The Not Guilty verdict came as no surprise to those of us following the actual evidence.
Today is the 5th Anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by George Zimmerman.
I don’t think any other website has covered the case as extensively as we have. We have hundreds of posts under the tags Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and George Zimmerman trial. We covered the initial publicity, the pre-trial criminal proceedings, the trial itself, and the post-trial problems George Zimmerman experienced.
Andrew Branca’s live coverage of the trial was epic and widely credited, including by Don West, co-defense counsel for Zimmerman, Unexpected thanks to Legal Insurrection on 2nd Anniversary of Zimmerman Acquittal.
This is Don West, co-counsel for George Zimmerman in the Treyvon Martin shooting.
Today is the second anniversary of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Because of the hectic pace of the trial, I’ve only recently begun to review much of the coverage of the case; and I want to compliment Legal Insurrection, Professor Jacobson, and especially Andrew Branca for their exceptional coverage of the trial.
The facts of the case were reported fairly and accurately, and the legal analysis was always first rate.
Where so many news outlets and bloggers seemed unconcerned with the actual facts or the law, and were content to combine misinformation with their own misunderstanding, its obvious from the reporting that Legal Insurrection was genuinely interested in the truth and fully understood the legal issues of the case.
Your effort is truly appreciated. Thank you.
From our very first post on March 23, 2012, Zimmerman-Martin questions, we took the position that we needed the facts to roll in before jumping to conclusions:
Let’s allow the facts to come in before we opine on the legal significance of the facts. Did Zimmerman hunt Martin down, or did the two come into unexpected contact with deadly results? It could be important.
Given the high political profile the case already has taken, we owe it to the victim and the accused for there to be a professional investigation free from politics.
The media, activists, and Trayvon’s family lawyers took a different approach, developing narratives before the facts were known.
In my third post on the case, on March 24, 2012, I warned that they were setting up a very bad situation if and when those narratives fell apart, What happens when Zimmerman is found “not guilty”?
George Zimmerman has been tried and convicted in the media and public opinion for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, with the case almost uniformly being portrayed as racially motivated, with the wearing of a hoody by a young black male as the symbol.
Violence is in the air….
Even Obama has framed the case in racial terms, saying that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, which has thrust the issue into presidential politics as Newt pushed back on Obama’s racial narrative of the case.
Zimmerman, not surprisingly, is in hiding and has not returned to work, where his employer fears for the safety of fellow employees.
A case which should be focused on the guilt or innocence of the accused based on evidence, and finding justice for a victim based on law, has been turned into a racial political play.
The evidence made public so far, however, is not as conclusive as public opinion either as to Zimmerman’s guilt of a criminal offense or racial motivation. Based on what is known so far, the possibility of a not guilty verdict is very real.…
That prediction was prescient. Sometimes you just have to go with you gut, and the early evidence suggested to me the case would not turn out the way the media and the activists wanted.
There is no possible way I can cover every aspect of the case in this one post, so I’ll focus on just a few aspects of the lies about the case that framed the case and continue to live on in the coverage today of the anniversary.
False Hoodie Narrative
In trying to turn the case into a racial narrative, the initial burst of publicity and activism turned on Trayvon wearing a hoodie.
There were hoodie protests around the nation.
And even at Cornell Law School, where I teach.
Yet early on the evidence demonstrated the falsity of that narrative, as I explained on March 28, 2012, Sourcing narrative “facts” in the Martin case:
2. Hoody. The Hoody has become the symbol of protests, based on the assertion that Zimmerman found Martin suspicious because he was wearing a hoody. But the audio tape [link now dead](language warning) in which Zimmerman mentions a hoody is clear that a hoody was mentioned only after Zimmerman had described why Martin was suspicious, and in response to a later question by the 911 operator as to what the suspicious person was wearing. What is the source of this fact that Zimmerman found the wearing of a hoody suspicious? [current note: I spelled “Hoody wrong,” but got the facts right]
I expanded the discussion on April 1, 2012, Speculative hoodie symbolism
The hoodie has become the symbol of protests regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
From images of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm wearing a hoodie, to the “million hoodie march,” to Havard law students wearing hoodies with a sign “Do we look suspicious?,” to Congressman Bobby Rush appearing on the House floor in a hoodie, the hoodie has come to symbolize alleged racial profiling by Zimmerman which led to the shooting.
