The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman – and Our System of Justice

A Facebook Friend took to task “Trial by Jury” following the George Zimmerman trial. I was tempted to do the same thing following the O.J. Simpson and Kacie Anthony trials. In those cases, neither victim had broken the defendant’s nose or pounded their attacker’s head into the pavement. They were utterly fault free, but their murderers walked free.

O.J. nearly severed his wife’s head from her shoulders and butchered to death her friend. Another jury, in the civil trial in Ohio, awarded the victims’ families $30,000,000.00.

Since then, the Ohio legislature has passed severe limits on such verdicts, so the result today would be closer to $30,000. Until his subsequent arrest and conviction, O.J. spent a lot of his time avoiding the collection attempts. It was the only punishment the victims could inflict.

Kacie Anthony killed her beautiful infant daughter and stuffed her bloody decomposing, body into the trunk of her car. The jury could not quite figure out how she did it, and thus had “reasonable doubt”.

Lest you think that the system always releases the guilty, “The Innocence Project”, ,  lists 310 exonerations on its home page, cases of formerly guilty defendants being exonerated and released because of DNA evidence. Here were over 300 innocent people that “the system” convicted.

And, it happened in more than one of my cases. The most memorable involved a client with a history of a drinking problem. He was accused of breaking into the home of an elderly woman, beating her, and robbing her. Because it had the potential for life in prison, the Circuit Court appointed a co-counsel.

Our investigation led us into “the projects” in South Charleston. Talk about two nervous young lawyers, walking from apartment to apartment, under the watchful eyes of the suspicious residents.

We found a woman, aunt to a former co-worker of my client. Perry Mason was on the silent t.v. in her living room.

Her nephew had admitted to her that he robbed and beat a woman in Upshur County. Why he was stupid enough to tell her, I do not know. Can’t even remember how we found her. Sadly, there was no such thing as DNA testing back then.

My client explained to us that he had taken this fellow to the woman’s house, while they were visiting my client’s parents in Southern Upshur County, and our client voiced his speculation to his guest that she “stuffed bundles of money under her mattress”. The assailant turned over that mattress.

The evil co-worker later came back and committed the dirty deed in the very car our client had been observed in a few days earlier, but all the facts, my client’s presence in the area, an eye-witness account by the victim, witnesses who saw my client’s car, all pointed to my client, whose life was, essentially, over.

In case you do not know, “eye-witness testimony” has been established to be some of the weakest evidence a jury can hear. The defense bar has established that with the help of the scientific community, such as Johns Hopkins. And don’t get me going on “false repressed memory syndrome” which also was debunked by Johns Hopkins’ behavioral health center.

We got a handwritten statement from the witness and took it to the prosecutor, Alex Ross, the Friday before the trial. It was agonizing to share this juicy evidence with them, which we did not have to because it was rebuttal. But, the risk was too great, and we bet on the integrity of Alex  Ross and the investigating officer, David Harris, who later lost his life in the line of duty.

Alex and Officer Harris drove to Charleston over the week-end and interviewed her. She must have been credible because on Monday morning, right before jury selection, the State moved to dismiss “without prejudice”. The charges were never revived.

But for that witness, who showed courage in answering our questions, I think the jury would have convicted our client. We had the privilege of telling our client that he was walking free, which he did that day! Court appointed defense work has no thrill greater than that.

A heavy smoker and drinker, our client John died 15 years or so later, but he died a free man.

Our system is imperfect. I seem to recall that during the dark ages accused persons were dropped into water. If they floated, they were innocent; if they sank and died, they were guilty.

In another ancient culture, even an accidental death allowed a family member of the decedent to kill the offender.

Our right to trial by jury is currently under attack. My FB friend J.W. articulated his disgust with the system in an excellent post on FB. He accurately perceived that a defendant with a good lawyer is more likely to get off. He spoke from the perspective of a man who has served on several juries, and he feels they are unreliable.

I hope he reads this, because no jury he was on should have been able to render an unjust verdict. He had veto power! Juries must be unanimous. That’s a tough standard.

