Zimmerman Verdict Shows the Shortcomings of a Trial by Media

Categories: Schutze

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The New York Times has a story on its front page today about the Trayvon Martin verdict reporting not only that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was not invoked by the defense but also quoting a legal expert who calls the law's exclusion from defense arguments "a brilliant strategic move."

The New York Times has an editorial today in which it says, "The jury reached its verdict after having been asked to consider Mr. Zimmerman's actions in light of Florida's now-notorious Stand Your Ground statute."

Wait. Let's make sure we get that one down. The issue here is not whether Stand Your Ground was a factor somehow. It's whether or not the jury was told in its instructions to take Stand Your Ground into account. All of the news reports I can find say no.

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An argument can be made that "Stand Your Ground" threw a kind of legal shadow on jury instructions because it affected what the jury was told -- actually not told -- about the acquitted shooter's ability or lack of ability to escape instead of shooting. A legal expert in a CBS-Miami story makes that argument.

That's not my issue. For one thing, that's an issue for a lawyer or a legal scholar, which I am not. Mine is a question about the news biz, of which I am a member. Did the judge or anybody else tell the jury to take Stand Your Ground into account in rendering a verdict? No.

Did the Times today -- in the same edition with its own story reporting in detail that Stand your Ground was not invoked -- say in editorial that the jury was told to weigh Stand Your Ground? Yes.

So what's my point? Am I shocked, shocked, that the editorial writers at The New York Times goofed something up? Do I think this goof-up is a metaphor that is emblematic of a parable that provides insight into a troubling paradigm? Ah, bullshit. It's just a goof.

Even at The New York Times, we newsies slam this stuff out pretty fast. People on the right accuse us of being liberal, which we probably are, but that's way less important a factor than just being in a hurry. I happen to think we do a pretty good job most of the time, given the challenges.

But if somebody ever accuses you of murder, you absolutely do not want the media to decide on it for you. You want a trial. In fact, that's why we have trials. That's why The Magana Carta declared in 1215 that a "freeman shall not be... imprisoned... unless by the judgment of his peers" and did not say, "a freeman may also be imprisoned based on the results of a CNN poll."

In late March, 2012, CNN published a poll showing that three-quarters of the American public wanted George Zimmerman arrested even though law enforcement officials already had deemed they did not have grounds for an arrest or a good case.

Within weeks of the CNN poll, the governor of Florida appointed a special Trayvon Martin prosecutor who got Zimmerman arrested, charged him with murder and took him to trial. So was that some kind of big legal breakthrough? Oh, come on. We need to pay better attention than that. That was a media breakthrough. It was also a political act carried out by people who run for office and always want to get out front of some good poll numbers.

Please get me right here. I am saying nothing about whether Zimmerman was morally right to shoot Martin to death. I'm talking about what's going to happen if you arrest Zimmerman, charge him with murder and take him to trial. Now we know.

The news story in the Times dwells on the quality of the lawyering, with a lot of inside baseball on which side played the better game. Surprise, surprise, a couple days after the verdict in favor of the defense, all of the experts are eager to put their bets down in favor of the defense. And don't you and I wish we could play the horses that way?

I have spent my life in this business, a whole lot of it covering trials. For several years when I was not working for a newspaper, I attended trials, beginning to end, in order to write books about them. The first time I did it, I thought, "This is so cool. I don't have to make a daily deadline, so I have time to pay a little bit of attention to what's actually going on."

By the way, one of those trials was in Florida. The defendants were able to hire a passel of top-notch attorneys. But the assistant state's attorney in that case, working mostly by himself, just happened to be sharper than the lot of them. The best lawyers don't always go for the money.

Look. Given the enormity of the act itself, the loss of life, the gun issue and the terrible racial element, the point I'm trying to make is probably a small one, maybe even a sidelight. But I still feel compelled to make it: A media case is not a court case. Ever.

Go ahead and read the stories, editorials, columns and blogs, watch them on TV and scarf them up online. I do. Just remember: Compared with the precision brought to bear in a courtroom, those accounts will always be sloppy and crude, even from the very best of the media.

Those accounts will always deceive you at least by omission, sometimes by active commission, as in "The jury reached its verdict after having been asked to consider Mr. Zimmerman's actions in light of Florida's now-notorious Stand Your Ground statute."

And the minute they start showing you polls and crowing like they made something happen, whoa! Then you know they're whoring for ratings.

It's not an election. It's not a poll or a market study. It's a trial. If you want to know what it's really all about, you have to be there in person for the whole thing. Otherwise, apply a bullshit factor of about 55 percent.