But as relates to the Zimmerman-Martin case, the hoodie at best is speculative symbolism, not based on any known facts connected to the shooting. While Martin was wearing a hoodie that night, there is nothing other than surmise to suggest that Martin was considered suspicious by Zimmerman for that reason.
Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. …
Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
A hoodie was mentioned but only in response to questioning by the dispatcher as to what the suspicious person was wearing (emphasis mine):
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now, he was just staring…
Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area…
Zimmerman: …looking at all the houses.
The suggestion that Zimmerman found the wearing of a hoodie suspicious simply is not supported by the 911 call, made at a time Zimmerman could not have known how the evening would end or how the case would gain national attention.
Despite the lack of evidence of the wearing of a hoodie as an actual factor in the case, the hoodie today remains the symbol of the case, as evidenced by these tweets:
— WGN TV News (@WGNNews) February 17, 2017
Trayvon Martin was killed 5 years ago, today. His memory will always live in our hearts and our movement for justice. Hoodies Up! pic.twitter.com/gojYZlvtdN
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) February 26, 2017
— The Root (@TheRoot) February 26, 2017
False Racial Narrative
First came the racial narrative, that Trayvon was followed and shot because he was black. That was based on multiple falsehoods, most particularly the NBC News doctoring of police audio in which it falsely made it seem as though Zimmerman said he was following Trayvon because Trayvon was black.
But that’s not what happened. Zimmerman only mentioned race when the police operator asked about race.
There also was the claim that Zimmerman used the term “f-ing coons” on the police tape. But that was debunked early on, as I wrote on April 12, 2012, Affidavit of Probable Cause destroys claim Zimmerman used racial epithet:
One of hotest topics of argument has been whether George Zimmerman said “f-ing coons” under his breath on the 911 tape. The left-blogosphere has used the alleged racial epithet endlessly to paint this as a racially motivated hate crime.
CNN used three different audio experts to analyze the tape, but one of whom found “f-ing coons,” another “f-ing cold,” and another “f-ing punks.”
In the Affidavit of Probable Cause, which just was made available, State of Florida investigators swore under oath that that Zimmerman used the term “f-ing punks”:
An FBI investigation also found no history of racism in Zimmerman’s past.
Feeding the media racial narrative, there were widespread but false claims that neo-Nazis were patrolling the neighborhood where the shooting took place, Sanford (FL) Police deny any indication of neo-Nazis patrolling.
False Stand Your Ground Narrative
As Andrew Branca has explained many times, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was not invoked in Zimmerman’s defense. SYG also is very misunderstood, it is not a “license to kill” – it only kicks in when all the other elements of lawful use of deadly force is established. SYG only addressed the need to retreat.
It made sense for Zimmerman not to rely on SYG, because Stand Your Ground would only be relevant if Zimmerman had a route of exit, but the shooting took place while Zimmerman was on his back on the grass, his head having been pounded on the pavement and being beaten Mixed Martial Arts style by Trayvon:
O’Mara: OK. And do you stand by that today, that what you saw is was a Ground-and-Pound event?
Good: It looked like that position was a Ground-and-Pound type of position, but I couldn’t tell 100% that there were actually fists hitting faces.
O’Mara: But you did see [reading] “the guy in the top in the black hoodie pretty much just throwing down blows on the guy kind of MMA-style.”
Good: Meaning arm motions going down on the person on the bottom. Correct.
O’Mara: You’re’ not going to tell the jury here today that you saw fists hit flesh or face if you didn’t actually see it, right?
Good: I wouldn’t tell them that anyway, because i didn’t actually see it.
O’Mara: Great, thanks very much , no further questions.
Forensic analysis demonstrated that the trajectory of the single shot fired and burns on Trayvon’s sweatshirt were consistent with Zimmerman being on his back with Trayvon hovering over him at the time of the shot.
Since Zimmerman was pinned to the ground, he didn’t need to invoke SYG because there was no reasonable means of avoidance.
