Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Reality Check on the Trayvon Martin Case

    George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Since everyone agrees that Zimmerman shot an unarmed seventeen-year-old dead, this seems like a pretty reasonable move. If you kill someone with a handgun, especially someone who didn't have a weapon, you should probably expect to be arrested and tried.

    Of course, Zimmerman may have a defense, and his lawyers will now have a chance to mount that defense. So it's good news all the way around. Those who complain that Zimmerman is "being tried in the media" should be happy that he will now be tried in court, and we can be done with all the hearsay and speculation. If Zimmerman was genuinely in reasonable fear for his life, he has a chance to establish the facts and end the argument. But I suspect that getting a day in court will not suffice for Zimmerman's supporters.

    Even a few weeks ago, it looked like we were going to avoid the vitriolic national disagreements that have now become standard for almost any issue. The Republican presidential candidates, like the President, went on record saying that the shooting was a problem. And after all, it should be easy enough to agree that none of us want unarmed teenagers getting shot dead, and even easier to agree that when an armed person kills an unarmed person the police shouldn't just take the killer's word for what happened. But apparently, we can't agree about common-sense things anymore, and Zimmerman now has some passionate defenders on the right, who complain that he is a victim of injustice. One of their main complaints is that he has been "tried in the media."

    So let's recap a few common-sense facts:

    1) The media furor has not been hampering the investigation. The media furor made the investigation happen. When Trayvon Martin was killed, on February 26, the Sanford Police seem to have done much, much less than a standard homicide investigation. It took weeks of mounting public pressure to get a special prosecutor appointed to give the case a real, hard look. And the case did deserve that hard look. The media furor comes from the Sanford Police not doing their jobs.

    2) Being investigated when you shoot an unarmed person dead is not an outrageous result. Being indicted for shooting an unarmed person is not an outrageous result either.

    3) Zimmerman's supporters have been playing the press assiduously, largely through attempts to disparage Trayvon Martin's character, and Zimmerman himself recently phoned Sean Hannity to talk about the case. (This is according to Zimmerman's former lawyers, and has been confirmed by Hannity.)

    4) The antidote to a media trial is a genuine trial, whose result will either punish Zimmerman for a crime or free him from this charge forever.

    5) When you kill an unarmed person with a gun, you should expect that your story gets some scrutiny. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but no one gets to kill someone else with no questions asked.


    While mostly agree,

    1) bmaz at EmptyWheel points out that a 2nd degree murder charge is unlikely to convict, vs. a manslaughter charge. (don't know about NCD's contention that gun use obviates manslaughter)

    2) while some trashing of Martin's character occurred, the first framing was "Bambi vs. Godzilla", and people still think Zimmerman was 100 pounds heavier based on a 7-year-old mug shot and Martin's picture at 13. Some correction had to happen in that regard.

    3) Re: Martin's parents, "Corey said, "...the first thing we did was pray with them." WTF?

    Martin's parents have emphasized their religion as a way of life. They have also sent out a message of non-violence. None of the marches have been violence. Some may object to religion, but I think it does have a calming effect on people who feel that the justice system was failing. Give me some of that old time religion.

    Zimmerman supporters have used Black-On-Black crime and the hoodie as diversions. Zimmerman's weight, what words were on an unclear tape, etc are also diversions. An armed adult neighborhood watch person killed an unarmed person.

     a 2nd degree murder charge is unlikely to convict, vs. a manslaughter charge. (don't know about NCD's contention that gun use obviates manslaughter)

    ​I'm surprised that Marcy Wheeler (a lawyer) would have a post up, even by an associate, that fails to address the issue of "lesser included offenses"

    ​I have never tried a capital case, but my drive-by understanding is that (particularly when the homicide itself is conceded, and degree of culpability is the issue) the judge will issue instructions including the jury's right to find guilt on any lesser included offense, from assault right up to manslaughter.

    ​A-man, help me out here.

    Jollyroger,  isn't it truly ridiculous, without seeing the evidence, that a lawyer is writing that there is no way the prosecutor can convict on 2nd degree murder. Don't we need to see all the evidence to make a judgment like that?

    I am pretty sure we haven't seen any forensic evidence, (shot angle, blood spatter etc), how about Zimmerman's so-called medical evidence of a broken nose, we have no clue, since Zimmerman simply asserts he had a broken nose, (I saw no black eyes on the original film, broken noses always lead to black eyes, having had a broken nose myself, not only did I bleed profusely, but I ended up with two black eyes, it looked like I had been punched squarely in the face and it hurt so much I wasn't walking around with a shit-eating grin on my face either).

    Any lawyer saying right now that there is no way the prosecutor can get a conviction is simply a lawyer looking for some publicity, they certainly cannot be giving a real analysis, since they haven't seen the evidence.

    There's a host of unknowns--and plenty of scenaria that would tilt the finding down towards manslaughter or up towards second degree murder.


    For only one, if there is audio evidence that emerges from analysis of the tapes that leads to testimony before the jury confirming screams for help from Trayvon, coupled with the multiple gunshots, it would make me vote for murder, were I on the jury.

