Trayvon Martin Versus George Zimmerman, Defense Versus Prosecution

WASHINGTON – It’s only the beginning, with defense hacks making a lot of noise, writing the Trayvon Martin autopsy “showed bloody knuckles,” while burying or ignoring the lede offered by NBC’s report that this wasn’t the case after their review of the actual autopsy report. This reveals the problem with being for one side without at least making a good faith attempt at putting emotion and bias aside.

Florida teenager Trayvon Martin died from a single gunshot wound to the chest fired from “intermediate range,” according to an autopsy report reviewed Wednesday by NBC News. The official report, prepared by the medical examiner in Volusia County, Fla., also found that the 17-year-old Martin had one other fresh injury – a small abrasion, no more than a quarter-inch in size – on his left ring finger below the knuckle.Trayvon Martin killed by single gunshot fired from ‘intermediate range,’ autopsy shows

If you’re looking for the defense view, Jeralyn Merritt would be your best source. For the prosecution, I’d stick with The Grio team.

In Wednesday’s column, citing an earlier report that George Zimmerman “called 911 dozens of times in the months that led to the fatal shooting,” the time line was over a period of several years, Zimmerman making 46 calls from 2004 to 2011.

From a New York Times correction:

An earlier version of this article misstated the time period in which Mr. Zimmerman made 46 calls to 911. The calls were made over the course of about eight years, not 14 months.

This could be seen as equally damning from the prosecution’s angle, because it goes to George Zimmerman’s state of mind. It could aid Corey’s office when coupled with Zimmerman’s medical report compiled by the family physician, which reveals he’d been prescribed medication “prior to shooting” Trayvon Martin dead.

According to the report, prior to the shooting Zimmerman had been prescribed Adderall and Temazepam, medications that can cause side effects such as agitation and mood swings, but in fewer than 10 percent of patients.

“Prior to the shooting” needs further defining, but the reasons for the prescriptions could weigh heavily on Zimmerman’s behavior patterns before the night of the shooting.

Merritt described the drugs briefly, while defense hacks blew right over their presence in Zimmerman’s report.

The report also lists medication he was using. He took a medication that is routinely prescribed for children and young adults with attention-deficit disorder and a sleep medication.

We’ll have to wait to see what “prior to the shooting” means, but the medications are a window into Zimmerman’s state of mind, his challenges navigating in life, which we all have, but which also brings up questions about his judgment in discerning what connotes an actual threat versus his overactive mind, something that defense attorneys in general, not speaking of Merritt but specially about Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, would want to play down for good reasons.

According to the National Institute of Health, Temazepam is used to treat insomnia. Adderall is a Class II drug used in cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to Web MD, one of the possible reactions is “aggressive behavior,” something the prosecution is sure to mine.

The New York Times today reviews, defense advocates would say rehashes, what remains a primary issue in this case, which is the Sanford Police Dept.’s shoddy work when the case first happened.

In interviews over several weeks, law enforcement authorities, witnesses and local elected officials identified problems with the initial investigation:

¶ On the night of the shooting, door-to-door canvassing was not exhaustive enough, said a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation. If officers had been more thorough, they might have determined that Mr. Martin, 17, was a guest — as opposed to an intruder — at a gated community called the Retreat at Twin Lakes. That would have been an important part of the subjective analysis that night by officers sizing up Mr. Zimmerman’s story. Investigators found no witnesses who saw the fight start. Others saw parts of a struggle they could not clearly observe or hear. One witness, though, provided information to the police that corroborated Mr. Zimmerman’s account of the struggle, according to a law enforcement official.

¶ The police took only one photo at the scene of any of Mr. Zimmerman’s injuries — a full-face picture of him that showed a bloodied nose — before paramedics tended to him. It was shot on a department cellphone camera and was not downloaded for a few days, an oversight by the officer who took it.

¶ The vehicle that Mr. Zimmerman was driving when he first spotted Mr. Martin was mistakenly not secured by officers as part of the crime scene. The vehicle was an important link in the fatal encounter because it was where Mr. Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious teenager in a hooded sweatshirt roaming through the Retreat. Mr. Zimmerman also said he was walking back to the vehicle when he was confronted by Mr. Martin, who was unarmed, before shooting him.

¶ The police were not able to cover the crime scene to shield evidence from the rain, and any blood from cuts that Mr. Zimmerman suffered when he said Mr. Martin pounded his head into a sidewalk may have been washed away.

