Tag Archives: Trayvon Martin

What a Difference a Video Makes

After a Milwaukee jury convicted a mean, vengeful old man, John Spooner, for the fatal close-range shooting of an unarmed teenager on evidence based in part on a security camera video, Milwaukee newspaper columnist Eugene Kane pointed out what I think is obvious. The video tape made a difference.

Justice for a black teenager:  A different case, but many of the same old troubling questions


Video tape of other crimes have made a difference in the outcome of those cases, too. The Rodney King beating, for instance. Yes, the four cops were acquitted in state trial of all but one minor count in that case, but they were found guilty of violating King’s civil rights in a federal trial.

Kane’s column ends with, “(George)  Zimmerman’s acquittal revealed deep fissures in the racial gap between black and white and a confounding disconnect between the races about society’s realities. And even though folks are relieved at the Spooner verdict, they also remain acutely aware of this fact: It was a good thing a video showed exactly what happened.”

Consider how different the Zimmerman case would have been, beginning with law-enforcement’s decision as to whether or not to arrest him right after he shot Trayvon Martin, if their encounter had been captured on video tape, beginning with Zimmerman’s first sighting of Martin walking home from a convenience story.

Thanks to Kane, I’m thinking that, pervasive as they are, security cameras have a lot more benefits than drawbacks.



No Déja Vu to Everyone

News reports and opinion pieces have been full of comparisons between the George Zimmerman and O.J. Simpson trials on murder charges. I jumped on that bandwagon with my “Déja Vu All Over Again” post on this blog.

A good friend and the most experienced and knowledgeable non-lawyer person on courtroom proceedings I know, however, begged to differ.

Other than public perception, she said, there is no comparison between the two trials.

I certainly agree that public perception is a common denominator and huge factor in measuring the Zimmerman trial against Simpson’s. But I believe other similarities are present, too.

One is the prosecution’s less than stellar, even ineffectual, performance. Another is that both defendants had juries of their peers so far as racial makeup is concerned. Both trials were highly emotional, polarizing, fraught with the role racism played or might have played in the case, and both were scored by a wide swath of media and pundits as if they were sporting events.

Unlike sporting events, however, in which few other than team fans care much about the outcome, just about everybody who knew about Nicole Brown’s and Ron Goldman’s murders and Simpson’s trial, and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s trial have strong feelings/opinions about the verdicts in those cases.

My friend asserted that Florida law was the cause of acquittal. Certainly, Zimmerman’s claim of self defense was the crux of the case his lawyers presented and of jury instructions. Lost, not considered or even absent, though, was Trayvon Martin’s need, attempt or right to defend himself.

The question that should be asked, my friend said, is what would have happened under that law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed.

That prompted me to contemplate the few known facts in the Zimmerman case, which are that a white man followed a black teenager, even though police told him not to, a confrontation occurred, the white man who had a loaded gun shot the black teen dead.

Both had the right to be where they were. The teen had the right to be doing what he was doing, i.e. walking on the street. The man had the right to be doing what he was doing, i.e. following the teen, even though police told him not to.

Both, under Florida law, had a right to defend themselves.

The jury heard Zimmerman’s testimony, albeit via his statements to police investigators, but without the benefit of cross examination (i.e. a single-source story). The jury heard no testimony from Trayvon Martin.

Once defense lawyers were permitted to portray Martin as a wanna-be gangster and use photos of what they promoted as his gang symbols and of his well-defined musculature, which were as unrelated to the trial as was Zimmerman’s record of his past brushes with law, which apparently was not admissible, they successfully fertilized the seeds of fear that are planted in the vast majority of Southern white females — and I was one — in early childhood.

Thus, instead of responding like prosecutors apparently thought they would, i.e. mothers sympathetic to what the prosecution planned to present as an unarmed teenager — who very well could have been one of their children — walking home from buying candy and a drink being stalked and shot by a wanna-be cop, those five white and one Hispanic female jurors saw him as the young thug the defense turned him into. The kind of young thug they had been conditioned to fear and who, no doubt, break into the houses of people like them.

Once the defense morphed Martin into the bad guy, he lost all credibility and any right to defend himself.

So, what would have happened under the Florida law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed? One finding cited in a Tampa Bay Times story is, “Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.”

The story is at http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/florida-stand-your-ground-law-yields-some-shocking-outcomes-depending-on/1233133.

I was struck earlier today by another similarity. This one between Zimmerman and, not Simpson, but the lynching more than eight decades ago of three black teenagers who were arrested on suspicion of murder. A Sanford, Florida, resident said in an interview aired this morning on NPR, “We need to move on.” That was the theme of a newspaper editorial in the wake of those lynchings more than 80 years ago.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

So weird watching Marcia Clark, who famously — and unsuccessfully — prosecuted O.J. Simpson in his 1995 trial on charges he murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman, critique the prosecution’s performance, including its closing arguments, in George Zimmerman’s trial on charges that he murdered or manslaughtered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Why don’t TV networks having winning prosecutors commenting on the good or poor presentation of the prosecutors in this trial instead of such a high-profile losing one?

Does Marcia Clark, whose identifying credits always include the title of her latest work of fiction, really have that much audience draw?  

