AFRICANGLOBE – Listening to the lead prosecutor’s final argument in the Zimmerman case, it’s hard to believe he really wanted a conviction.
Lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda lost focus from the moment he opened his mouth and began: “A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions….”
Not only is de la Rionda’s voice flat, his tone subdued and resigned, he begins by presenting the victim as an abstraction, characterizing him in a neutral, almost dismissive way as “a teenager,” who also happens to be dead, which everyone knew before the trial started. As narrative hooks go, this one is barbless.
The prosecutor adds that this teenager “is dead through no fault of his own,” as if the question before the jury was what did Trayvon do to deserve killing? Why even address the question of Trayvon’s fault when you’re supposedly trying to convict Zimmerman? Even if there’s good reason to expect the defense to try to put Trayvon on trial, why put it at the top of your summation as if it’s a credible question?
And then he says Trayvon is dead “because another man made assumptions?” Really? Isn’t Trayvon dead because another man shot him? Doesn’t that other man have a name? Isn’t Zimmerman the one on trial here? Isn’t that him over there, 27 years old, 5 feet 7.5 inches tall, 204 pounds?
They Pay TV Anchors Millions a Year to Ratify the People in Power
Despite de la Rionda’s passionless prose and torpid performance, some have praised his work. On ABC News, Diane Sawyer said that “prosecutors gave it all they had.” If that was all they had, they didn’t have much.
Why did the prosecutors eschew an approach more relevant to conviction, something simple and direct, like:
George Zimmerman killed an unarmed, innocent teenager who was trying to go home.
George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin with a single shot to the chest, a single shot at close range that killed Trayvon Martin in a matter of minutes.
Having shot Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman did nothing to try to save the life of the boy dying at his feet.
This is cold-blooded.
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But de la Rionda says nothing this forceful and direct. He waffles slowly through the general narrative, sort of trying to seem like he’s building some sympathy for Trayvon. But it’s late in the trial and the prosecution has done little to bring Trayvon alive for the jury – much less than it did to humanize Zimmerman. In the closing, de la Rionda doesn’t even know how old Trayvon is. If the prosecutor doesn’t care enough about a dead child to know his age, why should a jury care more?
When de la Rionda talks about Zimmerman’s words for his wife on the phone shortly after the killing – “Tell her I killed him” – the prosecutor has a chance to nail Zimmerman’s almost sociopathic lack of feeling. Instead, de la Rionda says only, “That’s kind of matter of fact.” No, it’s chilling and possibly incriminating.
And then he spends minutes on an irrelevant diversion, talking about how Zimmerman had decided to start a neighborhood watch because of all the alleged crime that had gone on, and he compliments Zimmerman for that. The prosecutor says that wasn’t an act of ill will (he didn’t say how he knew that). He says this was a “good thing” and that Zimmerman arming himself was a “good thing,” and so on, none of which helps the prosecution, of which de la Riondi is nominally the lead.
His presentation had no discernible organization, no flow, numerous diversions, enough meandering to allow one to wonder if it could be deliberately unconvincing. He spent ten minutes reviewing Zimmerman’s recorded statements to no compelling point, while punctuating the recitation with the comment, “That’s good,” about one Zimmerman action or another.
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At another point he spent close to ten more minutes denigrating state’s witness, Rachel Jeantel, who was 18 and on the phone with Trayvon Martin at the moment he was shot. The denigration was in the form of a defense of or an apology for her being Haitian, unable to read cursive, and “not that well educated.” He did not explain how well educated a high school student should be. And he did not explain why the prosecution failed to prepare this important witness properly. (In a television interview after the trial he said by way of excusing the verdict, “We don’t get to pick our witnesses.”)
Again and again de la Riondi cycled through blocks of evidence, like the many inconsistent and inconclusive 911 phone calls, without coming to any coherent conclusion. Instead, again and again and again, he’d finish a topic by telling the jury, “You decide.” This was a virtual refrain – “you decide” – a refrain that, when added to the fuzzy presentation of evidence, just reinforced doubt, whether reasonable or unreasonable.
His closing argument lasted more than two hours and slowly wound down with more than three minutes of near silence, as de la Riondi had the jury look at slides that outlined the prosecution’s case in text, as he occasionally and unconnectedly commented. Whatever energy his presentation might have built up was dissipated, and he closed with a few sentences that were repetitions of things he’d said before. He closed by saying the defendant was guilty of 2nd degree manslaughter, without even using his name – a closing that ended not with a bang but a whimper.