¶ The police did not test Mr. Zimmerman for alcohol or drug use that night, and one witness said the lead investigator quickly jumped to a conclusion that it was Mr. Zimmerman, and not Mr. Martin, who cried for help during the struggle.

Some Sanford officers were skeptical from the beginning about certain details of Mr. Zimmerman’s account. For instance, he told the police that Mr. Martin had punched him over and over again, but they questioned whether his injuries were consistent with the number of blows he claimed he received. They also suspected that some of the threatening and dramatic language that Mr. Zimmerman said Mr. Martin uttered during the struggle — like “You are going to die tonight” — sounded contrived.

Was Trayvon Martin a life threat to George Zimmerman, who had been repeatedly called 911 over many years, 46 times, or simply seen as threatening from the view of an hyperactive mind due to Zimmerman’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Even if Zimmerman felt threatened, why did he feel his life was in danger enough to shoot an unarmed teen?

Did a suspension for graffiti, then being found with “an empty bag with traces of marijuana,” mean more than a teen possibly experimenting with the drug? A police investigator said he saw Martin on school surveillance “hiding and being suspicious” and also stated he witnessed Martin carve “WTF” in a school door. When his belongings were searched for tagging equipment, “a screwdriver that he described as a ‘burglary tool’” was found. From a previous report from the Miami Herald:

Trayvon’s backpack contained 12 pieces of jewelry, in addition to a watch and a large flathead screwdriver, according to the report, which described silver wedding bands and earrings with diamonds.

Trayvon was asked if the jewelry belonged to his family or a girlfriend.

“Martin replied it’s not mine. A friend gave it to me,” he responded, according to the report. Trayvon declined to name the friend.

Trayvon was not disciplined because of the discovery, but was instead suspended for graffiti, according to the report.

As for Trayvon Martin being killed from an “intermediate range,” this from a defense attorney group, with a firearm expert in resident:

Determining the Distance of the Shooter from the Victim

Examination of the gunshot wound can help determine many factors involved in the shooting, including the distance of the shooter from the victim. Gunshot wounds can be classified based on the range from the muzzle of the gun to the target. These classifications include contact, near-contact, intermediate, and distant wounds.

I would also question analysis from people on whether they or someone close to them owns a firearm and has one in their house, and if they themselves are ready to use a firearm for protection. It matters, because unless you’ve had a loaded weapon in your hand, fired it and understand the gravity of that power, let alone what carrying a concealed weapon means, you can’t possibly know what it takes to pull a loaded weapon in open territory, not your home where you have been threatened, to kill an unarmed civilian.

Why did George Zimmerman fear for his life when Martin was unarmed? He’s got a gun and might been able to warn the teen off with that announcement alone. Martin’s “a quarter-inch in size” knuckle abrasion hardly illustrates a dire life threat.

My husband was shot at close range years before I met him and almost died, which I’ve written about before. Two young, black thugs –the assessment at the time after the crime– came out of nowhere in the projects he was servicing as a senior gas technician at night to shoot him for no reason at all. Except for a Cook County surgeon who happened to be visiting a friend at the hospital where Mark was taken on that very night, we would never have met. So I have seen first-hand the reaction of a good man to young African American teens gone wrong and sympathize with reactions toward Zimmerman, up to a point.

Mark’s reality is a long way from where George Zimmerman sat the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Even my husband scoffs at the notion George Zimmerman had the right to fire on an unarmed Trayvon Martin.

The racial angle exists and is embedded in this case, because there had reportedly been burglaries in the area by African Americans, with Zimmerman’s own words at times inflammatory, compounded by the uproar from the Sanford community that precipitated a special prosecutor taking over the case. Ignoring the racial angle is irresponsible wishful thinking and transporting America to a Shangri-La unreality.

The girlfriend’s call with Trayvon Martin was said at the time to have been the community tipping point and Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Martin’s family, certainly thought so, too.

“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run.”

Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.

“Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.”

Guns don’t kill, people with guns kill. So making sure guns are in the hands of people who are responsible is important, with people having concealed carry rights and permits expected to be even more vigilant.

As I’ve written before, I encouraged my husband to get a concealed carry for his work in the Las Vegas desert, where he was out at night late and alone. So, I’m not afraid of weaponry, having fired semi-automatics myself, my gun expert husband having had several weapons at one time.

Whether George Zimmerman was a man who should have been carrying a concealed weapon may be beyond the Trayvon Martin case, but it is something worthy of open discussion, because a concealed carry is a very serious right to wield.