Gotta run now. As a media expert, I need to get downtown and see if I can put some serious money on Zimmerman to win. I have an inside tip.


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147 comments
carminericca1949
carminericca1949

The Sanford police didn't see any reason to arrest George Zimmerman, it was a clear case of self defense. Zimmerman was getting his spattered on a concrete sidewalk by the thug Trayvon Martin. When Zimmerman felt Trayvon reaching for the gun Mr.Zimmerman carried on his waist, Zimmerman grabbed it instead and saved his life by shooting Trayvon Martin in the chest, probably aiming for his heart. I prayed to God asking him to see that George Zimmerman was acquitted. George Zimmerman bravely eliminated the violent threat to Floridians from the streets of Sanford to Miami Florida and wherever Trayvon Martin might roam. Racist black activists Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the rest of his cronies ignited protesters not including the hard working, better educated, blacks who are head and shoulders above the white trash alcoholic doctors, attorneys, crooked businessmen, contractors, whores and politicians that make up 80% of  Floridians. I compliment almost every black person I encounter daily bin Florida whether it be the cashier at Aldi, a construction worker or my the mason working on my house. The black people of Florida knew George Zimmerman did nothing wrong but bottom of the barrel Florida politicians insisted on wasting taxpayers money on an unnecessary trial. Include the few hard working Mexican, Hispanic and Latino people of the sunshine state, the people without multiple tattoos, died hair and bad plastic surgeries who make the best of the few opportunities available to them even though the schools stink, but somehow they compete with and embarrass the white trash slackers here. No.. I'm not black and I'm not a racist either.        

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Can we get back to the issue of the misleading media driving a bad situation out of control.

Alan Dershowitz thinks the DOJ should investigate the Zimmerman prosecutor for violation of civil rights and be disbarred.    

lzippitydoo
lzippitydoo

Oh - all this time I was thinking this was about George Zimmer of the Mens Wearhouse. He was fired recently and isnt that what the trial was about?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Two guys engage in a fist fight.  One guy subsequently pulls a concealed pistol, shoots and kills the other guy.

Self-defense is not (a defense).

rtempest
rtempest

As the managing editor of the old Dallas Times Herald once asked a complaining caller: "How much truth do you want for a quarter?"

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

I finally got around to reading this piece, Mr. Schutze, and I'm glad I did. Unfortunately, I continued reading the bogheads. You are not responsible for them, but I don't blame you if you decide to follow them down the street. They plainly deserve to be confronted by a scruffy Yank wearing a housecoat and wielding a shotgun.

kduble
kduble

I never thought the Stand Your Ground law would be a factor. It wasn't Zimmerman's ground he was standing on. He was shadowing Martin, and the encounter took place on a public thoroughfare.

dschaffnit
dschaffnit

If your house gets broken into or your car gets stolen - 9 out of 10 times someone of "color" is involved. 


Or, am I wrong here.

MikeyLikesIt
MikeyLikesIt

Juror interviewed on CNN tonight reveals that Stand Your Ground a huge part of deliberation.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Sotiredofitall

A larger issue is the top law enforcement officer of the United States is fomenting race hatred by making highly inflammatory statements and reopening an FBI Civil Rights investigation that concluded no racism intent and no civil rights violations.  

He is doing this for political purposes.  

Of course, by politicizing the Justice Department which drives their investigations and prosecutions . . . is the very definition of "Social Justice".  The Rule of Law is abandoned and we are now under the control of individual men and women who, based upon a political calculation, use the law as a hammer.

This mindset now reaches all across the President's agencies.

This is precedent.  Remember Leftists, this can and will turn on a dime and the next bunch such an oppressive government comes after will be you.

Maxim - you don't hand any government this kind of power.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx The problem is did two guys engage in a fist fight?  Zimmerman said that it was Trayvon attacking him.  Zimmerman's story held up fairly consistently under very intensive interrogation as was supported by the majority off the evidence.  The state had the burden proof  that it was not self defense and the state failed to meet it.  What is the actual truth?   Only Zimmerman knows.  I can understand where that is hard to accept. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@rtempest 

I think we gave them an honest 23.7 cents worth, which ain't bad.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@kduble No it did not, it took place inside a gated community on a private drive.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@dschaffnit Depends on where you live and the particular crime.  In general, blacks are between 9x and 40x more likely to have committed the crime in question.  Look at the FBI's annual crime states for the particular crime.  The reading is not pretty, but very necessary for understanding.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@MikeyLikesIt

no it wasn't a huge part.  

