Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Story

Let me say here at the outset that this is a tragic story.  Nobody wants to hear or read about an unarmed 17 year old being shot and killed regardless of the circumstances.  You can't help but sympathize with Trayvon's family, but at the same time you have to be willing to look at all of the facts in this case before you form any conclusions. 

I've been going over all of the media reports, videos, audios, witness accounts ... etc. from this story and I've come to the conclusion that George Zimmerman will likely never be charged in a Florida criminal court, although I think a wrongful death lawsuit is a virtual certainty.  The reason Zimmerman won't be charged is simple.  The prosecution would have to prove that he wasn't acting in self defense, and it would be almost impossible given the facts in this case to get a jury of 12 to come to that conclusion.  In other words, the case isn't winnable, and no state attorney is going to want to pursue an unwinnable case and then face charges of wasting the state's time and money.  Furthermore, if a trial was to take place and the verdict rendered is "not guilty" then you have to face the likelihood of another Rodney King aftermath.  It's also quite possible given the current climate in DC that federal civil rights charges will be brought forward in lieu of state criminal charges, although I think that will be an uphill battle as well.  I think the state is going to just leave it to the family to sue George Zimmerman for wrongful death which has a lower threshold of evidence than criminal trials do. They've got a good shot at winning that one in my opinion.

Why do I think this case is unprovable?  Well let's take a look at the facts.  Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law allows for the use of deadly force in self-defense with no obligation to retreat.  From Wikipedia:

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.
If George Zimmerman believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself then he had the right under this statute to use deadly force.  According to the witness in this video and Zimmerman's statement to the police, it seems clear that great bodily harm was exactly what Zimmerman was encountering at the time. 

Apparently this account was corroborated by what police saw at the scene.  Zimmerman's jacket had grass on it and he had blood coming out of his nose and on the back of his head.  Enhanced still frames from the video taken at the police station seem to support Zimmerman's claims. 

In another video it was reported that Martin's father listened to a 911 call where somebody is crying for help and said that wasn't his son.

In the audio of the 911 call Zimmerman made there is no initial mention of Martin's race or hoodie.  Zimmerman is simply reporting suspicious behavior from somebody who is wandering around on the property in the rain.  "This guy looks like he's up to no good or on drugs or something."  (At the beginning of the call he mentioned a number of recent break-ins at the property.)  When asked if the subject is black, white, or hispanic Zimmerman says "He looks black."  When asked what the subject is wearing he mentions the hoodie.  So the media reports that Trayvon Martin was the victim of racial profiling aren't supported by the call.  Zimmerman was reporting suspicious behavior.  That's not how NBC reported it though.

In this video you can hear the 911 call in its entirety.

The media reports that Zimmerman pursued Martin even though he was told not to aren't supported by the audio.  At 2:08 in this video Zimmerman tells the dispatcher that Martin is running away.  At about 2:20 you can hear the wind blowing into the phone as Zimmerman starts following Martin.  When told not to follow him Zimmerman says "okay" (2:28) and a few second later (2:42) the wind sound stops as he apparently returned to his vehicle. The rest of this call is taken up with details about the property and arrangements to meet with the police, making the charges of Zimmerman being a "vigilante" baseless.  At 2:22 Zimmerman says something as he's running that some have referred to as a racial epithet.  Some people think he said "f'ing coons".  Really?  Who says "coon" these days?  That's like calling a black person a darkie.  If he was going to use a racial epithet I think we all know what word he would use, and I certainly don't hear the N word here.  It sounds to me like he's saying "f'ing punks" or "f'ing cold" but that's just a guess.  I don't think anybody can say conclusively what he is saying there.

4/4/12 ... Update!  New enhanced audio!

The one thing I fault Zimmerman for is getting out of his SUV and following Trayvon.  When you have a gun and you follow a suspicious person you escalate the situation.  If there's a fight there's a good chance that the fight will go from a wrestling match to a battle over the gun where the winner lives and the loser dies, as was the case here.  I have a feeling we'll see some tweaking of the Stand Your Ground law and neighborhood watch programs as a result of this.

WFTV in Orlando referred to Zimmerman as a vigilante in their news reports.  Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines "vigilante" as "a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly: a self-appointed doer of justice".  

Nothing in the 911 call indicates that Zimmerman views law enforcement as inadequate. In fact he was asking them to get an officer out there, as he apparently felt inadequate to handle the situation himself.  Also in this video we have the account of the idiot who refers to Trayvon Martin as "a little boy".  Martin was 17 and stood 6'0"-  6'3" according to various reports.  Zimmerman is reportedly listed as 5'9".  Take a look at this photo of Trayvon taken nine days before the incident.

And this photo with his girlfriend.

Little boy my arse! No wonder the police didn't take her serious.  Then she says that "even if Martin got the best of Zimmerman it's no excuse to kill an unarmed teenager half his size".  Sorry, but according to the law it is, and Martin was hardly "half his size".  I think what happened with this woman is that she didn't say much on the night of the shooting because she didn't see anything.  Then she watched the story develop and heard the media's (distorted) reports about Zimmerman gunning down a boy half his size and decided she wanted her 15 minutes of fame so she came forward with her "perspective".  If she really knew what she was talking about she wouldn't have referred to Trayvon as a little boy. 