It’s important to add gun owners rights do not exceed the rights of citizens without guns to feel safe.

That George Zimmerman chose to fire on an unarmed civilian should inspire challenges to Stand Your Ground laws, of which I remain deeply skeptical, and alarm every person who supports gun rights of individuals, which I do.

Taylor Marsh, a veteran political analyst and former Huffington Post contributor, is the author of The Hillary Effect, available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media blog www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women and power.

video via The Grio

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  • http://cma-steadystate.blogspot.com steadystate

    A very even-handed and analytic piece on a situation in which many people have allowed their emotions get the best of them – myself included. I’m typically root for the underdog (perhaps born out of my sports-team allegiances or having never been the most popular in school) and in this situation the early evidence pointed to Trayvon being the underdog. Too many have allowed their experiences with one or a handful of urban youths dictate how they feel towards the whole lot of them. Thanks for this piece.

  • StockBoyLA

    “[A]n empty bag with traces of marijuana,”

    If I or my brother (upper-middle class white kids) had been caught with marijuana in high school, it would have been passed off as experimenting.

    If an African-American is caught with marijuana in high school suddenly they’re part of a violent gang and should be locked up…

    Good piece and thank you for writing it.

  • http://taylormarsh.com TAYLOR MARSH, Guest Voice Columnist

    Appreciate it and thanks for taking the time to read it & comment.

  • dduck

    Good stuff, TM.

  • ShannonLeee

    I’m still thinking manslaughter. I hope this case wakes people up a little. I know too many handgun owners that see their weapon as an extension of their penis as opposed to a deadly weapon.

  • EEllis

    Several issues are brought up here but for now I’ll just touch on a couple. GZ never made 46 911 calls. He made 46 calls to police over 7 years with most of those calls being to the non emergency dispatch number not 911. There are some inconsistancies in what Martin’s GF has reported and the time and distance were the shooting happened. Basicly the house he was staying at was so close he would of gotten there long before the time the shooting happened. It was mentioned that the investigator “quickly” jumped to the conclusion that GZ cried help. Now without definition that could mean several things but he still asked Martins father if it was his son crying out and was told no. So even if he believed he was still doing the job or if it refered to after the father said no then he had reason to think it wasn’t Martin. Then we start getting into what to call the shooting distance. Why not just report that the autopsy had it at under 12″. I won’t even start on the idea or warning someone off with a gun, itself being a crime many time and unsafe as heck in others, not something one can posture as a real option without knowing the situation that occured.

  • rudi

    I won’t even start on the idea or warning someone off with a gun, itself being a crime many time and unsafe as heck in others, not something one can posture as a real option without knowing the situation that occured.

    A shot to the ground with a warning would be safe and legal. I bet TM and his family would want a “unsafe as heck in others” alternative…

  • EEllis

    A shot to the ground with a warning would be safe and legal. I bet TM and his family would want a “unsafe as heck in others” alternative…

    This is an example of someone who is totally uneducated in firearm use and safety. Firing a gun in the ground is not safe and unless one where justified in shooting a person it would not be legal to fire a warning shot. I won’t say that there will never be a situation where one could fire a warning shot but there would never be on in a populated area like where the encounter happened. Also if the incident happened how GZ reported, or even close, then he was on his back and being hit before the gun was ever drawn. The idea of a warning shot then is absurd.

  • rudi

    TM is dead, a warning shot would mean he would still be alive today.

    I live in Florida and shoot a gun in a non-urban area is not a crime.
    http://myfloridalegal.com/ago.nsf/Opinions/139E3CDB585ECC308525703C0071D2FB
    Another kink dealing with Florida law:
    http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=406995

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  • Salsassin

    I find it amusing that Mrs. Marsh would classify people who support Zimmerman as ‘defense hacks’ while showing a clear indication of being a ‘prosecution hack’.
    Of course Mrs. Marsh ignores the fact that for tears in the knuckle to occur you have to be doing severe impact. Many people get into fights and have no marks on their hands. The point of the abrasion on one knuckle was to indicate that impact did occur. And nowhere else on the body was there bruising or any other sort of indication of a fight. This contrasts severely with Zimmerman’s injuries. Form that evidence the fight was pretty much one sided until the gunshot; a gunshot that occurred from extreme close range, not an intermediate distance as evidenced by the burns and stippling.
    Mrs. Marsh then makes great ado about the 46 ‘911’ calls Zimmerman did (they were actually to both 911 and the non-emergency number) But, even though he claims to be evaluating the evidence fairly, he tries to make this a state of mind issue, also mentioning the fact that Zimmerman was taking Adderall and Tamazepan, ADHD medications. But what Mrs. March fails to mention is that these are clearly examples of Obsessive Compulsiveness in an ADHD person, but with no indications of violent tendencies. Zimmerman was also fired from a job around 2008 because he repeatedly called HR to complain about his managers and co-employees. Again, a sign of ADHD. But a key point Mrs. Marsh fails to mention; no evidence of any violence towards anyone. Are we going to demonize all ADHD behaviors now?
    If there is one thing that is clear is that Mrs. Zimmerman was no saint, and had his quirks like many others, but no evidence of unprovoked attacks on strangers or of racial profiling.