The juror said she was ready to acquit the defendant at the beginning of deliberations when the six-member jury held a vote before they began examining the evidence.  “We had three not guilties, one second-degree murder and two manslaughters,” said the juror.  One of the jurors wondered about how self-defense law applied in Zimmerman’s situation when he got out of his car and followed Trayvon. The jurors asked the court a question about it.  Jurors sent the note to the judge in  asking  for clarification on the charge of manslaughter around 4:50 p.m. CT.

The judge then sent a note back to the jury that read: "The court can't engage in general discussion but may be able to address a specific question regarding clarification of the instructions regarding manslaughter. If you have a specific question, please submit.

To come to a manslaughter conviction, jurors had to decide that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.  And that was apparently not adequately explained to the jury by the judge, nor how "fighting" plays into it.

If Zimmerman followed then pursued (by getting out of his car) then confronted Martin, and a fight ensued, then he produced a concealed weapon, shot and killed Martin in a public right of way . . . that's manslaughter.  You don't get self-defense.

It sure would have been a lot cleaner to go straight at fighting, use of concealed gun then manslaughter negating self-defense in the final seconds of the fight.  

But that's water under the bridge.

One thing's almost certain - Zimmerman would not have exited his vehicle and pursued had he not been armed.

He would have held up in watch mode.


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@MikeyLikesIt 

Haven't seen it yet. That would not change the point about jury instructions.

dsmithy3211
dsmithy3211

@WhiteWhale @holmantx If Zimmerman raised the issue of self defense as a defense to murder, it is my understanding that Zimmerman (and not the State) had the burden of proof of establishing self defense, by a preponderance of the evidence standard.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @holmantx 

I said nothing about Zimmerman.

If two guys get into a fist fight, one has a conceal carry license, is losing (but doesn't have to be), jerks the weapon and fires killing the other guy . . . can he use self-defense  as a defense?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@holmantx @MikeyLikesIt 

self-defense law and stand your ground law are different critters. We have always had self-defense. We also have had castle laws for a long time. Stand your ground is unique because you do not have to be on your own property, contrary to a lot of comments here, and you can shoot even though you have an option to escape. Zimmerman's lawyers didn't invoke stand your ground because they intended to argue in the full trial that he didn't have the option of escape, and a stand your ground hearing at the beginning f the trial would have given the prosecution a preview of that defense with no gain for the defense.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@DSmithy3211 @WhiteWhale So basically my understanding is that while you can't just say it was self defense, you have to just meet some limited criterion such as statements that yes I shot him but he hit me and was on top of me, beating my head and I feared for my life to get the jury instruction.  The state must overcome the claim.  Again whether this was really true only Zimmerman knows for sure.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@dsmithy3211@WhiteWhaleI am not a lawyer but here is what I have read:

What Evidence is Required to Raise a Self-Defense Claim in Florida?

The defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense in Florida when there is any evidence to support the claim.  This is a low standard and even a “scintilla” of evidence will be sufficient, even if the self-defense theory is extremely weak or improbable.  Self-defense may even be inferred from the State’s evidence without the Defendant or a defense witness ever taking the stand. 


Where the defendant in a Florida criminal case presents any evidence of self-defense, the State must overcome the claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

dsmithy3211
dsmithy3211

@WhiteWhale Both self defense and stand your ground are affirmative defenses. 

The elements of second degree murder are something along the lines of (1) killing another person (2) with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm. The elements of murder are not (1) + (2) + "and not in self defense". The State need only prove (1) and (2).

Defendants carry the burden of proof for affirmative defenses. 

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@dsmithy3211 @WhiteWhale @holmantx Zimmerman's lawyers did raise the issue of self defense.  Zimmerman did not invoke stand your ground law.  That Zimmerman shot Trayvon was never disputed.  It is my understanding that the burden of proof is always on the state. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @holmantx 

It wasn't even considered until the trailing minutes of the trial when the prosecution asked for a lesser-included offense of manslaughter.  The prosecution, the witnesses, the evidence and the judge did not present the case and arguments to the Jury in order to prove, or defend, the elements of manslaughter.  It is why an hour after the jury went to deliberation, they sent out a msg asking. essentially, what manslaughter was vis a vis self-defense.  The judge replied she could not answer such a general question on manslaughter.  I am asserting that there is no self-defense when 2 people are fighting and one whips out a concealed pistol and kills the other.  The jury was not properly instructed on manslaughter but they knew something was not right with self-defense, when only one party had a gun, and he brought it out in a fight.  

