George Zimmerman Trial: It's Only Halftime, But the Trial is Already Over
On Friday afternoon, the state rested its case against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin last year. The prosecution called 38 witnesses over the course of nine days of arguments, and the defense is expected to call numerous other witnesses in the coming days.
But even though this weekend marks the half-way point for the Zimmerman case, it's clear that the trial ended when the prosecution did. In other words, Zimmerman is probably off the hook, at least for murder.
"Why in the world would you make such a bold prediction?" you might ask. I can hear the pundits in the comments section screaming for justice already, as so many of Trayvon Martin's supporters have done ever since that fateful night in February, 2012: "The man shot and killed an innocent 17-year- old kid! What makes you think he isn't guilty?!"
The answer is simple. In order to win a conviction on second-degree murder, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman's conduct revealed "a depraved mind" without regard for human life. It has failed to do so.
The problem with the prosecution's case is that there was never enough evidence to prove that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin "because he wanted to," as prosecutor John Guy claimed at the beginning of the trial.
What makes matters even more complicated is that the state's witnesses weren't able to shine a coherent light on the events that preceded the shooting on the night of February 26, 2012.
"There are significant weaknesses in the state's case — most importantly conflicting eyewitness accounts which themselves create reasonable doubt as to what happened that night," said Elizabeth Parker, a former Florida prosecutor.
Even worse, some of the prosecution's key witnesses gave testimony that damaged the state's case. John Good, a resident of the Florida community where the shooting took place, gave testimony that would suggest that Martin had the upper hand in the struggle that occurred before Zimmerman took out his gun.
Good stated that he saw two figures on the ground in an MMA-style "ground and pound" position, with the person on top raining down blows on the other. "The person on the bottom had a lighter skin color," he noted.
Meanwhile, detective Chris Serino, the lead investigator on the case, told the jury that Zimmerman was completely cooperative with police after the shooting, and that he believed Zimmerman was telling the truth when he said he was attacked by Martin.
"Serino's testimony was frankly terrible for the state," said Randy Reep, a Jacksonville defense attorney, in an interview with USA Today. "The instruction from the judge to ignore his views of Zimmerman's honesty was the correct thing for the judge to do, but un-ringing that bell is impossible to do."
Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution's star witness, stirred up a storm of controversy surrounding her language, use of the word "cracker," her scandalous tweets, and the general media portrayal of a black woman entrenched in a white environment. Any relevant evidence that Jeantel's testimony produced that wasn't lost in translation was washed out in the broader media debate.
In fact, controversy seems to have been the theme of the prosecution's case, and it has tainted the testimony of several of the state's witnesses. Dr. Valerie Rao, the Jacksonville medical examiner who testified that Zimmerman's wounds were "insignificant," is under fire in her district for improper practices like "washing her feet in the autopsy sink and touching cadavers with her bare hands."
Furthermore, on cross- examination, defense attorney Mark O'Mara pointed out that Rao is from the home circuit of State Attorney Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the Zimmerman case. He asked Rao if Corey had appointed her to her current post, to which Rao responded that Corey had "sent my name up to the governor."
Last week, I argued that the Zimmerman trial has descended to a level of farce that resembles sitcom entertainment. Of course, the prosecution isn't the only side to blame for the numerous comedically unprofessional moments that have occurred in the courtroom — in fact, defense attorney Don West currently holds the honor as the trial's biggest court jester.
Let's not forget, though, that at the end of these seemingly never-ending proceedings, the six members of the jury are going to have to return from their deliberations with an answer to the question of whether or not George Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder. The only way they're going to answer that question in the affirmative is if they're so sold by the prosecution's case that all of their reasonable doubts are erased.
Controversy creates confusion, and confusion creates doubt. In the end, a messy trial works out toin the defense's favor. Though the state will attempt to tie the evidence up neatly in their closing argument, the inevitable truth is that the prosecution never proved that Zimmerman's actions were "imminently dangerous" and demonstrated a "depraved mind without regard for human life."*
Instead, what the facts seem to have shown is two individuals who intimidated each other in equal measure and — had Trayvon Martin survived the encounter — would have both been equally entitled to a self-defense claim. There's no question that Zimmerman started it and ended it, but the prosecution hasn't been able to explain what happened in between; and that's why it won't take the case home.
Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic who covers the George Zimmerman trial for PolicyMic's live stream. For more opinions and live updates on the proceedings, follow Gabe on Twitter.
*There is, I should note, an alternative possibility to a "not guilty" ruling. The jury could, at the end of the trial, convict Zimmerman of manslaughter, which is a lesser charge than the one the state chose to pursue. The jury would have to find that Zimmerman lost his temper when he shot Martin, but didn't necessarily racially profile him or approach with the intent to kill him.