Bob Owens

The saddest truth in politics is that people get the leaders they deserve

Florida’s “stand your ground” law won’t keep George Zimmerman out of prison for killing Trayvon Martin. Shoddy policework might.

Written By: Bob - Mar• 21•12

Trayvon Martin was killed by a single bullet fired by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford Florida almost a month ago. Sanford Police had not filed charges against Zimmerman. That is  all that seems to be undisputed in a local shooting that has taken on national implications as it becomes heavily politicized.

To here Zimmerman tell it, he was doing his job as a volunteer by tailing a “suspicious person” walking through the rain in his neighborhood. He called 911, and trailed the suspicious person,before eventually getting out of his vehicle to confront him. There was a struggle, he pulled his gun, and shot one time in self defense. That is his story, and a story apparently taken at face value by Sanford, Florida police.

To listen to the 911 tapes of Zimmerman’s call, other 911 tapes after the confrontation and the description provided of Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him to within seconds of his death, there is another story that may be closer to the truth.

Zimmerman’s 911 calls on the day he shot Trayvon Martin were the 47th and 48th 911 calls Zimmerman made as a community watch volunteer in a period of 13 months. Depending upon the content of those calls, he may be revealed as an especially diligent and enthusiastic citizen bent upon protecting his neighborhood. Alternatively, the content of those calls may suggest he is a raging paranoid, and there may be be some evidence of both, or neither.

What we do know from the first 911 call placed that night by George Zimmerman is that he was following Trayvon Martin, and that he called the police to report the young man for little more than walking in the rain. We know that the 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to confront the Martin. We know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he ignored the dispatcher’s warning.

We then heard from Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him as he discovered Zimmerman following him from his vehicle. Martin thought he lost Zimmerman, only to be confronted. There was a scuffle, sounds interpreted by the young woman as Martin being pushed by Zimmerman, and the phone going dead. Martin himself died seconds later.

Other 911 calls were place, Sanford Police arrived, and the crime scene and all evidence appear to have disintegrated in a criminally botched investigation of the shooting that seems to have proactively assumed Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was justified from the outset.

To be completely fair to the Sanford Police Department,  precisely what they did at the scene of the shooting, and what they cataloged into evidence has not been fully disclosed. We do know that Sanford Police have been accused of “coaching” a witness to encourage their testimony to reflect the case for a legally-justified homicide under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the applicable portion of which reads:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Did Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin fit the legal criteria?

It seems doubtful.

There is a distinct difference in Zimmerman being in a place he has a right to be, and his pursuing, confronting, and ultimately killing Trayvon Martin in a place he legally had to be. It is not a just a little ironic that if Martin was armed and had instead killed Zimmerman, he would have had a much stronger case under this portion of the statute. It was Martin who was confronted in a place he legally had the right to be, not Zimmerman.

It is also doubtful that that a skinny kid that weighed 100 lbs less than his assailant was capable of generating the kind of offense where  Zimmerman could “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.” Zimmerman pursued Martin against the warning of the 911 dispatcher, and instigated the contact by leaving his vehicle.

Zimmerman claims he was attacked from behind after leaving his vehicle. This is inconsistent with the pursuit as described by Martin’s girlfriend, who made it clear that Martin was trying to evade Zimmerman, and Zimmerman was the aggressor before the call ended.

Zimmerman claimed–with apparent success with regards to the Sanford PD–that Martin had punched him in the face, and that he bore physical wounds consistent with that kind of assault. This could be entirely true, but even simple assault does not justify the use of lethal force if a  reasonable person could not justify that they were in danger of “death or great bodily harm.” Unfortunately, the actual shooting had no direct eyewitnesses, other that George Zimmerman and the young man he killed.

It was therefore incumbent upon the Sanford Police to conduct a thorough investigation, including compiling forensic evidence that could provide clues as to the actual nature of the deadly conflict. Instead they stand accused of witness tampering, and of failing to test George Zimmerman for alcohol or drug use at the time.

The poltical left, spurred on by the same anti-gun groups that so conveniently ignored the 300 Mexicans murdered by guns provided by the Obama Administration’s Operation Fast and Furious, have attempted to portray the shooting as a case of a racist white man murdering an innocent black teen, and of portraying a seven year old law, widely copied and emulated across the country, as “controversial.”

There are only really two problems with the mischaracterizations.

The first is that George Zimmerman isn’t white, a fact made readily apparent in the pictures that reveal he is a heavyset Hispanic male. While that does not absolve him of being racist by any measure, it certainly undermines the media’s favorite angle of attack, that of a majority white using the law to unfairly disenfranchise a minority. This was a minority on minority shooting, which should tamp-down the media’s feeding frenzy.