But murder 2 was way over the top.  In fact, it was a kangaroo court.  They fired the sheriff, bypassed the DA, skipped the Grand Jury indictment and took it straight to show trial.  

then the prosecution just tried to poke holes in the defense's case (sow doubt) when it was their job to lay out the evidence.

Manslaughter may not have stuck, but it would have taken a day.

And I really DO think GZ is guilty of manslaughter by virtue of his actions that night.

He should not have gotten out of his car.  He wasn't even on NW duty that night.  Martin had a right to be on that sidewalk, on that street.  But he had a chip on his shoulder.

Both characters were flawed men who collided that night when both could have elected to not fight.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantxYou said: Had in the prosecution’s opening he made the simple illustration – “Two guys engage in a fist fight.  The guy who is losing subsequently pulls a concealed pistol, shoots and kills the other guy.  Self-defense cannot be asserted.”

I agree Murder 2 was a huge overreach.  Manslaughter was almost as bad,  prosecution was never able to prove even that.  Zimmerman claimed he got jumped.  The state just did not have the evidence to overcome reasonable doubt. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX @holmantx @WhiteWhale

Had in the prosecution’s opening he made the simple illustration – “Two guys engage in a fist fight.  The guy who is losing subsequently pulls a concealed pistol, shoots and kills the other guy.  Self-defense cannot be asserted.”  It would have removed “self-defense” as an obstacle to manslaughter.  Because you cannot use a deadly weapon in a fist fight.  In “fighting” both parties are committing battery on the other and it is illegal to engage in “fighting”.  Hence, it is manslaughter if you produce a concealed weapon and kill your opponent.  It doesn’t matter who started it. 

Juror B37 said last night - the six-member jury held a vote before they began examining the evidence.  “We had three not guilties, one second-degree murder and two manslaughters.” 

So even after hearing all the evidence the jurors started at 3 for manslaughter and 3 for acquittal.  And B37 already stated she thought GZ overstepped and made bad decisions.  They all cried about it.  If the jury had been adequately instructed that if they found the two parties engaged in fighting (both were wrong to take it from (follow, to pursuit, to confrontation then fighting), the guy who produced a pistol from concealment and killed the other is guilty of manslaughter. 

And self-defense is no defense. 

And if you possess a conceal carry license, you already know this. 

Do not get into t a fight then pull your weapon and kill. 

Run from bullies if you are packing. 

This is what the eye-witness, Mr. Good, saw.  He observed two guys fighting, the guy on the bottom screaming, then he jerked a pistol from under his belt, and shot the guy on top. 

The guy on top would not have been on top had he known GZ was armed with a deadly weapon.  He would not have attacked a cop in uniform, or a security guard. 

And Zimmerman would have never exited his vehicle nad he not been emboldened to do so because he was packing. 

And as a neighborhood watcher, he was not authorized to take it to the level he did, then draw his weapon and kill Trayvon Martin. 

He is guilty of manslaughter.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx @WhiteWhale First, a guy with fists has to know the guy he is beating on has a gun.  Second, it assumes the guy with fists is thinking rationally.  Which it is why getting into a fight can be very risky

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale

No it does not.  Not when one of the two who are fighting has a concealed pistol.  

Because the fight would have never occurred.  Not a fair fight.  A guy with fists would not engage a guy with a gun.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@JimSX @holmantx @WhiteWhale It does have a lot to do with who started the fight.  More importantly it has to do with the State proving beyond reasonable doubt who started the fight.   That is why Zimmerman walked.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@holmantx @WhiteWhale 

Check me on this, but my impression was it has a lot to do with who started the fight. Next question: if you have not been deputized as a law officer, and you walk up to somebody and say, "Hey, asshole, where do you think you're going?" are you just a dude starting a fight? 

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx @WhiteWhale @dsmithy3211 I am not trying to be mean and it is clear that you are dealing from intensiveness emotion.  As to your theory, the state could not prove that there was a mutual fight.  The state could not prove GZ brandished a gun.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @dsmithy3211

"the State must overcome the claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt."

and fighting accomplishes that when the loser brandishes a concealed handgun during the fight, and kills.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

How do you think intent is established?  Either through the defendant's statements or actions.   

GZ admitted to shooting Trayvon in his police statements.  He got the jury instruction for self defense.  The state failed to overcome that to prove either 2nd Degree Murder or Manslaughter.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@dsmithy3211@WhiteWhale The defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense in Florida when there is any evidence to support the claim.  This is a low standard and even a “scintilla” of evidence will be sufficient, even if the self-defense theory is extremely weak or improbable.  Self-defense may even be inferred from the State’s evidence without the Defendant or a defense witness ever taking the stand. 