While the jury instructions did contain language similar to the SYG standard, the SYG statutory protection itself was not invoked.
So why is SYG so frequently mentioned when talking of the Zimmerman case? Because it is a convenient excuse for gun control advocates to try to scale back self defense laws.
False Claim That Zimmerman Disobeyed Police Instructions Not To Get Out of the Car
This is perhaps the most frustrating false narrative of the case: That George Zimmerman supposedly was told by the police dispatcher not to leave his car, but did so against police instructions.
This allegation is used to claim that the entire confrontation was Zimmerman’s fault, and had he merely followed police instructions, nothing would have happened.
It is a claim made again on February 14, 2017, in an updated CNN post from 2013 (but republished as updated), Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts (emphasis added):
February 26, 2012 – George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, calls 911 to report “a suspicious person” in the neighborhood. He is instructed not to get out of his SUV or approach the person. Zimmerman disregards the instructions. Moments later, neighbors report hearing gunfire. Zimmerman acknowledges that he shot Martin, claiming it was in self-defense. In a police report, Officer Timothy Smith writes that Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of the head.
I have debunked this claim many times, including in response to a column by Jonathan Capehart at WaPo, in which he dealt forthrightly with many problem narratives, but repeated the police instruction narrative, In busting Zimmerman myths, Jonathan Capehart perpetuates the greatest myth of all:
Zimmerman was not in the car at the time of the comment “we don’t need you to do that.”
Here’s the transcript of the call from Andrew Branca’s post at his blog addressing the call:
Zimmerman: Shit, he’s running.
Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?
[Sound of car door opening.]
Zimmerman: [Grunts.] Down towards the other entrance of the neighborhood.
[Sound of car door closing.]
Dispatcher: OK, and which entrance is that he’s heading towards.
Zimmerman: The back entrance. . . . [mutters] Fucking punks [puddles?].
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.
On direct examination, the 911 operator acknowledged hearing the car door chime go off right after the “he’s running” statement by Zimmerman (at 3:15):
Here’s the cross-examination of the 911 operator, including his acknowledgement of hearing the door chiming (at 12:30) and that at the time of instruction there was wind noise from having cell phone outside the car (15:30). The denial that there was an order not to follow appears at 14:00:
(More video and analysis of the police dispatcher’s testimony at trial is here.)
This is important because it defeats a key narrative of the case, that Zimmerman was in his car at the time the police made the suggestion (not the direction) that “we don’t need you to do that.”
Despite the clear evidence, the claim that Zimmerman disregarded instructions became Soap in a sponge: The enduring myth that George Zimmerman was told not to get out of his car:
In this sea of media malpractice, one enduring fabrication lives on despite conclusive trial testimony, the concept that Zimmerman was ordered, instructed, or told not to get out of his car by the 911 operator.
I completely debunked this concept when it was assumed by Jonathan Capehart at WaPo, In busting Zimmerman myths, Jonathan Capehart perpetuates the greatest myth of all. I emailed Capehart about it, he responded “fair point,” and as of this writing the offending comment about Zimmerman being told not to get out of this car no longer is in Capehart’s column. Good for him.
But the myth lives on in part because other media is not as responsible….
There is a second and implicit part of the myth, namely that Zimmerman was told not to follow Martin (in addition to being told not to get out of his car)…. If the media refuses to correct the obvious factual inaccuracy that Zimmerman was told not to get out of his car, it seems hopeless to get the media to correct this other part of the myth….
The myth will survive because it is part of the background narrative, an assumption upon which arguments implicitly rest.
Regardless of what they think of the verdict, most Americans will go to their graves believing the myth that “if only George Zimmerman had not gotten out of the car when the police told him not to.”
Bottom Line – The Jury Got It Right
The verdict came as no surprise to those of us following the evidence. It came as a shock to those who bought into the false narratives.
If you really are a glutton for punishment, you watch a 1:40 hour presentation by me and Andrew Branca at Cornell Law School about the case, Did The Zimmerman Jury Get It Right? The short answer is, YES.
I gave a shorter explanation in this radio interview, “The jury reached the right result”:
Andrew also gave his take in this interview:DONATE
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