Here's the video released by ABC News showing Zimmerman being brought in to the Sanford police station on the night of the shooting.  Media pundits were quick to pass judgment on Zimmerman's story based on this video which is not high definition, doesn't have studio lighting or angles, and yet still appears to show a bump on his nose and a cut on his head.  No blood on his jacket?  His jacket is red, so how could you tell?  No grass on his jacket?  Well naturally the grass is gone but there are indications that it might have been there.  As for the injury to his head, what is the officer looking at 52 second into the video?  Could it be this from a still frame about 1:06 in?

Granted, this enhanced shot from the Daily Caller isn't conclusive.  But it does raise the possibility that a casual observation of the video doesn't give you a clear picture of Zimmerman's condition that night.  What is clear from the video however, is that Zimmerman doesn't weigh 240 pounds or more as reported by the media.  If the guy in this video weighs 200 lbs I'll eat my hat.  The police report listed Trayvon Martin's weight at 160 lbs.  I'd say that a guy over 6 feet tall weighing 160 lbs is more than capable of beating a guy 5'9" weighing under 200 lbs to within an inch of his life. 

This still frame from the video seems to show an injury to Zimmerman's nose.  It remains to be seen what enhanced video stills will reveal.

4/2/12 ... UPDATE!!!  ABC has released an enhanced version of the police station video.

The whole incident has to be viewed in the context of the two men involved.  Trayvon was reportedly sent to Sanford to stay with his dad until he got his life back on track after getting his third suspension from school.  Obviously he had behavioral issues.  At the same time George Zimmerman had issues of his own.  He had been arrested for taking a swing at a cop (charges were dropped) and had also been involved in a domestic violence situation that resulted in a restraining order.  Two guys with behavioral problems at a crossroad in a gated community where young black men had been caught committing break-ins.  Trayvon didn't know there was a neighborhood watchman.  George didn't know there was a new black teenager living there.  Both were a bit scared and a bit pissed off.  Trayvon probably should have let it go.  George probably should have been screened better before becoming neighborhood watch captain.  It was a perfect storm in the making.
When this story first broke, I was as distressed as most people would be at the thought of a vigilante gunning down an unarmed teenager returning from the convenience store with tea and Skittles.  But when the facts came out it was clear that once again the media got it wrong.  The first indication of that was the photo of Zimmerman.  Like many of you I was expecting to see some blonde haired, blue eyed neo-nazi skinhead type.  Instead what I saw was a Latino.  When I started listening to the 911 call I expected to hear a vigilante ranting about black people and gangstas and hoodies.  Instead I heard a guy trying to keep his neighborhood safe from break-ins by getting the police to come and check out a suspicious looking character. 

As far as the law is concerned, the real issue here isn't Skittles or hoodies or racism.  It's not Trayvon's history or Zimmerman's history.  That's better suited for the court of public opinion.  The only thing relevant in the court of law is what happened between the time Zimmerman called the police and when his neighbors called the police.  Did Zimmerman track down Trayvon Martin and kill him in cold blood (knowing that the police were on their way), or did Trayvon track down Zimmerman and attack him, prompting the use of deadly force in self-defense?  From what I've read Zimmerman had reportedly called 911 nearly 50 times previously without ever using his gun and with no complaints about him being an out of control vigilante.  To the contrary his neighbors seemed to appreciate the efforts he was making to keep them safe. 

It seems to me that you either have to believe that George Zimmerman, the eyewitness who reported that Trayvon Martin was on top of him and beating him, the police, and the medical attendants were all lying to cover up the killing of an innocent young black man, or that Trayvon decided to come back and kick Zimmerman's ass without taking into consideration that he might have a gun.  In my opinion the latter is far more likely.  It's possible that more evidence will surface to indicate that Zimmerman threw the first punch, but until it does I have to stick with the belief that this was indeed self-defense.  It's true this whole incident could have been avoided if Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle, but maybe instead of just asking why Zimmerman did this or that we should also be asking "why didn't Trayvon just go home?"

07/13/13  ....  UPDATE!!! 

The verdict is in and George Zimmerman was found not guilty.  I was wrong in saying that he wouldn't be charged because I failed to take into consideration how political pressure could interfere with the criminal justice system.  But the fact remains that this was an unprovable charge. 

Now the matter will likely go to the civil courts where Trayvon's family will likely win a wrongful death lawsuit.  Standard procedure for a neighborhood watchman is to observe and report.  You don't carry a gun and you don't pursue suspects.  This shooting is a good example of why.  You allow the police to arrive and handle the situation.  Had George Zimmerman remained in his vehicle Trayvon Martin would still be alive, and because of that he is responsible for the events that ended in his death.  For that he will probably be buried under an enourmous debt to the Martin family that will take a lifetime to repay. 

When O. J. Simpson was acquitted the family of Ronald Goldman sued and won a wrongful death suit.  Simpson was under such a debt load that he resorted to armed robbery and ended up in prison.  This is where this matter should have been addressed from day one, but instigators siezed the day and made this a political cause.  This wasn't about race or skittles or tea or hoodies.  It was about the facts, and the facts didn't warrant a murder conviction but they do warrant some form of compensation to Trayvon Martin's family for Zimmerman's boneheaded moves that night.  That would serve as a lesson to all neighborhood watchmen to know and respect their boundaries.

There is also the possibility that federal civil rights charges will be brought against Zimmerman as was the case when the four L.A. cops were acquitted in the Rodney King beating.  It remains to be seen if Obama wants to do down that road.  Given the fact that he won't be running in any more elections it's doubtful.