    Of the ‘911’ calls, only 5 were about Blacks. We also see calls about Whites and Hispanics. And of the ‘911’ calls, the first one was about a 7 year Black child playing near heavy traffic. A call of concern, not suspicion. The other four were around the time that the burglaries began, and again, there is no evidence that he volunteered that they were Black, or if he simply answered a question about race, just like the call about Martin. In community where actual burglaries were occurring and the perps had been Black before, why should this be seen as aberrant? For all we know it was coincidence. And in between those calls he also called ‘911’ about a White male. Notice that he never attacked anyone.
    Many ‘prosecution hacks’ have made a lot of noise about an incident with an undercover police officer (while ignoring all their other complaints about police brutality and inefficiency), and seem to forget that Zimmerman is also a person that could be described in American colloquia as ‘a person of color’. Zimmerman had an incident with a police officer that he said failed to identify himself. Now the police officer, claimed Zimmerman was aggressive and filed ‘resisting arrest with violence’ but that charge was dropped for a ‘resisting arrest without violence’. This was also removed with an anger management class. Of course the key item, is than anger management can be for shouting, no need for violence.

    Furthermore, no other indication of violent interactions with anyone who was a stranger. Yet, throughout this time he was taking ADHD medication. Again, Zimmerman did show OCD behavior, but nothing illegal, and definitely no pattern of violence.

    Mrs. Marsh also tries to misrepresent the standard of evaluation for Zimmerman’s mind claiming that it might have been an overactive mind and not a reasonable suspicion. But the evaluation is if a person in a similar circumstance would have seen a suspicious person. Not a guilty person, just a person that needed further investigation. And even with OCD, a person looking at houses in the rain, covering their features with a hoodie, may be up to no harm, but can elicit a healthy suspicion to investigate further because criminals trying to break into houses will also do similar behavior. It’s called casing houses.

    Furthermore, both the 7-Eleven video, and the fact that he was wearing a hoodie, along with Zimmerman’s uncertainty as to Martin’s ‘race’, “Is he White, Black or Hispanic?” “He looks Black”, not “He is Black.” And when Martin approaches him, he confirms. “He is a Black male.” In other words, he wasn’t sure before, so that couldn’t be the reason for his suspicion.

    Mrs. Marsh then acts like the police acted inappropriately when they thought it was Zimmerman screaming, but he completely ignores that one eyewitness specifically described Martin on top and Zimmerman screaming from the bottom. What reason would that eye witness have to lie?

    Sure, Zimmerman may have perceived things in an exaggerated fashion. It is not a decision to suffer from ADHD. There is no guilt in suffering from a mental disorder. If anything, that would help the defense. You would have to show that he made conscious decisions, other ADHD sufferers, would not have made. His explanations at times seem aberrant, but they are consistent in that he lost view of Martin, ad that Martin later approached him. There is no physical evidence of him striking Martin, and no history of Zimmerman starting fights. If anything he was all talk. He would call ‘911’ or ‘HR’ on you. That is a non-confrontational person.
    Zimmerman followed for a short run, at a distance because the dispatcher asked him which way the suspect ran. But when the dispatch said there was no need to follow, there is no indication that Zimmerman reacquired a view of Martin, or that he ignored the dispatcher’s suggestion.
    Those are facts. Just like the fact that an eye witness saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, and Zimmerman was screaming for help. Not just shooting people. It is only after evidence shows his head was gashed open and his nose was broken that Zimmerman reached for his concealed weapon and shot.
    Being mounted without the capacity for self-retreat and having their head being gashed open on the sidewalk is grounds for self-defense in all 50 states. Regardless of who initiated the encounter.
    And that is a fair analysis of the evidence.

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