    Seems to me that now some people on the right have to re-examine their love affair with go-for-the-throat prosecutors. Corey seems like the Nancy Grace type that they love.

    It will be an O J Simpson in reverse. Even the most drunken,  most incompetent defense lawyer will be able to get him off.

    What do you think the effect of an acquittal will be?  I'm guessing hung jury and then a plea to a less manslaughter charge with minimal, if any, jail time.

    Then Zimmerman gets his own radio show.

    Straight Shooting with George Zimmerman?

    Too soon, dude. Too soon.

    Totally.  But I lack impulse control.

    In that case, I'll remember to leave my hoodie at home if we ever meet in person.

    Too soon, dude.

    Or maybe a movie ?  A Shot In The Dark.

    Gives me an opening to say that I was very impressed by his lawyer in the press conference he gave yesterday which I managed to see. A most unusual choice for a case of this much popular interest, as we are used to demagogues and/or celeb wannabes or egotists for these cases. He was very professional, very confident, and very low key, and pleasant to boot, but not at all fawning to the media present. I doubt we are going to see him fan any flames at all, just the opposite (probably something more along the lines of this was all a terrible tragedy for all concerned,) but he also makes it look entirely possible that he will get him off because of all of that.

    And by contrast, so far it seems that the prosecutor is ready to play the flamboyant role that we are used to.

    As Bmaz notes, likely a flamboyantly incompetent role.

    No indication in the indictment of criminal activity.

    No mention of the main statute constituting Zimmerman's defense.

    Guesswork & innuendo. I that that was what the press was supposed to do, not the prosecutor.

    Georgia also has a Stand Your Ground law. Self defense got  life in prison for being threatened on his own property  by a White man who charged at the Black homeowner. The man who was attacking had his hands in his pocket. A single shot to the head killed the attacker. The Black man who stood his ground is in prison.

    Florida has a case involving a Black man who killed an unarmed White man. The defense is using Stand Your Ground in that case as well. The case has gone before a judge to determine if charges can be dropped based on self-defense.

    All that the NRA and ALEC may have done is make murder legal. Dooley and Zimmerman may never face a court of law.

    I'm a little confused (or maybe you are).

    The law on the books is entitled 

    "Stand your ground, whitey!"

    It was not meant to apply to a person of color, except as the decedent.

    I hope this has been a useful clarification...



    Well, Dooley hasn't gone to jail...........yet.

    How odd that this particular instance should improve one's view of a odious law....somehow my first read elided the ethnicity of the decedent. 

    I agree with your suggestion that Stand Your Ground was intended for Whites only. John H. White, a Black man, was awoken from sleep by a group of White teens  who were yelling and hurling racial epithets. The teens wanted to fight White's son. White felt threatened and fired his Pistol, killing one teen.. White was arrested and later convicted of manslaughter. Better not Stand Your Ground if you're Black.


    Does New York have a Stand Your Ground law? (no)

    Have you read the principles of Stand Your Ground?

    The mob at John White's house did not break in, AFAIK, and he and his son went out to confront them both with unregistered guns, rather than calling the police and waiting in a locked house. The mob was not armed, and I don't think there was attempt to break into the house. (the Whites had phone warning that the group was headed over)

    White says the kid lunged for the gun, other(s) said the kid slapped it away as it was pointed at him and others. White then shot the kid point-blank in the face.

    He served 5 months before Paterson commuted the sentence.

    How exactly would you like the law to be written if you think he should have been released? If anyone's yelling on my lawn, I can go out there with a gun, and if I happen to shoot them, just say I was worried? I'm sympathetic to a modern lynching, but they didn't break into his house - had there been any effort, he quite possibly would have gotten off. He didn't stand his ground - he went forward, with an illegal gun to boot.



    Remember Bernard Goetz, he was afraid too?

    Goetz was mugged by 4 guys in a subway car, so couldn't retreat or lock the door or call the cops. I'm not terribly sympathetic with the devastating way he destroyed them - but explain what you would have done without a gun, and if carrying a legal gun.

    [yes, he could have waited for 4 threatening guys surrounding him to hit him to prove it was an attack. or possibly he could have pulled the gun and slipped out of the pack, with the risk of one of them taking the gun from him......]

    He was convicted of an illegal firearm only, and served 8 months - 3 months more than this guy served for walking out on his lawn and blowing away a loud-mouthed kid in a threatening (unarmed) mob with an illegal gun.

    Of course we don't know who's armed and who's not until too late.

    It appears from the evidence before the Grand Jury that Canty approached Goetz, possibly with Allen beside him, and stated "Give me five dollars." Neither Canty nor any of the other youths displayed a weapon. Goetz responded by standing up, pulling out his handgun, and firing four shots in rapid succession. The first shot hit Canty in the chest; the second struck Allen in the back; the third went through Ramseur's arm and into his left side; the fourth was fired at Cabey, who apparently was then standing in the corner of the car, but missed, deflecting instead off of a wall of the conductor's cab. After Goetz briefly surveyed the train scene around him, he fired another shot at Cabey, who then was sitting on the end bench of the car. The bullet entered the rear of Cabey's side and severed his spinal cord.[25]

    According to his statements to police, Goetz checked the first two men to make sure that they had been "taken care of," then, seeing that the fourth man was now sitting down and seemed unhurt, said "You seem to be all right, here's another," and fired at him again.[26] 

    We all come with biases. Some understand the fear of a man awoken from sleep by a group men yelling racial slurs and threatening a son. Others  sympathize with a man threatened in a subway car.  In each case, we create the movie that fits the past experiences that forms our bias.

