Angela Corey’s controversial decisions as prosecutor angered many voters
Yesterday Angela Corey, the prosecutor who dragged George Zimmerman into a hapless politically-motivated trial for second degree murder for the lawful killing of Trayvon Martin, has soundly lost the GOP primary race for her re-election as 4th Judicial State Attorney in the Jacksonville area of Florida, reports the Florida-Times Union newspaper. Corey was defeated by a relatively late entrant into the primary, former corporate lawyer and prosecutor Melissa Nelson.
Technically, Nelson must now go on to win the general election in order to secure Corey’s seat, but there seems little question that she will be successful in this effort according to the Florida-Times Union:
Nelson must still defeat write-in candidate Kenny Leigh in the general election before she officially becomes the state-attorney elect, but no write-in candidate has ever been elected to a state attorney position in Florida and Leigh has not raised any money or made any campaign appearances.
Corey had proven an extremely polarizing figure as prosecutor. Her decisions, while not always legally inappropriate, too often managed to anger sizable and powerful portions of her constituents.
To readers of this blog Corey will be most infamous for her role in bringing George Zimmerman up on second degree murder charges in what would ultimately prove to be, in this writer’s humble opinion, perhaps the cleanest self-defense shooting ever brought to trial. While Zimmerman’s trial always reeked of political motivations, private conversations I had after the trial with attorneys familiar with the case confirmed this to almost certainly have been the case.
When Corey made the decision to prosecute Zimmerman she was also then facing a tough fight for re-election. Of particular concern to political aspirations was the extent to which Corey had angered the black community in the Jacksonville area. Two cases in particular had raised the ire of this demographic among her constituency: the prosecution of Marissa Alexander under Florida’s “10-20-Life” mandatory minimum sentencing statute for firing a “warning shot” at Alexander’s husband, and the 2011 prosecution of 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez as an adult on murder charges. Both Alexander and Fernandez are black.
For what it’s worth, I believe Corey was appropriate in her approach to the Alexander case. Alexander was first offered a three-year plea deal after she fired a shot past her husband’s head, while he stood beside his two young children (they would testify in court that they thought they were going to die). Other than Alexander’s later self-serving testimony there was no evidence whatever that her husband had presented a deadly force threat to Alexander, and her narrative was not helped when Alexander fled the scene and it was her husband who called the police to report the incident. As for the Fernandez case I have no particular opinion, having not followed the case closely. There appears to have been little question, however, that Fernandez had in fact murdered his victim–the only question was whether as a 12-year-old he should have been tried as an adult.
Regardless of the merits of either the Alexander or Fernandez cases, much of the black community in Corey’s electorate was outraged by these decisions, leading to protest marches led by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The danger to Corey’s re-election was clear and present. What to do, what to do, what to do?
That’s when George Zimmerman popped up on Corey’s radar screen, appearing to her eye as the perfect lever by which she could regain favor with the black community. A “white hispanic” named “Zimmerman” shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager? Corey grabbed the case with both hands and ran as if her (political) life depended on it, charging Zimmerman with second-degree depraved heart murder in what local prosecutors and police had already correctly concluded was an open-and-shut case of lawful self-defense.
Perhaps no one was more surprised than Corey when the local, national, and even international media decided to come fully on board to help advance her false narrative of second-degree murder. The result was an organized tsunami of false narratives and outright lies intended to railroad George Zimmerman into a wrongful life sentence in prison.
As one example, Trayvon Martin was widely portrayed as a 12-year-old child, instead of the 17-year-old muscular budding young criminal that the evidence (much of it excluded from the trial, in no small part to it being concealed by prosecutors) suggested he was at the time of his death.
Zimmerman was portrayed as having chased down a Martin desperately fleeing for safety, when in fact the evidence overwhelmingly suggested that Martin viciously ambushed Zimmerman the moment that Zimmerman hung up the phone with police, with whom Zimmerman had been in constant communication until the moment of Martin’s attack.
Even such notable legal “experts” as then-CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin were taken in by these false narratives, to the point at which she would wager $100 with this correspondent on their truth, only to be proven wrong. (No, she’s never made good on her debt. I have no idea whether that has anything to do with the fact that she no longer appears to be employed by CNN.)
