Attorney Andrew Branca, a reader here and author of The Law of Self Defense, who has been covering the Zimmerman trial over at Legal Insurrection, has written a very interesting post called The Five Principles of the Law of Self Defense that anyone following the case in any detail should read to understand how the state will make the technical legal case against Zimmerman, and how the defense team with use the same bank of laws (plus case law) to argue that Zimmerman was within his legal rights to use lethal self defense.
The state is likely to argue that Zimmerman was the “aggressor” (that is certainly the popular opinion in some circles), but I suspect that will be a difficult accusation for the state to maintain based on four major points.
The first point is going to be that Zimmerman’s defense is going to argue that he never intended to confront Martin, that he was only trying to see where Martin was going to better guide the police to his location so that they could check him out. That is very consistent with his history of 40+ prior calls (it may have been a mistake for the prosecution to bring that up) without ever attempting to confront/intercept the people he was calling about.
The second point is going to likely revolve around the later half of the phone call between Zimmerman and the dispatcher. After Trayvon noticed Zimmerman behind him in the truck, Trayvon took off down the sidewalk, turned down the “T” and disappeared from Zimmerman’s view, running towards and almost to his father’s girlfriend’s home (if I recall Jeantel’s testimony of what she exchanged with Martin correctly). Zimmerman got out of his truck and didn’t get very far when the dispatcher noted the clinically-obese Zimmerman huffing and puffing and the noise of his running, and asked if he was following Martin. Zimmerman answered in the affirmative and the dispatcher cautioned, “we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman then apparently stopped after that cautioning* in the area of the “T” intersection of the sidewalk, and was on the phone at or near that location for another 93 seconds of the phone call. It is going to argued by the defense, if necessary, that this is positive proof that Zimmerman could not be the aggressor; how could he be, when the call shows he was no longer following Trayvon Martin?
The third point flows from the second; Zimmerman’s statements and various witness suggest that the confrontation began near the “T,” and the fight certainly ended just yards from there where George Zimmerman and Trayvon had their fatal interaction. As this is in the area where Zimmerman was allegedly on the phone and terminated his attempt to follow Martin, the defense will suggest at this point that Martin became the aggressor and approached Zimmerman, with Jeantel confirming how Trayvon Martin started the confrontation with, “What you following me for?” Zimmerman responded with something to the effect of “What are you doing around here?” (Zimmerman and Jeantel are both a little fuzzy here on the exact language he used, but that’s the gist of it), and Zimmerman said Trayvon made some sort of aggressive comment before sucker punching him (I’m too lazy to look up his statement right now) to begin the actual fight. You’ll remember Mora said she heard a three-part exchange right before the fight began, but couldn’t heard the words. This correlates with Jeantel and Zimmerman.
The fourth point rolls from the third. Zimmerman was not the aggressor in any coherent sense, and it is absurd for people to assert Trayvon had a right to “defend himself” because Zimmerman attempted to follow him. Following someone in public is no crime (stalking laws and restraining orders aside; we’re talking about this situation), and Trayvon had no legal right to assault Zimmerman, or vice versa. They could have had a verbal exchange at this point, and had they done so like civilized human beings, Zimmerman would have found out that this was a false alarm, there was no harm done, and both men might still be alive today. But that isn’t what happened. At the end of the three-part verbal exchange described by Mora and Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin apparently decided to punctuate his second statement to Zimmerman and things quickly went downhill into a the fight John Good saw feet away, with Trayvon Martin straddling George Zimmerman from an “MMA-style” mount in what fighters and fight fans know as “ground and pound.”
It’s brutal even in a guard position like the following Cheick Kongo vs. Mustapha Al-Turk fight…
… and keep in mind that Trayvon Martin wasn’t in Zimmerman’s guard, he was in a full mount, “straddling” Zimmerman with much more leverage, where Zimmerman had almost no defense, and no referee to stop the fight and save his life. Eyewitness John Good said the fight was on the concrete sidewalk. He said he heard George Zimmerman cry for help. Good even yelled at Martin to stop his attack, that he was calling 911.
But Trayvon Martin did not stop his attack. Trayvon Martin kept pounding George Zimmerman’s head on concrete in what was an assault with an deadly weapon. Pummeled relentlessly, with no one coming to his aid despite repeated calls for help, what should George Zimmerman do?
Allow Trayvon Martin to beat him unconscious?
To Trayvon Martin to beat him to death?
Based upon the law, witness testimony, and evidence, it seems clear that George Zimmerman was at no point the aggressor, and had a choice between pulling his gun in a last ditch effort to safe his life, or die.
What would you do?
* A dispatcher is not a law enforcement officer and could not command Zimmerman to stop even if he wanted to do so. In any event, he never told Zimmerman to stop, he cautioned “we don’t need you to do that,” which is an ambiguous cautioning statement that may be understood any number of ways (you don’t need to that its a bad idea or, we don’t need you to do that, but we don’t mind if you do), but that statement was certainly not a command as some have misrepresented.