Many legal commentators have criticized the prosecution’s handling of this case, but few have done so as sharply as Jarvis DeBerry in the New Orleans Time’s Picayune (nola.com), where the headline on his July 16 column read, “Did George Zimmerman’s prosecutors try to get him off?”
Based on his conversation with a former prosecutor who is a current defense attorney, who chose to remain anonymous, DeBerry wrote that this lawyer who’s tried hundreds of cases said “he’s never seen prosecutors who want to win make the series of missteps that the Florida prosecutors made. So he’s convinced they lost on purpose.”
The lawyer argued that the prosecutors should have sought a change of venue for the trial, since the potential conflicts it presented had already led to recusals of one county prosecutor and two judges, as well as a probably tainted jury pool.
He faulted the prosecution for its jury selection, failing to get even one male juror or one Black juror, and for failing to use their challenges to remove clearly unsympathetic jurors. The now-infamous juror B37 went unchallenged, even though she revealed during jury draw that she remembered “riots in Sanford” that never happened.
The lawyer was incredulous at the inept preparation of Rachel Jeantel, as the prosecution allowed her to take the stand and testify in a manner that was sometimes unclear and potentially alienating, especially to a jury of six non-Black women.
The lawyer was generally critical of the degree to which the prosecution went about making the case for the defense, in particular playing Zimmerman’s interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News. If the prosecution had omitted it, the defense would have been prevented from playing it by the rules of evidence. “If it hurts your case, let the other guy do it,” the lawyer said: “They didn’t want to win this case.”
And Then There Was the Controversial State Attorney in Charge
Running the prosecution team was elected state attorney Angela Corey, who was appointed by the governor as special prosecutor for this case after the local prosecutor’s recusal. Corey is a controversial figure in Florida legal circles and was accused of filing a “perjurious affidavit” in the Zimmerman case by attorney Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School in 2012. Corey was criticized by others for charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder since, they argued, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it.
In a news conference after the verdict, Corey didn’t address the verdict directly. She began by saying:
We are so proud to stand before you and to tell you that when we announced the charges 15 months ago, we also promised that we would seek the truth for Trayvon Martin and due process for George Zimmerman, that we would get all of the facts and details of this very difficult case before a jury, and that we chose to do it that way because we felt that everyone had a right to know everything about this case….
We believe we brought out the truth on behalf of Trayvon Martin.
In a later television interview, when asked to describe Zimmerman with a single word, she hesitated for a long time, then said softly, “Murderer,” and gave a small, sad smile.
So the Plan Was to Lose by Over-Playing the Effort to Win?
Why is she spitting in the jury’s eye like this after the verdict? Legally, Zimmerman is not a murderer, though he is a killer. More perplexing, how does this apparent belief in Zimmerman’s guilt fit with a plan to get “all of the facts and details” of the case before a jury? With all the facts and details, and no prosecution narrative to hang them on, could any jury be expected to convict?
But this is not a woman who doesn’t know how to win a conviction in a seemingly difficult case. In 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a single shot into the ceiling in the midst of an argument with her abusive husband. A 32-year-old African American mother of three, Alexander said it had been a warning shot and claimed protection under the Stand Your Ground law. She had no prior criminal record.
She was charged, tried, and convicted by prosecutor Angela Corey. Alexander is currently serving a 20-year sentence, not for killing or harming anyone, but for outing a bullet in the ceiling. According Corey, Alexander wasn’t afraid when her husband was in a rage and threatening her.
According to Corey, the Zimmerman case was never about race.
There’s no way to know with certainty what the prosecutors were trying to accomplish, consciously or not. But it’s clear what they have accomplished, and it doesn’t look like justice.
By: William Boardman