We all hear the stories of defendants lined up, waiting for a hearing, only to meet their harried public defender moments before their hearing. Such defendants usually accept the certainly of a generous plea offer, and sure conviction by the State, over months of uncertainty waiting for trial, and risks such as those George Zimmerman had to take. The State lets the bad ones off with less then they deserve in order to save money and have a sure conviction.

I am amazed how selective the political zealots are in their respect for the U.S. Constitution. The gun rights advocates seem to think the 2nd Amendment was carved into Moses’ tablets by Yahweh himself, but they almost sneer at the rights of the criminal defendant, especially the poor, and ones of a different background from themselves.

The right to counsel had a seminal case: Gideon vs. Wainwright. This is a case where an indigent defendant asked for a lawyer, was denied, fought his case well, self-represented, but lost. The U.S. Supreme Court Ruled he was entitled to a court appointed lawyer, at the State’s expense, because he was facing a possible jail sentence. The story is chronicled in the famous little book, Gideon’s Trumpet. I recommend it.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia , and the url:

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history. In it the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants who are unable to afford to pay their own attorneys. The case extended the identical requirement that had been explicitly imposed on federal courts under the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment ; and here is the reference to Gideon’s Trumpet:

Gideon’s Trumpet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia’s_Trumpet;

View shared postGideon’s Trumpet is a book by Anthony Lewis describing the story behind Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that 

Our U.S. Supreme Court just issued an important opinion which drew little attention from the Media. It affirmed big businesses’ ability to deny the right to trial by jury to injured consumers, binding them  to ultra-expensive and ponderous mandatory arbitration which is described in tiny language buried in our credit card agreements.

Here is a quotation from

On June 20, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 5-to-3 margin, that a group of merchants was bound by an arbitration agreement that prohibits them from bringing class action claims against American Express, even if the cost of arbitrating antitrust claims on an individual basis is prohibitive. American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12–133 (June 20, 2013) (“American Express“). The Court, in an opinion penned by Justice Scalia, concluded that nothing in the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) allows courts to invalidate a contractual waiver of class arbitration on the ground that the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.
The average consumer should be VERY concerned, but is not. Fox won’t cover it, but neither will NBC or CNN. We are all so concerned with “jobs”, the economy, and our special interests that the right of the individual is considered to be “disposable”.

I have written an article on the death penalty. It is: . You probably think you can guess my views on same. You cannot.

I have posted a lot to FB my views on the Zimmerman trial. Those who suggest that we who have not heard all the evidence, sat through the trial, and watched the participants up front should not be opining. That is true about this trial and every other major issue. It is a rare issue we know enough about to have a clear, viable, opinion.
In fact, I have found the less a person knows about a subject, the more dogmatic and argumentative he/she are. But I am going to render what I hope will be a constructive opinion anyway.
I have listened to extended portions of the opening and closing sentences. I have listened to at least five news sources on the trial, NPR, CNN, FOX, and NBC, and ABC News. And, I have tried to verdict a trial with the same issues, the very same issues. I also posted about that.

I also had dear family members be the victim of violence, and threatened gun violence, and I have been threatened myself. So, I have thought carefully about the subject.