The second is the mischaracterization of Stand your Ground” laws as being the key to Zimmerman avoiding prosecution for Martin’s death, and of this kind of law being “controversial” outside a very narrow subset of left wing anti-gun organizations.

While Florida’s version of the law is the nation’s first, it has been widely copied and implemented. The laws are a subset of the “Castle  doctrine” of English common law that dates back prior to the founding of the United States. The legal theories behind “standing your ground” in the face of  on an attack have a firm basis in U.S. Supreme Court tested cases Beard v. U.S. (1895), and Brown v. United States (1921), the latter of which gave cause  for noted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to note, “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” 31 states have variations of the Castle doctrine or Stand Your Ground laws, and implementation of these laws is ascendent with several more states considering their implementation.

As for Zimmerman, nothing in the law itself shields him from  prosecution.

“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” said Peaden, a Crestview Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005. “He has no protection under my law.”

Peaden and Baxley, R-Ocala, say their law is a self-defense act. It says law-abiding people have no duty to retreat from an attacker and can meet “force with force.” Nowhere does it say that a person has a right to confront another.

The 911 tapes strongly suggest Zimmerman overstepped his bounds, they say, when the Sanford neighborhood crime-watch captain said he was following Trayvon and appeared to ignore a police request to stay away.

“The guy lost his defense right then,” said Peaden. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”

The shooting will be reviewed by a grand jury in the near future, and a civil rights case may be brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. If Zimmerman is unsuccessfully prosecuted in either case, the blame will likely fall upon the Sanford Police Department’s failures to investigate the case, despite the political football the shooting has rapidly become.

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  1. I heard on the NBC Nightly News that Sanford police were saying that based on their investigation it was Martin who confronted Zimmerman, who had returned to his car to wait on police.

    That would put the phone call to Martin’s girlfriend in a much different light. It’s already been reported that Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him, and that Zimmerman answered by asking what Martin was doing around there.

    Sounds of a scuffle would certainly be interpreted by Martin’s girlfriend as having been started by Zimmerman because that fits the narrative, and would be counterproductive to the Martin side.

    • Bob says:

      “Based on their investigation.”

      The Sanford PD’s “investigation” pretty much involved asking Zimmerman what happened.

      I don’t see how you get a match between what Zimmerman said and the girlfriends call, where Martin was trying to slip away. Further, based upon what I’ve read of where Martin was shot, he wasn’t near Zimmerman’s vehicle, which also throws the story in doubt.

      Zimmerman most likely lied, knowing what he did was murder.

      • Bob,

        I don’t see how you get a match between what Zimmerman said and the girlfriends call, where Martin was trying to slip away.

        You mean where the girlfriend claims Martin was trying to slip away – no recording exists of that call (so we have to take her word for it). As such, her statements cannot be corroborated. And you’re right, it doesn’t match what Zimmerman said, nor does it match the witness testimony (which corroborates the claim of self-defense).

  2. Wildman7316 says:

    I am STILL waiting for the rational for what Trayvon Martin was doing in a Gated Community in which he did not live.

    • Bob Owens says:

      He was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s house, which is in the neighborhood.

    • Hallie says:

      “I am STILL waiting for the rational for what Trayvon Martin was doing in a Gated Community in which he did not live.” Are you following the story at all, or are you just a racist troll?

  3. Robb Allen says:

    The problem here is that we’re ALL running on extremely limited data, most of which has been given to us by a media who has reported everything from Zimmerman emptying the magazine, to two shots, to a single shot.

    I’m not here to defend Zimmerman, I’m here to defend you and me should we ever be involved in a self defense shooting. It’s like the ACLU arguing for the KKK’s right to peaceably assemble – it doesn’t mean the ACLU supports what the KKK says, it’s simply because if you do not ensure that even the worst of us are afforded the same rights and protections, then you do not deserve them yourself.

    With the limited data we have, Zimmerman reeks of an overzealous-mall ninja. This, in and of itself, is not a crime. Nor is his ignoring the suggestion from the 911 dispatcher. The person on the phone has no authority to demand that Zimmerman do anything, and we should not act like he was disobeying a direct order. There is even no crime in being a dickhead and following Martin.

    Zimmerman engaging Martin, while not a crime, was a bad decision. If Zimmerman lied about the circumstances (as in specifically lied, not ‘confused due to the stressful nature of the encounter’), then it does switch into a crime.

    Even if Martin gets away with this from shitty police work, as immoral as it is for him to walk free *if* he truly is guilty of murder, it’s still better for society that we play by the rules and not convict him based on “well, the public believes he’s guilty”.

    In fact, assuming the facts as presented are correct, criminal charges might not apply (due to crappy police work), but civil penalties should be enough to ensure he can’t afford gas for his truck to patrol ever again.

