Today we will again be covering the Zimmerman Trial live, all day. Continuing commentary will be posted in the Twitter feed of selected contributors below the first video feed, and breaking news will be added at the bottom of this post. Also, at day’s end I will post a separate comprehensive wrap-up discussing what happened and implications for the case moving forward. Thanks for joining us!

Finally, we’ve pulled together a compilation of our notes on these six final jurors (and the four alternates) here: Meet the Zimmerman Trial Jurors.

To see our extensive prior coverage posted on Legal Insurrection, click here: Legal Insurrection’s Zimmerman Trial LIVE coverage all day, everyday by Andrew Branca, author of The Law of Self-Defense

For all of our prior coverage on issues specific to the Law of Self Defense as covered at my own blog, click here: Law of Self Defense Blog: Zimmerman Trial

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Monday, June 24 Commentary

We’ve pulled together a compilation of our notes on these six final jurors (and the four alternates) here: Meet the Zimmerman Trial Jurors.

Today marks the first day of the trial proper, with opening statements. It is with these statements that both the State and the defense will set out their theory of the case.

To date, the State’s apparent theory has been that Zimmerman “profiled, chased, and killed Martin.”

The theory of the defense, in addition to challenging the underlying criminality of Zimmerman’s alleged “profiling” and “chasing,” is that Zimmerman’s killing of Martin was done in necessary and lawful self-defense, as provided under Florida law.

LUNCH RECESS UPDATE

Today marked the first day of the trial proper of Florida v. Zimmerman, and accordingly was the first opportunity for each side to present their “theory of the case” to the jury.

As is the norm, the State spoke to the jury first. This is a powerful advantage for any prosecutor. The first time the jury is presented with a cohesive vision of the events underlying the trial it is done from the perspective of the defendant’s guilt.

In addition, the opening statement provides the prosecutor with an unusually broad opportunity to establish a conceptual framework of guilt constructed wholly of the State’s view of the evidence. Once the State begins its formal presentation of its case it will face substantially greater restrictions on what it can say and how it can say it.

Given this relative “freedom of action,” it is during the opening statement that the State should really hit a “home run.” Up until the State’s opening is completed, the only substantive information that the jury will know of the case will have come from the State’s perspective. If immediately after hearing the State’s opening one isn’t strongly disposed to believe in the defendant’s guilt, is it unlikely that the juror will be more convinced after the State’s evidence has been subjected to a vigorous cross and the defense has had the opportunity to present it’s own side of the case. I suggest that the State’s opening statement is where they set the “high water mark” for guilt.

With this context in mind, there were three aspects of the State’s opening statement that I found particularly remarkable.

First, that it was State Attorney Guy who made the opening, rather than his boss, de la Rionda, or for that matter his boss–the special prosecutor actually appointed by the Florida governor to bring this to trial, Angela Corey. (Both de la Rionda and Corey were present in the court room.)

Second, the brevity of Guy’s comments–from start to finish his opening remarks took a mere 30 minutes. Given that the vital strategic importance of the opening statement, the State’s relative “freedom of action” at this stage of the proceeding, and the fact that this is a murder in the second degree case of national prominence and in which the State has surely invested well in excess of a million dollars, a 30 minute opening seems a rather modest effort.

Third, the almost complete absence of evidentiary basis for the State’s opening. Attorney Guy opened by quoting Zimmerman’s brief cursing on the non-emergency call, placing considerable emphasis on this as evidence of an “evil mind”, and then went on to rely far more on dramatic intonations than on actual facts in evidence. Even worse from the State’s perspective, many of the facts he did mention would seem favorable to the defense–for example, that there had been a recent surge in crime in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.

Many other facts seemed an effort to shock the jury, but were of little or no relevancy to guilt. He repeatedly referenced the fact that Zimmerman’s handgun was loaded to its normal capacity, as if this showed some evil intent. In fact, every Sheriff’s deputy in that court room has his sidearm loaded in exactly the same manner, as intended in the gun’s design. Similarly, he kept referring to the handgun as a “semi-automatic,” which it certainly is, but he may as well have been referring to its color or barrel length for all the relevancy it has to whether Zimmerman acted in lawful self-defense or committed murder in the second degree.

There also seemed to be an almost desperate effort to recast marginally interpretable pieces of evidence as instances of Zimmerman lying outright to the police and others. Guy mentioned, for example, that Zimmerman claimed Martin attacked him “right after” the end of Zimmerman’s non-emergency call to police. Guy almost seemed to shout, “Ah-HAH!” with a pointed finger in the air when he informed the jury that in fact a whole two minutes had lapsed between the end of the call and the start of the confrontation.

In summary, the State’s opening remarks seem to me to be a very weak effort, indeed.

In contrast, Attorney West appears almost Terminator-like in his presentation of the defense’s theory of the case, their compelling narrative of George Zimmerman’s innocence, the desperate fight for his life, the final instant when only his gun could save him, and George barely surviving, bloody and staggering, his brush with death.

West rolled out exhibit after exhibit, including Google map images of the housing complex generally and the scene of the conflict in particular.

He played both Zimmerman’s non-emergency call to police as well as Witness #11’s 911 call, both their full-length and in a step-by-step fashion, comparing each portion to a timeline of events. The recordings made clear that the “cursing” so strongly emphasized by the State was said in a tone of exasperation, not hatred.

He described how Zimmerman carried his gun loaded in the completely ordinary fashion, as he’d been taught by a friend who has long been a Federal law enforcement officer.

He placed the expected witness testimony in context, emphasizing the portions of that evidence that were consistent with George’s absence of either guilt or a depraved mind, and explaining why some testimony that suggested guilt would be shown to be impossible given the facts (for example, one witness claims that Zimmerman shot Martin in the back, but forensics clearly shows Martin was only shot once in the chest).

After 90 minutes of this West seemed prepared to continue indefinitely, but the Court called a lunch recess at 12:30. When the Court returns at 1:30PM West will resume his opening statement, and I would not be at all surprised if he continued for an additional 90 minutes.

OK, I need to grab a bite to eat myself. See you all back here at 1:30PM.

–Andrew


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense,” now available in its just released 2nd Edition, which shows you how to successfully fight the 20-to-life legal battle everyone faces after defending themselves. UPDATE: July 5, 2013 is the LAST DAY to take advantage of the 30% pre-order discount, only $35, plus free shipping. To do so simply visit the Law of Self Defense blog.

BREAKING: “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition” is now also being carried by Amazon.com, at list price but with a commitment for 2-day delivery.  A Kindle version to come within a week or so (I hope).

Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for the invitation to guest-blog on the Zimmerman trial here on Legal Insurrection!

You can follow Andrew on Twitter on @LawSelfDefense (or @LawSelfDefense2 if I’m in Twitmo, follow both!)on Facebook, and at his blog, The Law of Self Defense.