to the Sanford police station.
Zimmerman waived his Miranda rights and provided a statement to detectives on the night of the shooting, and he cooperated in a videotaped walk-through of the incident the next day. The preponderance of witness accounts supported Zimmerman’s claim that he fired his gun in self-defense after Martin attacked him, knocked him to the ground, and pummeled him. In other words, police had no compelling evidence contrary to Zimmerman’s account and therefore no probable cause to support his arrest.
Did Zimmerman Follow Martin?
One still hears the claim, “The dispatcher told him to stay in his car.” The dispatcher’s advice and Zimmerman’s response to it are irrelevant to the murder charge he faced. The evidence was that Zimmerman, after spotting Martin and telephoning police from his car, followed him for a time until being told by the police dispatcher, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman then returned to his car but, after losing sight of Martin, exited and began walking through the complex until the fatal encounter. Zimmerman’s disregard for the dispatcher’s advice may have been imprudent, but it was not even remotely illegal. Yes, the shooting could have been avoided had Zimmerman remained in his car until police arrived, but a similar claim could be made of Martin’s behavior. If Martin in fact was troubled by the “creepy-ass cracker” following him, why did he not go immediately home rather than linger in the area? His father’s fiancé’s condo, where he was staying during a suspension from school, was about 300 feet from the site of the shooting. He had more than enough time — about four minutes — to walk there if he had chosen to.
The political tides were such that the decision by the Sanford police not to arrest and charge Zimmerman could not be allowed to stand. Once Al Sharpton gets his No Justice-No Peace Hallelujah Chorus mobilized and in full throat, there are few politicians in the country of either party with a spine so stiff as to turn a deaf ear to the clamor. And Florida Governor Rick Scott dutifully fell in line with the appointment of Angela Corey as special prosecutor for the case. Corey would soon reveal herself as less than professional in the press conference (video here) in which she announced the murder charge against Zimmerman.
She seemed just a bit too happy to be on television as she spoke of the “search for justice for Trayvon,” invoking the phrase that has become all too familiar. And in using that phrase she gave her game away, forgetting her obligation to seek justice for all concerned, including the defendant. As I wrote a year ago, the charging affidavit submitted by Corey’s office was a shoddy piece of work, one that Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz described as “if not perjurious, completely misleading.” I found it unfathomable that in a case as noteworthy as this one, prosecutors would submit such a poorly prepared document. Now we know it wasn’t an aberration.
Compounding her lack of professionalism, Corey tried to sandbag exculpatory evidence and fired the man who dared to reveal it. And despite Zimmerman’s acquittal, Corey arrogantly labeled him as a “murderer” in an interview with CNN (video here). “[Corey] was among the most irresponsible prosecutors I’ve seen in 50 years of litigating cases,” Dershowitz told Mike Huckabee, “and believe me, I’ve seen good prosecutors, bad prosecutors, but rarely have I seen one as bad as this prosecutor, [Angela] Corey.” I’ve only been a cop for 30 years, but even if I hang on for another 20, I doubt I’ll find cause to disagree with Dershowitz’s assessment.
I anticipated the acquittal, but this hardly makes me prescient or a legal scholar. Anyone paying attention could have seen it coming, even from the outset of the trial. Prosecutors opened the trial by portraying George Zimmerman as hateful, claiming he killed Trayvon Martin “because he wanted to.” When you make this kind of opening statement, you had better have the evidence to back it up. None was produced. Whatever sympathies the jurors might have had for Martin, they surely knew Zimmerman was no wanton killer, and in portraying him as such the prosecutors broke faith with the six women they were trying to persuade. The jury responded with the only verdict possible based on an impartial examination of the evidence.
Al Sharpton and his acolytes would have people believe that the greatest threat facing young black males in this country comes in the form of overzealous, trigger-happy neighborhood watchmen. Sharpton’s rise to prominence began in the cruel hoax of the Tawana Brawley affair, and his behavior in the Zimmerman-Martin case has been less reprehensible only in the sense that, unlike Tawana Brawley, something actually happened to Trayvon Martin. Sharpton has made a handsome living on being outraged, but his anger over Trayvon Martin’s death will last only as long as the cameras remain focused on him, or until something more lucrative comes along. I know it’s trite to say it, but may I live to see the day he summons the same level of outrage for the thousands of blacks who die each year at the hands of other blacks.
Now George Zimmerman, free as a matter of law but not of circumstance, awaits the decision by the Justice Department on whether he will be prosecuted in federal court for violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights. Most legal observers agree such a prosecution is unlikely to succeed based on the available evidence, but can we have faith that Eric Holder won’t put Zimmerman through another trial — one in which Zimmerman would surely prevail as he did in the first — merely to punish him further? Can anyone claim such an endeavor would be beneath our attorney general?
And if Holder does proceed with a civil rights case, we can look forward to another year or so of Martin-Zimmerman blather on television, all day, every day. George Zimmerman isn’t the only one who dreads the thought of it.