    It’s a terrible situation and Zimmerman is borderline indefensible, however like my ACLU / KKK example, it behooves us to not throw him under the bus for expediency but rather to ensure the laws are followed to a T to protect those of us who may find ourselves in similar situations.

  4. harp1034 says:

    Damn Bob, you sure have in for Zimmerman. The state and feds are both involed now. Yes Zimmerman is a jerk and an idiot. Pure recklessness on his part.
    I agree with Robb Allen on this. It could be us one day. We all should remember rule No.1: I AM NOT A COP.. We don’t chase people down or confront them.
    Let’s let things in FLA work out.

  5. Hallie says:

    “I heard on the NBC Nightly News that Sanford police were saying that based on their investigation it was Martin who confronted Zimmerman, who had returned to his car to wait on police.” And the Sanford Police has established itself as such a trustworthy and thorough source. They didn’t even do a toxicology report on Trayvon’s killer. Nor did they bother to interview the girl Trayvon was on the phone with.

  6. Don says:

    There is also the small matter of some of the witnesses changing their statements, which initially supported Zimmerman’s account, as time goes on.

    This reminds me of the Duke Lacrosse team being convicted in the media before all the facts were known…

  7. Betty Withers says:

    Who moved the kid’s body after he was shot at the car? Why would Zimmerman have moved it? That story makes no sense at all. There is a lot of effort going on to cover up the police failures and Zimmerman’s cold blooded disobeying of the police order which resulted in the killing.

    • Bob says:

      It was not a “police order.” The dispatcher told him “you do not need to do that.” HUGE difference. Also, if you listen to the 911 call, Zimmerman explicitly said he didn’t want to get out of the car. The call does suggest, however, that he may have finally left the vehicle to find out what the street address was so that the cops could meet him. According to his version of events, he was attacked by Martin at this point. Further, no one I’m aware said his body was moved.

      At least no one remotely credible.

  8. Phelps says:

    Zimmerman’s shirt was wet and stained on the back. He had a broken nose and a large cut on the back of his head. The witnesses at the scene said that Martin was on top of Zimmerman beating him before the shot.

    Martin was a 6 foot 3 inch football player (don’t let the old photos fool you), on a 10-day suspension from school (which his family had offered differing explanations of, ranging from “being late too many times” to “being in an unauthorized area.”) Zimmerman was a 5 foot nine, overweight, out of shape guy. Martin had the leverage, the youth, and I think it is safe to assume a good deal of anger over his school suspension, even if that turned out to be for something non-violent — but when I was in school, I never saw anyone suspended for that long for anything less than fighting.

    If you are on top of me and have already broken my nose and opened up the back of my head, I’m going to shoot you to defend myself, no matter who you are. The end. I think that any reasonable person would agree.

  9. Lisa says:

    Please- He knows the street address as he has called cops almost 50 times. The 911 operator told him it was not necessary for him to follow MArtin, howerver, he did anyway, which makes Zimmerman the Aggressor! MArtin was using self-defense against someone how was chasing him for NO reason. The “stand your ground” law does not hold up once you start chasing someone, aggressively, as Zimmerman did. If someone was chasing me, as Zimmerman was, in self-defense, I might break a nose as well.

    • Bob says:

      The ignorance of the law on display by many Martin supporters is amazing.

      Martin had a right to defend himself; “stand your ground” laws would apply to him as well. But SYG laws are defensive in nature; if Martin escalated the verbal altercation to violence by punching Zimmerman, it was he that escalated the conflict and became the aggressor. At that point, however, he was only guilty (If Zimmerman’s story is true) of something of the level of misdemeanor aggravated assault charge.

      If Martin then mounted a downed Zimmerman and began trying to smash his head into the sidewalk as alleged, however, he dramatically upped the stakes. Using the sidewalk as a weapon is legally (and lethally) every bit as bad as trying to smash in Zimmerman’s head with a brick. IF this is what occurred, Martin was in the act of assaulting George Zimmerman with a deadly weapon. His actions were no longer remotely defensive in nature, but an offensive, potentially deadly attack. He is in the process of what a reasonable man may judge as attempted murder. Trayvon Martin was no longer a victim at this point, he was the attacker.

      At that point, George Zimmerman has the legal right to defend himself. Everything that happened prior to that point is irrelevant. If he had a reasonable suspicion that his life was in danger–and someone trying to smash your head open on concrete is a “reasonable suspicion” as a matter of legal opinion–then Zimmerman would have been justified in shooting Martin.

      There is a difference between what is legally right, and what is morally right. Zimmerman might have shown morally questionable behavior in leaving his vehicle to follow Martin, setting the stage for the verbal confrontation, and potentially the physical confrontation. IF Trayvon Martin then took the initiative to press an assault into a potentially lethal attack, however, he alone bears the legal responsibility for creating the conditions that justified the Defensive use of lethal force by Zimmerman, and his own death.