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July 14, 2013


The verdict is in in what was called the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. "Not Guilty". Perhaps they ought to charge Trayvon Martin now with "Attempted Murder", "Felonious Assault", except that Trayvon Martin is dead.

The "crime" took place in Florida. If you want the details, read the news. My goal is to show how dysfuntional our current legal system is. Which means this is as brief a summary as I can possibly manage, to highlight the issues at hand and form what I hope will be a relevant essay on crime in America and the criminal justice system.

I did not follow the criminal justice/court proceedings intently. I did pay attention to the highlights of the case. In as brief of terms as possible here is my summary, for what it's worth.

Florida is a state with a law called "Stand Your Ground". The law states that if your life is threatened you can stand your ground and not, as is the case in many other states, be obligated to try to flee your attacker or the person threatening you. I am all for "Stand Your Ground", as trying to flee will rarely save your life. People who try to flee often end up exhausted running, end up in worse circumstances or in attempting to flee get run over by a car or bus.

In addition, in states without "Stand Your Ground" you may find yourself in a position to save the life of another person who is being threatened with imminent death. Under the law you must yell "RUN" to the intended victim and run yourself. If the person that you witnessed that was in imminent danger of death dies, well too bad. You called 911 of course, but they, the police got there too late.

Stand Your Ground makes sense. Unfortunately, "the George Zimmerman" case makes that logic rather suspect. Why?

George Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood "Watch Group" in a gated Florida community that had experienced recent break-ins and assaults. Zimmerman's training with firearms, Florida law and personal rights was indeed noteworthy and exemplary. There seems little to argue that George Zimmerman was the man for the job in a neighborhood watch group.

However, what happened the night he killed Trayvon Martin puts Stand Your Ground on trial, not Zimmerman. And it puts Trayvon Martin on trial, only he's dead.

The story begins at night. It's raining. George Zimmerman is on duty with the neighborhood watch detail. Trayvon Martin is staying with relatives and decides to go to the store for some candy. Trayvon is a teen, around age 16, and Zimmerman is an adult. As Trayvon is returning home wearing his hoody, Zimmerman sees him. He is suspicious and calls 911.

What follows is essentially speculation and the word of one man who survived, a key witness and friend of Trayvon's, and 911 transcripts.

George Zimmerman tells 911 that he has spotted a suspicious person. The 911 dispatcher tells him they'll sent officers, that he shouldn't follow the suspect who it turns out, is Trayvon. At what point if any when Zimmerman determines Trayvon is Black is unclear and disputed. Zimmerman himself is White Latino. The allegation is brought up in court between the defense and prosecution who has charged Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder, however my understanding is the judge rules race is a prohibited topic for either side.

The prosecution contends that Zimmerman proceded to follow Trayvon. The defense contends Trayvon jumped Zimmerman, allegedly while near his car. Seems that would be simple to ascertain, considering where Trayvon's dead body was found, which I have not heard how far from his car he was when he claims he was forced to shoot Trayvon dead in self-defense.

Assuming that Zimmerman shot Trayvon a significant distance from his car would lead one to believe he did not heed advice from the 911 dispatcher and instead followed Trayvon. Another way to look at this is he stalked Trayvon and became a vigilante, as the job of a neighborhood watch member is to report suspicious activity, not to play policeman and pursue.

The key witness for the prosecution was on the phone with Trayvon that night. His friend had this to say: ... testified that Martin told her he was being chased by a "creepy-a** cracker." The link is here: CNN - "Why This Verdict..."

When challenged by her statement, she had this to say (same CNN link): When defense attorney Don West challenged her story, suggesting Martin attacked Zimmerman, she responded: "That's retarded."

If we were to put Trayvon Martin on trial, and if we assume what the key witness for the prosecution said was true, would not Trayvon Martin also have the right to Stand His Ground?

And excellent opinion piece by CNN's Miller Francis is here: "What About Martin's Right To Stand Your Ground"

Where I live it would take police 15 - 20 minutes to arrive. If I saw a suspicious person lurking here, I would be obligated by law to retreat to my home and call 911. I could Stand My Ground in my home, but not pursue the suspicious person. I'm not judging Zimmerman for his concerns, and not suggesting I should pursue a suspicious person in my neighborhood. What I am questioning is whether what George Zimmerman did was justified? Whether prejudice played a role or a sense of playing law enforcement, ie, being a vigilante played a role.

What happened we'll likely never know. What we do know is Trayvon Martin had used marijuana, admissible as evidence in court. Do we know if George Zimmerman also had THC in his system, or alcohol? No we don't. What we know is George Zimmerman was found Not Guilty; he was not found Innocent.

Why is this important? In 1954 a Dr. Samuel Sheppard was found Guilty of murdering his wife. The story allegedly spawned the popular 1960's TV series called "the Fugitive". In the late 1960's Sam Sheppard was found Not Guilty of the murder. Dispite another 40 years investigating the murder of his mother, the child of Sam Sheppard knows who killed his mother. Yet, the legal proceedings are so dysfunctional that despite this knowledge, and although Dr. Sam sheppard is dead, the courts have still not found Sam Sheppard to be Innocent of the crime for which he was found Not Guilty.

You can read the fascinating story here, on Crime Library: "The Case of Dr. Samuel Sheppard"

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