    And, sometimes an entire culture shares the same reality tunnel.  As I recall, Goetz was something of a folk hero in what was then a crime-ridden New York.  To some, Zimmerman is a similar figure, though the public support seems far more fringe and muted.  In both cases, though, there were well-meaning people who seriously believed that prosecutors had gone too far and were attempting to punish people who were, if not heroes, acting within their rights.

    wecan understand both fears, plus cheer a response as a symbol of our frustation, not a perfect repeatable solution



    We can understand fear and sympathize with people in multiple situations - however, we also have to come up with laws and define limits.

    We want to protect free speech - but limit harassing & threatening free speech in someone's front lawn. How much is too much?

    I think we know gangs of different colors can intimidate and harm passengers in the subway - the New York subway became the poster child for muggings - we'd like to limit the effects of gang harassment without encouraging citizens to just start shooting people every time scared or seemingly cut off from safety.

    If the group in the subway were skinheads and Goetz black, how does the sentiment change? If a group of black thugs hassle a poor black woman out of her last $20, how does our reaction change?

    If the guy in his house was white was defending his son from black kids beating up his kid every day to and from school and stealing his money, how does that change the picture?

    People get scared and react in various ways - how do we define the limits? When is a gun okay to use, when not? How much leeway & flexibility can we allow in the definition?

    Despite Goetz's statements, from witnesses there was no delay in the firing of bullets - that he did not wait and then fire the 5th bullet in cold blood.

    It should be remembered that people in traumatic circumstances get things confused. Goetz's confusion hurt his position in general. - made him seem like a true Charles Bronson.

    On the other hand, the situation, like the beating of Rodney King, crystallized opinion on untenable situations that had gone on too long - subway & city violence with a city full of fear, and police brutality against minorities.

    Despite your statement, the prosecution's star witness testified otherwise.

    As your article notes, the star witness' testimony contradicted the autopsy of the victim - where the bullet entered.

    In any case, a jury had to figure out what they thought happened within reasonable doubt. I wasn't there, I haven't looked carefully at evidence, etc.

    But this article notes the process of how stories take place in the media - basic impressions turned into a story, rather than facts detailing the likely event.

    And with the internet, in general people become modern media - not investigating facts, but simply categorizing them to a fixed narrative, using details to support a pre-fixed conclusion.

    I don't care who's in the wrong - Zimmerman or Martin, Goetz or the 4 youths. I want to know what happened, and I want public policy & laws to reflect an optimum protection of freedoms and rights among all parties - a very difficult balance.

    And I want media to start doing its job - find out what happened, report it. Later they can fantasize all they want, but first we need basic facts. When millionaire anchormen with millions more in resources can't tell you for sure whether the police confiscated Zimmerman's gun or not, it's sinful - it's killing us as a society.

    We never know what happened with Wall Street theft, Afghanistan drones, health care, social security.... the media's so intent on being interesting that no one's left to report basic, clear facts where they exist.

    There was no autopsy because no one died. Regarding the first defense expert, "On cross-examination, Quirk admitted that the prosecution's theory of the firing pattern was also consistent with the ballistics evidence, but insisted that his own interpretation was "more likely."" DiMaio, the second, didn't sound very reliable.

    Oh shit, read your own goddam article:

    One witness, however, presented problems for the defense: Christopher Boucher.  Boucher testified that Goetz did pause between his fourth and fifth shot, and went over to Cabey and fired the last shot point blank into Cabey's side as he sat in a subway seat.  The fact that the evidence concerning the location of Cabey's entry wound was inconsistent with Boucher's testimony allowed some jurors to speculate that Boucher made his whole story up, though for what possible reason the jurors had a hard time determining.  In the end, the concept of reasonable doubt turned the jury to a not guilty vote.

    So not "autopsy", but whatever. The entry wound was inconsistent with his testimony.


    Earlier yesterday, another witness called by the defense conceded under cross-examination by the prosecutor, Gregory L. Waples, that Mr. Cabey could have been shot while sitting.

    That witness, Joseph Quirk, a ballistics expert called by the defense had testified with certainty last week that Mr. Cabey was standing when he was shot. But under cross-examination yesterday, Mr. Quirk said that if Mr. Cabey had turned and ''flinched'' just before the last bullet was fired, as Mr. Goetz described in his taped statements, then the bullet could have entered at the same angle as if Mr. Cabey were standing.

    As it turned out, the jury had enough reasonable doubt to discount Boucher's and Macfoy's accounts that Goetz was shooting at a seated Cabey, and to speculate that Goetz was talking to Cabey inside his head.

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