The issue that is the subject of my debate paper is the George Zimmerman trial. George Zimmerman, 28 years old at the time, shot and killed 17 year old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
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The only items found at the scene of the crime were a can of ice tea, skittles, a cell phone and ear buds, all belonging to Martin. The other item, which George Zimmerman was holding was the only weapon found at the scene, a gun. George Zimmerman was arrested, his head injuries were treated, and he was questioned by authorities for a few hours. After questioning he was released because authorities felt there was no evidence to contradict his self-defense claim. Also, under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law the police could not make an arrest. Zimmerman told authorities that he and Martin had gotten into a fight which Martin started and he shot him in self-defense. Approximately five to six weeks after the death of Martin, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with murder. His arrest came after media coverage and thousands of protestors demanding an arrest and a full investigation. The trial took place in Sanford and started on June 10, 2013, approximately 16 months after the death of the teen. There were six jurors and they were all women. Defense attorneys Mark O’Mara and Don West were Zimmerman’s lawyers. The state’s team consisted of assistant state attorney Bernie de la Ronda and prosecutor John Guy.
The defense argued that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Mark O’Mara stated that it was self-defense because Trayvon Martin was armed with the concrete sidewalk. They presented theories and pictures to back up their claims. Their focus was convincing the jury Martin was the aggressor. They presented witnesses and photos to support their argument that Martin beat Zimmerman’s head on the concrete so bad that he had no other choice but to defend himself with deadly force. They argued that Zimmerman was in fear for his life and thought Martin was trying to injure him severely from the twenty plus blows he received to his head. During one of Zimmerman’s initial interviews with authorities he stated he pulled his gun only after Martin reached for it. The state argued that Zimmerman, Hipic, was a vigilante and wannabe cop who profiled the African American as he walked home from a nearby convenience store. The state worked hard to prove Zimmerman was nothing more than a cold calculated murderer and wannabe cop. They called witnesses that stated Zimmerman had went on ride-a-longs with cops and that he had training in martial arts. They also called Zimmerman’s former professor to show that he had taken criminal justices courses and was well aware of the Stand Your Ground Law even though he stated in a previous interview he was not. They played the 911 non-emergency tape of the dispatcher telling Zimmerman not to follow Martin because the police were en route.
They labeled Zimmerman as the aggressor because he followed Martin. This case received nationwide coverage and it bought about many potential ethical, moral and legal issues. The media along with protestors and the public speculated and took to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to voice their thoughts, views and opinions. Many individuals of the public including a large number of African American males felt as though Trayvon was racial profiled and stereotyped because he was black and wearing a hoodie. They believed this because of remarks that were made by Zimmerman during the 911 call. There were posts and comments on those sites that stated had Trayvon been white and Zimmerman black an arrest would have been made immediately and he would not have been released. Many felt that Zimmerman was racist and because he did not recognize Martin, he profiled him as a thug because of what he was wearing. After the not guilty verdict was reached many were not pleased with the outcome to say the least. The Department of Justice launched an investigation to determine whether or not Trayvon Martin’s civil rights had been violated. Federal prosecutors were appointed to investigate and evaluate evidence gathered to determine if criminal civil rights charges would be filed against Zimmerman.
The Justice Department said “the criminal section of the civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.” The statement said that, in the government's words, "experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation." I followed this story and watched the trial from beginning to end. I determined the defense to have the more persuasive argument. However, I personally believe George Zimmerman got away with murder. I feel this way because Trayvon Martin posed no threat to anyone. He was nothing more than a 17 year old, unarmed kid walking home from the store with a can of tea and a bag of skittles. He was followed, profiled and possibly attacked by George Zimmerman, a wannabe cop. As far as the law is concerned, Mark O’Mara and Don West did a better job at persuading the jurors. They had one theory and they kept that theory throughout the whole trial. They presented “evidence” to support their claim. The state on the other hand were sort of on a fishing expedition. They were not consistent at all. They presented a few different theories and in the court of law, I find that jurors are more likely to be persuaded when there is evidence to support one story that tells what occurred.
The jury had three options, second degree murder, manslaughter or not guilty. After approximately 16 hours of deliberation they came back with a not guilty verdict. Both the state and the defense presented their opening statements, their witnesses and their closing arguments. After hearing all the information presented I believe the defense did a better job of presenting their argument and producing evidence to support their claims. I think that if the police department had done a better job of collecting evidence from the crime scene and from George Zimmerman, the state may have had a better case. For example, they could have tested Zimmerman for drugs and alcohol. They could have also done a better job of preserving any evidence that may have possibly been on the body of Trayvon Martin, like blood or skin on or under his fingernails. Both the state and the defense had highs and lows during the trial. John Guy’s closing rebuttal remark was one of the highlights for the state. He made Zimmerman seem like a heartless stranger who stalked, then took the life of a scared child. One highlight for the state was when the lead detective on the case stated during an interview with Tracy Martin that “the voice yelling for help on the 911 tape was not his son Trayvon Martin”. Just as there were highlights there were low points for both sides. Don West attacking the state’s witness, Rachel Jeantel’s character and speech was a very low point for the defense. Many felt as though his attack on her was unnecessary and was an attempt to discredit Trayvon through the people he associated with. The state experienced a low point when the forensic witness stated Trayvon Martin was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot.
This bit of evidence corroborates the defense’s theory that Martin was on top of Zimmerman during the fight. According to Richard E. Hornsby, a board certified criminal trial lawyer, “the crime of second degree murder occurs when a person commits either murder with a depraved mind or accomplice felony murder”. The state was trying to prove that George Zimmerman committed second degree murder with a depraved mind. Hornsby states, “Murder with a depraved mind occurs when a person is killed, without any premeditated design, by an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind showing no regard for human life”. I believe that if the state would have presented one account for the events that occurred and presented evidence to support that one argument, the jury may have come back with a guilty verdict of manslaughter.
Because the state did not have any concrete evidence to support any of the theories they presented, they should not have tried for a second degree murder conviction because they could not prove and had no evidence to support their claim of ill will or malicious intent. The defense’s argument was more persuasive because it was consistent. They presented one theory and they laid out the events that took place that lead up to the shooting. They put witnesses, detectives, cops, medical examiners and experts on the stand to corroborate their theory and discredit the state
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