I thought halfway through that the verdict would be involuntary manslaughter. But, Fla. doesn’t have involuntary manslaughter, and I could not understand the instruction, which the judge gave several times. Even a talking head on CNN couldn’t understand it.
But, what I figured out was the jury could buy into the prosecution’s theory and still acquit George.
They could determine George didn’t like black guys because 70% of the break-ins were by young black men. They could determine that he judged a person by his hoodie. They could determine that he followed Travon, against the request of the police officer, and that Travon had a good reason for taking four minutes to travel what he could have traveled in 30 seconds.
But, the jury was not allowed to ignore the physical evidence, injuries to the back of George’s head, a broken nose, bruises, etc. and Travon’s injuries, the bullet wound of course, but also the abraded knuckles!
How could they decide beyond a reasonable doubt that Travon did not hit George, wrestle him on the ground, pummel with is fist, and bang his head on concrete? They could decide it didn’t happen that way, but how beyond a reasonable doubt could they know that?
They would have to ignore several witnesses and the physical evidence. And, thus, how could they deny beyond reasonable doubt that George feared that he would endure severe injury or death.
George got the ball rolling, and was guilty of poor judgment at the very least. I think he intended well. I have approached guys roughing up their girlfriends at fairs and car races. I have told them I would call the police. I have called the police. Any of those guys could have come at me, but those of you who know me know I am a rather formidable physical specimen, but it could happen. If I were dead, people would say how stupid I was.
I have no doubt George intended to keep that kid under his gaze until he left the neighborhood, but those of you who think he inexplicably took on a tall, athletic, black kid,  (I am conditioned NOT to call him a “boy”.) still must recognize that what almost surely happened is the kid was very angry at the “creepy white cracker” and wanted to thrash him within an inch of his life. According to his “dear friend” it was Trevon who judge George by his color, assuming worse intent than George probably had. Jesse J. didn’t notice that.
When I heard that he said, “You got me.”, it made me want to cry. Too bad it wasn’t a flesh wound, so George could say, “I did?” Oh my God buddy, are you all right?” and Trevon could say, “I’m bleeding but I think so. Why the f…. were you following me? ” And George could say, “I thought  you were going to rob someone.” And Trevon could say, “Man, I just bought skiddles and a drink. That’s my Dad’s house down there.” And George could say, “Jeeez Man; I am so sorry”; and call 911, and staunch the blood with his own shirt. And they could both be on CNN!
But, George had a gun with him that day, so instead of getting a “whuppin'”, he killed a young man and will live with that and think of that every day for the rest of his life, as will Travon’s parents, and George’s parents and their families.




This post was written by Burton Hunter

1 Comment

  • I add today to this post my morning’s Facebook post about the Kyle/Littlefield Murders, Defendant Eddie Ray Routh, who was convicted last night and sentenced to life w/o mercy. These are very different issues than other gun violence cases in the last year:
    The coverage of last night’s verdict in the Kyle/Littlefield shootings troubles me a lot. CNN had the two Marks, who have vastly more experience than I in defending murder cases. Of course, Texas law has no subtle or deep nuances in its insanity defense statute. I have not studied that law. But, all the commentators muddied the illness, PTSD, Schizophrenia, Depression, intoxication. Why? I don’t think they know the differences, and I did not hear from mental health professionals who were trained in the law. I think the guy was guilty, but there were bound to be “extenuating circumstances”. PTSD? Probably, leading to anxiety, panic, and rage. Schizophrenia? That’s the tough one. The defense expert said yes, but no “expert” on t.v. told us what that is, that it is usually a lifetime condition, genetic in origin, arising spontaneously, unrelated to stress, not caused by PTSD, etc.
    How could that expert diagnose Schizophrenia and the Plaintiff’s expert say it is faked?
    A person with Schizophrenia could honestly believe that every person on earth had become African American or Moslem. How could that justify killing someone?
    They might believe everyone was a space alien, non human. I doubt there is a law against killing an alien, but what if he didn’t think the alien was dangerous, only that he didn’t like them.
    But, what if GOD was whispering into his ear (auditory hallucinations) that these aliens were not only to kill him, but his family, and all mankind. What if he believed these two would infect every human being they contacted, so that we would become a world of Zombie walking dead?
    Even if Texas has a tough law, should a person who served his country, and now had an illness, caused by or exacerbated by his illness, who has been hovering on the brink for months, and whose parents reached out to these two volunteer mentors because they were desperately worried this very thing would happen, get exactly the sentence that a cold blooded, sociopathic, robber, motivated only to steel his victims possessions and destroy them as witnesses.
    There was a great opportunity, botched by all, to educate us on these complicated issues. Instead, “he killed a hero so me much be guilty” was pretty much all we heard. Too bad. Bill Nimmo and Bruce Hubbard what do you think?

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