George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin Case Updates
Florida’s court system has a knack for drawing the attention of legal experts all across the country. Two years ago it was Casey Anthony, and now it’s George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26th, 2012, just three weeks after Martin’s seventeenth birthday. Zimmerman, 28 at the time of the shooting, argues that he shot the teen in self-defense after being attacked by Martin. His argument is his legal defense, and his attorneys will try to prove to the jury this summer that their story is more believable than the image the State prosecutors will try to portray – that of an overzealous volunteer community watchman overstepping his boundaries, disobeying police orders to leave Martin alone, and unjustly killing the teen who, as it has been reiterated on media outlets over the past year and a half, was armed with just iced tea and Skittles.
The case drew ire not just because it involved a teen dying. More agitating to the public was that the shooter was taken at his word, that the killing was in self-defense, and was never even arrested for the murder. After nearly two months of media outrage, internal investigations and a shuffle in officials relating to the case, Martin was arrested in mid-April of 2012 for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The case, The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, is expected to commence on Monday, June 24th with opening statements. However, roughly two weeks before the anticipated start of proceedings, Zimmerman’s defense team received major blows in the form of decisions from Judge Debra Nelson, the third judge to preside over the case after her two predecessors had either recused themselves or been removed due to conflicts of interest or biased behavior.
On Tuesday, May 28th, Judge Nelson ruled against a defense attorney’s plea for a delay, agreeing with the prosecution that the case should begin as scheduled. And perhaps more importantly, she ruled that the prosecution may not mention (or show photographs proving) three inflammatory issues: that Trayvon Martin was suspended from school, that he had smoked marijuana, that he had exchanged text messages about a gun purchase, or that he had been involved in other incidents of fighting. These issues, according to the defense team, are critical to their theory that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor in the case – a violent teen drug user who often fought but in this case picked a fight with the wrong person. On the other hand, the defense team argues that it is Zimmerman who is on trial for second-degree murder. Their client, Trayvon Martin, is the victim in the case, and what the defense team had hoped to present in court would have been used purely to disparage the deceased Martin.
The judge did also mention, however, that issues pertaining to Martin’s past will undoubtedly come up in the proceedings and their use as evidence will be decided on a case-by-case basis, outside the presence of the jury. (An example of how this type of information might be relevant in the proceedings is if the autopsy reports are discussed during the trial – Martin’s toxicology report showed traces of marijuana).
Jury selection, which wrapped-up during the penultimate week of June after two weeks, was very interesting. As we know, the accused has the right to a trial by an impartial jury of his peers, a right granted by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Given the amount of media attention this case has received, from Miami to Tallahassee but also from Maine to California, the attorneys undoubtedly a difficult time choosing jurors who have not already formed opinions on the case. Though the media, at the time of this blog writing, has yet to have access to the specific racial identities of the jurors, it has been reported that the six jurors – all women – comprise five white women and one woman who is either black or Hispanic. The four alternate jurors, who will hear the case along with the six regular jurors, comprise two women white women, one white male and one Hispanic male, as reported by the New York Daily News.