Where the defendant in a Florida criminal case presents any evidence of self-defense, the State must overcome the claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury will examine what a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances appearing to the defendant at the time of the incident.  

dsmithy3211
dsmithy3211

@WhiteWhale This is not Law & Order. The State does not need to do anything of the sort.

The State does not need to show interrogation, detainment, aggressive actions, pulling a gun, hitting, or really extreme verbal threats. To establish murder, the State must establish the criminal act (killing) and GZ's mental state (with intent). Everything you just mentioned tends to show a lack of self-defense, so as to refute GZ's claim of self-defense.

Sorry, "absolute burden of proof" is not even a thing. I'm not splitting hairs. Words have meaning. Sentences have meaning.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @holmantx

"First, the association never provided the police and fire services."

the association granted an access easement for the city to provide those services in lieu of providing it themselves.  

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@dsmithy3211 @WhiteWhale Your splitting hairs.  The absolute burden of proof is on the state to prove that Zimmerman instituted some aggressive action whether pulling a gun, hitting or really extreme verbal threats.  The state utterly failed to do so.

dsmithy3211
dsmithy3211

@WhiteWhale The State did not need to provide any such evidence. Throwing the first punch is not determinative of starting the fight. 

To use an extreme example, if GZ had pulled out his gun, waved it around and started chasing TM, yelling "IMMA GET YOU, SUCKA!" then GZ would clearly have been found guilty of the subsequent murder, regardless of what happened after. In this scenario, GZ neither detained nor interrogated TM, nor necessarily threw the first punch.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx Nice research but again you did not read your own document.  First, the association never provided the police and fire services.  And only after bankruptcy and desolation of the association would the streets be turned over. 

But you did hit on the core of the issue 

The state failed to provide proof that Zimmerman detained or interrogated Trayvon.  Prior to being hit by Trayvon there is no evidence that Zimmerman had any physical contact with Trayvon. 

Get it now? 


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale

Try reading the Declarations for The Retreat at Twin Lakes.  

It’s why the association turned over police and fire to the city of Sanford.  As an invitee, Trayvon was not bound by the declarations to answer any questions from a neighborhood watch, nor is the neighborhood watch person authorized either under the Declarations or commissioned by the state to detain or question someone in the common area assigned to the police. 

Get it now?

My harpoon, Jackson.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx @WhiteWhale Try actually reading the facts of the case.  Neither Trayvon or his Father were residents.  Trayvon was an unaccompanied  guest of his Father's girlfriend.  Hence, Trayvon had no reason to get bent out of shape at being followed or questioned.  Unlike had he been on a truly public thoroughfare

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @holmantx 

Trayvon was a resident, or at the very least an invitee.

get it now?

Ha!


WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx Sorry you still don't get it.  Gated Community - General public access is restricted unlike a public street or side walk where anyone has the right to go about their business.  Zimmerman as a resident had the right to question the presence of a non resident.  It is a distinction that many people including yourself don't seem willing to understand.  For example when I visit my friend (who lives in a gated community) and I am unaccompanied I have to verify my status as a guest to any little HOA Nazi that rides up in golf cart.  Whereas on truly public thoroughfare I could tell them to F off, I am strictly a guest.  I have a right to be there only as a guest and must expect to meet requirements that I normally would not put up with. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @holmantx 

And that is my point.  The development turned over police and fire services to the city and Martin had a right to be there on the street (and sidewalk) - the common area.  

The association settled for $1 million with the Martin family prior to the trial.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@holmantx@WhiteWhaleSorry read your own link - All the streets and easements on this plot are not required for public use and such streets and easements are not and will not be a part of the county system of public roads.  Basically the rest of the document grants a utility easement to the city of Sandford, access to government and utility vehicles and allows the property owners to set the rest of the access. The whole point of a gated community is that access is restricted.  Is that concept too difficult for you to understand?

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @WhiteWhale Myrna lay off the cat nip.  I do not live in a gated development but frequently visit several friends that do.  I can't say what the rules were for where Zimmerman lived but generally unaccompanied non residents can expect to be confronted and questioned as it is not a public place.  The HOA rule for one of my friends is that all residents are supposed to question anyone they do not recognize.  Anyone that cannot be vetted is considered a trespasser.     Second, if Zimmerman planned on hunting and shooting Trayvon it is doubtful he would have allowed Trayvon to get on top of him or fired just one shot.  Hence why the 2nd degree murder charge was always an overreach.

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