George Zimmerman Trial: What Will It Take For George Zimmerman to Look Believable?


The trial against George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin on the night of February 26, 2012, started with the early stages of jury selection on June 10. The Trayvon Martin case has captured the attention of the public, and Martin's shooting death at Zimmerman's hands has been condemned by everyone from civil-rights activist Al Sharpton Rick Ross, who wrote a popular single that references the slain Martin. With the trial fast approaching, it is important to understand the facts of what happened the night of the shooting and examine the cases that both the defense and the prosecution are going to make.

A couple of interesting facts regarding the background of Sanford, Florida, where the alleged murder took place, can make race into a more critical factor in the case. Sanford became infamous in 1947 for an ugly scene where the first African-American player in the MLB was threatened by an angry mob and told to leave town. Additionally, considering that the African-American population of Seminole County, the location of the trial, is only 10% of the population, the results could depend on the presence of African-Americans in the randomly selected jury. An all-white jury could be helpful for Zimmerman's defense. Additionally, many in Zimmerman's defense team as well as his supporters believe that the murder charge was brought about by heavy social and political pressure. They argue that is is too harsh of a charge considering the circumstances of the incident. Additionally, potentially key pieces of evidence regarding Martin’s life such as his alleged drug use, pugnacious attitude, boasts about fighting, and pictures with guns will not be admitted in court as evidence. 

The strategy of the Zimmerman defense team will be to strongly emphasize the claim of self-defense — in other words, to claim that Trayvon was the aggressor who threatened the life of Zimmerman, excusing the use of deadly force. The team believes that the prosecution will have a difficult time trying to prove the claims of self-defense wrong. It is generally accepted by all sides, including Zimmerman, the police, witnesses, and others, that Zimmerman and Martin were involved in a physical altercation at the time of the shooting. The official police report of the incident recounts that Zimmerman was wet, covered in grass stains, and bleeding from the scalp, nose and mouth when the police arrived on scene, clear signs of an altercation. Many of the witnesses acknowledge that they heard or saw a fight just before the shooting. Critically, the defense wants to prove that Trayvon Martin was actually the aggressor in the altercation, which could warrant self defense. According to the defendant's father, Zimmerman claimed that Trayvon had him in a compromised position, during which time Trayvon allegedly noticed Zimmerman’s firearm and verbally threatened to kill Zimmerman. Some witness claims agree with the story that Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman and had the upper hand in the scuffle, a claim that Zimmerman’s injuries could prove. 

The prosecution plans to make the case that the attack and shooting by Zimmerman was intentional, premeditated, and aggressive. Zimmerman, who was patrolling as a member of the Neighborhood Watch, followed Martin and called the non-emergency police hotline. He reported suspicious behavior from the teenager who was just walking home from a 7-11 store. Zimmerman described Martin as “suspicious” and claiming “these a**holes always get away.” He was instructed by the police to discontinue his pursuit, advice which he ignored. The prosecution will likely argue that Zimmerman's statements to the police and his continued pursuit prove that he had either racially profiled Martin, had decided to confront and attack him long before the actual altercation, or both. The crucial phone call from Martin to his girlfriend throughout the incident seem to suggest that Trayvon was unnerved by Zimmerman’s pursuit and ran out of fear. The call also seems to suggest that Zimmerman simply approached Martin, exchanged words, and attacked. Lastly, in some 911 calls from local residents, screams for help can be heard. Many people including experts and the Martin family claim that those screams were from Trayvon. This prosecution rests on the concept that Zimmerman had intended to harm Trayvon Martin the night of the shooting.

It his hard to make a definitive case for either side. The only person who truly knows what happened is George Zimmerman. All else is speculation. It is hard to discount the theory of self defense, as there was unquestionably a struggle from which Zimmerman suffered injuries. But did it warrant deadly force? Trayvon was unarmed and the only claim made that suggests Zimmerman's life was in danger comes from Zimmerman himself. Also, recorded phone calls seem to suggest that Zimmerman was infuriated by Martin's presence, and it is possible (if not likely) that Zimmerman had serious intent to attack and capture Martin. If it seems unlikely that Zimmerman had the intention to kill Martin, perhaps the charge of second-degree murder will be reduced to manslaughter. It will certainly be a fascinating case to follow.