The Backwards Trial: A George Zimmerman Prosecution Primer

With an all-female jury seated (five white, one Hispanic) and opening arguments occurring today, understand that not only should the charge against George Zimmerman never have been filed, but that the case is remarkably backwards. The shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, was an unremarkable event -- similar self-defense related shootings occur regularly. In virtually all of those cases, the local police do their work, local prosecutors review it, charges are filed or declined, and only local communities are aware of or care about it. Whereas the Trayvon Martin case is an anomaly that reverses all of the conventions and behaviors normally present in the criminal justice system.

With that in mind, a primer about what to expect may be useful.

The “Scheme Team”: Attorneys Benjamin Crump, Natalie Jackson, and Daryl Parks are not only closely aligned with the prosecution, but they have already negotiated one civil settlement with the insurance company representing the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the neighborhood where George Zimmerman lived and served as Neighborhood Watch captain. Crump has been instrumental in engaging the full might of prominent racial-grievance figures, and arguably caused Florida Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to appoint Special Prosecutor Angela Corey to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder. Crump was also pivotal in encouraging the FBI to investigate Zimmerman for hate crime or civil rights violations.

It was Crump who apparently discovered Witness Eight, “Dee Dee,” Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend who was supposedly on the phone with Martin before he was shot. Crump conducted an interview with her with ABC’s Matt Gutman present, and claimed that her testimony would obliterate Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. His claim would influence the prosecution to charge Zimmerman. He eventually arranged an interview with Dee Dee with deputy prosecutor Bernard0 de la Rionda. Not only was the “Scheme Team” present at that interview, but Martin’s mother was seated next to Dee Dee, an almost unimaginable violation of interview protocol.

The Scheme Team represents Trayvon Martin’s parents, ”those sweet parents” as Corey called them at her press conference in the style of a political victory rally announcing Zimmerman’s arrest. For the time being, they have contented themselves with conducting daily press conferences in the courtroom, but if the trial should not go their way, expect them to further inflame racial tensions.

The Prosecution: Without conducting any new investigation, Corey’s office produced an affidavit that not only failed to produce any probable cause that Zimmerman violated any of the three essential elements of the offense. It was also factually incorrect and withheld vital information of Zimmerman’s innocence. Any attorney or police officer filing an affidavit promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This one, filed by special prosecutor investigators T.C. O’Steen and Dale Gilbreath at the direction of de la Rionda and on behalf of Corey, fell far short of the most minimal requirements of the law. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, attorney and commentator Mark Levin, attorney John Hinderaker of Powerline, and other notables took it to task in the harshest terms.

In response, an enraged Corey called the dean of Harvard Law School and, speaking with a representative of the Office of Communications, ranted about Dershowitz for 40 minutes and threatened to sue him and Harvard. Harvard was apparently unimpressed; Dershowitz still teaches there.

Bernie de la Rionda has taken the lead in handling the case. De la Rionda learned no later than August 2, 2012, that Dee Dee committed perjury but, despite multiple requests from the defense over many months, withheld that information until the evening of March 4, 2013, only hours before the matter would be heard in court and he would be forced to divulge the information.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara filed a motion for sanctions against de la Rionda for improperly withholding important evidence, and de la Rionda filed a petulant, angry, and unprofessional response that is a model of improper legal writing. He eventually admitted in court to withholding the evidence, with an excuse of: “I forgot about it.” Despite multiple defense requests, he forgot -- for seven months -- that his most important witness was a perjurer. Judge Nelson has yet to rule on O’Mara’s motion for sanctions despite de la Rionda’s admission.

Another example of de la Rionda’s malfeasance is his withholding -- for many months -- of digital color photographs of Zimmerman’s injuries taken immediately after Zimmerman was assaulted by Martin. It’s easy to see why de la Rionda would not want the defense to have those photos -- they clearly depict Zimmerman’s badly broken and bleeding nose, and his bruised, lacerated, and bloody face, as well as multiple bloody cuts on the back of his head.