Perhaps most egregious, exculpatory evidence was discovered by prosecutors and then effectively hidden from Zimmerman’s defense counsel until the trial was already underway, a point at which it was too late for the defense team to evaluate and apply that exculpatory evidence in Zimmerman’s defense.
Indeed, so many and varied were the false narratives built around the Zimmerman trial that I’ve been compelled to aggregate them for purposes of efficiency: Zimmerman Trial Redux: Busting the Myths Again.
The change in Corey’s electoral prospects following her decision to prosecute Zimmerman was dramatic. Where before there had been protest marches by black activists demanding that Corey be removed from office, now Corey found herself at the head of these marches, demanding that Zimmerman be convicted, actual facts be damned, and sentenced to life imprisonment for having defended himself from a vicious and life-threatening attack. Some protest marches even involved activists from the New Black Panthers distributing “wanted: dead or alive” bounty posters for the murder of George Zimmerman.
As an interested party who watched every moment of the Zimmerman trial, I was astonished each day that not only were prosecutors not able to build a compelling narrative of guilt within the bounds of the actual law within the court room (as opposed to within the media narrative outside), each day their narrative of guilt actually became weaker. At the end, Prosecutor John Guy (now a Florida judge) was left with nothing to argue to the jury but an emotion-laden plea to find Zimmerman guilty because emotion. We documented both the prosecutors’ and defense closing arguments here: Zimmerman Defense Gives Evidence-Rich Closing, State Appeals to “Heart”.
To their great credit, the jury declined to do so. Over 14 months were expended on George Zimmerman’s prosecution and trial. In the end, the jury returned with a unanimous verdict of not guilty in a matter of mere hours. (Incidentally, you can view all of our day-to-day coverage of the Zimmerman trial here: The Zimmerman Files: Aggregated day-by-day live coverage & analysis.)
This outcome presented with Corey with several substantive dangers to the security of her political position. Whereas she had regained the support of the black community for prosecuting Zimmerman, now some in that community angrily argued that she had deliberately lost the trial, that it had all been a ruse. After all, Corey had been arguing for more than a year that Zimmerman was clearly guilty of second degree murder–so what other than deliberate malfeasance had prevented her from obtaining a conviction? In the meantime the Marissa Alexander case re-emerged as Alexander won a re-trial, further angering the black community in the Jacksonville area.
Meanwhile, Corey’s support by white conservative voters in the area took an enormous blow as a direct result of her efforts to portray Zimmerman’s clear act of self-defense as depraved-heart second-degree murder. For the lawful gun owner fearful that they, too, might someday have to defend themselves against a vicious, life-threatening attack it suddenly seemed not at all unlikely that Prosecutor Angela Corey might try to get them railroaded into a life sentence if doing so would advance her personal political ambitions.
In the light of all this it is perhaps not surprising that in yesterday’s GOP primary election Melissa Nelson defeated Corey in Nassau County by 32 points (57% to 25%), in Duval County by 38 points (65% to 27%), in Clay County by a full 41 points (64% to 23%), according to Jacksonville news station WOKV. As the saying goes, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer gal.
Those of us who comment on legal matters often bemoan the state of the judiciary, remarking on the odd decisions of this or another crazy judge somewhere. And it’s true that judges wield great discretionary power within their courtrooms.
Outside the courtroom, however, it is largely the prosecutor who wields the greatest degree of arbitrary power concentrated in a single position. Prosecutors are granted enormous discretion (and legal immunity!) for the decisions they make in the course of their duties. Such power can, and generally is, used to pursue genuine justice, both in seeking and in deferring to seek prosecution in particular cases.
Unfortunately, such power is also subject to outright and vicious abuse, and often for personal political advantage. In the case of Angela Corey prosecuting George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin we were presented with precisely such an instance of abuse.
I, at least, shall not miss her.
P.S. Many of you may have heard that I’ve re-located from Boston to Denver, the move being one reason for my lack of posts here in the last month or so. In celebration of that successful escape from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (and my newly acquired ability to lawfully install a collapsible stock on my AR “modern sporting rifle”), as well as to offset some of our moving expenses, we are running a 20% discount on our world-class “Law of Self Defense Instructor Program.” This program is the equivalent of a full semester law school seminar on self-defense law, if any law school taught such a thing, which to my knowledge they do not. The sale runs only through this Sunday, so don’t delay. (If you are Military/LEO, you can also apply our 15% MIL/LEO discount.) You can learn more details about the program here.
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