Scales of Justice Don’t Balance Camera Access

When I read this, “…the arguments against having a camera in the courtroom for the James Holmes trial could outweigh the arguments in favor.” in NBC’s 9News.com story about the trial of the accused Aurora, Colorado, movie theater killer, I wondered about how often that appears to be the case — or at least those who argue against cameras so often seem to have the most weighted arguments.

Will cameras be allowed in theater shooting trial?


9News.com writer Chris Vanderveen is predicting that will be the case this time, too.

“There will be the potential of a witness grandstanding for the cameras. There’s a potential of problems with jurors, problems with witnesses,” Vanderveen quotes 9New legal analyst Scott Robinson as saying.

Given that there are some 3,500 potential witnesses, according to Robinson, possible contamination might present a problem. But grandstanding? That poor excuse of a reason is frequently trotted out by anti-camera factions. But really, given all the high-profile trials that have included camera access, how often has that happened? Has it happened in accused Trayvon Martin killer George Zimmerman’s trial? Defense attorney Don West perhaps, but any of the witnesses who have been questioned so far? And even if that were a possibility, doesn’t the trial judge have the duty and authority to stop it in its tracks?

Geraldo Rivera’s Predictions

FOX Newser Geraldo Rivera has been known to be wrong in the past.

Remember the “Al Capone’s Vault” debacle?


And his prediction the day before the Oct. 3, 1995, O.J. Simpson murder-trial verdicts that the fallen football/celebrity star would be convicted?


Well, he’s at it again.

‘Opposite Of O.J.’: Geraldo Predicts Zimmerman ‘Will Be Acquitted’ Because Of Almost ‘All-White Jury’


I wonder if this prediction will improve his odds of being wrong.

Here’s some of what he’s basing his guess on as quoted from the “Mediaite” website report:

“Rivera said that this was due to the racial element in the case and the fact that the majority of jurors are white women who cannot relate to the prosecution’s witnesses like Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel.”

What has always stuck with me is my encounter with Rivera during the 1995 O.J. Simpson criminal trial, on which Anatomy of a Trial is based on. It was atypical of everything I had heard and seen about him.

Here is an excerpt of March 17th entry of the audio journal I kept during the trial:

“This was Geraldo Rivera day in the OJ Simpson courtroom and in Judge Ito’s chambers. I was impressed. Not by the celebrity but by something of a little a departure from his public image. He was a gentlemen, he was unobtrusive, low profile, not grand standing, not spotlight grabbing. He was asked to come to the 12th floor to get his seat pass and he did, he sat in a chair over in a corner by himself and waited until I got up there.”

My narrative is interrupted by mention of one of the many bomb scares that occurred during that trial, then picks up again.

“So, Geraldo was apparently in the building before it was shut down and he got his pass, went down to the 9th floor, waited along with everybody else for the court proceedings to begin, which they didn’t do because not all the attorneys were there. Once they did get there, there were more in chamber proceedings, this time having to do with juror issues, which has been the case the last several days. A juror was dismissed. …

“So, I imagine it was 10:20 or later before they actually got started in the courtroom. Geraldo came in and got his seat, it was the worst seat in the house, I told him it was not going to be a good one and that I was sorry we couldn’t do better for him, the trial is the hottest ticket in town these days. So, I in fact, kicked King World out of there. They were supposed to have the rotating seat for the day and Jeremy Lewis, from Kingworld was very nice about it and we scheduled him in for Monday. Geraldo was very attentive during the proceedings, not looking around to see who was looking at him but truly taking in what was going on. I gave him a note while court was in session asking him to meet me in the hallway at the noon recess, I wanted to take him in another way where it wasn’t quite as obvious that he was going to be going back to meet the judge. That was simply because the judge gets so much criticism for meeting media stars, never mind that he meets almost anyone else who requests to meet him, all the way down to cub scouts. So, the meeting was very cordial, they talked about a variety of things. He was an absolute gentleman with me, holding doors open for me and making sure that I went ahead of him.”

To my knowledge, he never violated the condition that everything said while meeting with Ito was off the record — unlike some other media-types who did violate that condition.

2-to-4 Week Sequestration Not as Bad as 9 Months

In a departure from Florida SOP court rules, which allow photography of jurors, the six women who will make up George Zimmerman’s 2nd degree-murder trial jury and the two male and two female alternate jurors will remain nameless, faceless and sequestered for the estimated two-to-four week duration of the trial.

George Zimmerman Jury Selected: All Women Jurors Chosen In Trial Of Trayvon Martin Killer  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/george-zimmerman-jury-_n_3474181.html

As much public interest as there is in this case, it is far from being the most high-profile of trials in Florida, and considering that state’s very liberal policy allowing jurors to be photographed and shown on TV, the trial judge’s ruling for the jury to be anonymous and sequestered probably says more about the high emotion and potential for violent repercussion than it does about the saturation of media coverage.

While being separated from their families and isolated from normal everyday life isn’t a great situation for even a few days, at least the two to four weeks of sequestration these jurors and alternates face pales in comparison to the more than nine months the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial jurors endured.

Those jurors’ ordeal and the headaches they created for the Simpson court are detailed in Chapter 8, “Who’s to Judge?”, of Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which is now available in e-format at:

It will be interesting to see how this trial turns out and how the jurors copy.