Recently, the IT director for the special prosecutor’s office blew the whistle on de la Rionda’s hiding of evidence from Martin’s cell phone, including photos of stolen jewelry, an image of Martin blowing what appears to be marijuana smoke, and an image of what appears to be Martin holding a handgun.  Discovered in early January 2013, much of that and other evidence was not turned over to the defense until June.

The Defense: Mark O’Mara and Donald West are experienced attorneys who have demonstrated professionalism up until this point in the trial. Normally, it is the defense that tries its case in the court of public opinion, yet in this case it has been the prosecution relying on public opinion and political support to sustain their case.

The Media: The media wasted no time in working with the Scheme Team -- their narrative was quickly born and disseminated: Trayvon Martin, 17, was actually a small, slight, innocent scholar with a bright future. On February 26, he was temporarily living with his father in Sanford and walked to a nearby 7-Eleven, where he bought iced tea and Skittles for his little brother. On the way home, he was spotted by Zimmerman, a huge, hulking “white-Hispanic” many times his size who “profiled” Martin and ruthlessly ran him down as Martin fled in fright, desperately trying to reach the safety of his temporary residence.  Zimmerman pursued Martin because he was black and wearing a hoodie, and brutally murdered him without provocation.

For the media, the Zimmerman case fit well with their preferred narrative lines, and they embraced it fully as a too-good-to-check case. However, their bias and lack of professional skepticism quickly blew back at them.

NBC was caught doctoring the call Zimmerman made to the Sanford Police to make Zimmerman appear to be a racist (a civil suit against NBC is on temporary hold during the criminal trial). CNN’s attempt to brand Zimmerman a racist by claiming he called Martin a “coon” during the same phone call also fell flat, and CNN had to retract their story (Zimmerman said that it was “cold”). ABC’s Matt Gutman, who worked closely with Crump, filed a variety of stories, including a story about Zimmerman walking in the halls of the Sanford Police Department without handcuffs. Gutman failed to inform readers that, at the time, Zimmerman was fully cooperating with the Sanford Police and was not under arrest, and like any citizen could enter and walk in the public access halls of any government building.

ABC also provided grainy police surveillance photos purporting to show that Zimmerman suffered no injuries. Clear and unmistakable photos of Zimmerman’s injuries forced them to retract that story as well.

Dee Dee: The young woman known as Dee Dee was represented by Crump and de la Rionda to the court to be a juvenile -- a ploy to keep her identity hidden under juvenile privacy laws. However, it was eventually revealed that she was 18 when interviewed by de la Rionda on April 12, 2012. That interview revealed that Dee Dee did not have information that contradicted Zimmerman’s self-defense account, and that she would be a terrible witness. De la Rionda’s questioning of her was inept and appeared to indicate that he had tampered with her testimony, which in many respects made no sense. Dee Dee, by her own admission, knew Martin for many years and would know his habits, his social media posts, and have intimate knowledge of his criminal activities. These are absolutely not things the prosecution would want a jury to hear, yet putting her on the stand would open the door to that, as well as to her perjury regarding her age and her lie that she was so distraught by Martin’s death that she was hospitalized and could not attend his funeral.

The Facts: Normally, the prosecution is the natural ally of the police. Using their investigation -- the facts -- prosecutors are able to establish all of the elements of the offense and win a conviction. In the Zimmerman case, the prosecution must ignore, try to explain away, or try to construct reasonable doubt about the case of the police -- a bizarre state of affairs.

The Sanford Police Department conducted an unbiased and competent investigation, and the local prosecutor, Norm Wolfinger, declined to press charges because all of the evidence supported Zimmerman’s self-defense claim under Florida law, and none contradicted it. Prosecutor investigator Dale Gilbreath admitted this on April 20, 2012.

However, that investigation and its results did not fit the narrative, and so Corey was tasked not with doing justice, but with charging and convicting Zimmerman regardless of the evidence. Corey’s office has never produced the slightest evidence proving that the Sanford Police failed in their duty or exhibited racial bias.

That being the case, what are the grounds for charging Zimmerman with any crime?