14 July 2013

Florida News


by Leigh Lundin

Illegal Blogging

Be advised: In posting this article, I am violating one of Florida’s most recent laws. Signed by our illustrious Medicare governor, it bans internet caf├ęs… and computers and tablets and smart phones. Yep, I’m a criminal. This comes two years after Florida banned sex. I can’t get away from my criminal past.

Florida bleeding
George Zimmerman Trial

Two stories dominate the news here in central Florida. First is the George Zimmerman trial which went to the jury Friday.

I happen to know one of the defense attorneys, Don West, his wife and family, although I haven’t seen him in some years. He’s a decent man and it was from him I learned that even male criminals have a back story, that most were dysfunctionally forged in childhood, some by events so terrible most of us cannot imagine.

After doing my small part to bring the Sanford shooting to the attention of readers, I haven’t written about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in quite some time. Opinions appear to be as polarized as the prosecution and defense: Some see Zimmerman as a hero defending his neighborhood from marauding criminals ‘who always get away’ and that he merely defended himself against a violent teen who ambushed him. Using eMail blasts and doctored photos, the neo-nazi StormFront.org has partially succeeded in polluting opinions, so that casual followers might imagine Trayvon was a gang-tattooed, gold-toothed, junkie with a criminal record.

As brought out in testimony, yes, he wore two tattoos: One honoring his grandmother and the other a depiction of praying hands.

The state’s case is simpler: An innocent teen boy, minding his own business, was stalked and then waylaid by a Neighborhood Watch ward captain and wannabe cop operating outside his purview.

I suspect the truth is that George Zimmerman isn’t a vicious person and I don't intuit he’s racist. Instead, Florida’s Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law disfavors the black community and defies common sense, but in Florida, that’s no reason to change a bad law.

The news media here referred to the ‘racially charged’ testimony of Trayvon’s friend, Rachel Jeantel, sneered at by Sean Hannity. To my mind, the scene wasn’t so much racially charged as it was funny, exposing the gap between a 60-something white man and a teenage black girl. A baffled Don West simply couldn’t fathom what the girl was saying. I kept thinking of the scene in Airplane when Barbara Billingsley pops up, “Oh stewardess, I speak jive.

The prosecution handed the defense several gifts, including most of their witnesses exploited by Mark O’Mara and Don West. I couldn’t believe prosecutors put Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman, on the stand, giving him a platform to present Zimmerman’s claims virtually unchallenged. WFTV’s local legal analyst, former criminal attorney Bill Sheaffer, scathingly criticized the state’s ongoing gaffes, mostly for putting forward Zimmerman’s testimony making it unnecessary and even risky for him to testify.

It does appear Trayvon took Zimmerman to ground and straddled him. After all, Zimmerman was an armed guy following Martin in the dark (against the instructions of the police 911 operator). The defense made an issue whether the pistol was pressed against Trayvon’s chest or not, whereas I’m not certain that’s critical. Indeed, the key to the defense was to portray Trayvon as the aggressor and Zimmerman the victim.

Other problems with the gun disturb me. The defense echoes Zimmerman’s contention that Trayvon grabbed Zimmerman’s weapon and yet Zimmerman somehow wrested it from Trayvon’s grasp despite the boy’s purported overwhelming strength. The big problem: How would Trayvon know about a concealed pistol in a waistband holster under George’s rain jacket in an unlit area on a rainy night? If, as Zimmerman claims, Martin managed to get him on the ground and pummeled him, I can’t imagine the boy knew Zimmerman had a gun. Either Zimmerman had already announced or even pulled out his pistol whereupon Trayvon defended himself, or Zimmerman didn’t pull out his Glock until he was already under Martin, which implies Trayvon couldn’t have known he had a pistol. To me, that’s the biggest hole obscured in the defense’s case. The state asks another question: If Trayvon straddled a supine Zimmerman and the gun was in the waistband holster as Zimmerman claims, wouldn’t Trayvon have had to climb up off the man to reach for the concealed pistol?

One other issue dismays me although it doesn’t affect the other facts of the case. Not for a second do I believe the comic book dialogue Zimmerman attributes to Trayvon: “Tonight you die, MF.” And later, after Zimmerman fired, he claims Martin stood and gasped, “You got me!” Beyond the bad B-movie lines, the medical examiner testified that after the Martin boy was shot through the lung, drowning in his own blood, he wouldn’t have been able to move, let alone stand or speak. To be clear, Mark O’Mara managed to slightly dislodge the ME’s certainty, but the overall gist remained– the shock would have prevented Trayvon from moving.

Note: We haven’t been told why, but local channel 6’s WKMG has been banned from the courthouse amid Twitter speculation it may have something to do with their interview of Sanford’s ex-police chief who’s openly critical of the mayor and city manager. WKMG was the dominant all-Casey-Anthony all-the-time news station and had been a major news source following the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Note: The trial is over. Two hours before this article went to press, the jury announced their verdict: Not Guilty.

Shooting for Fun

We don’t know many details yet, but for weeks a number of random shootings of houses and cars have plagued Kissimmee and nearby Saint Cloud, which included at least one killing and possibly two. This week, Osceola sheriff arrested four youths: two 20-year-old males, a 17-year-old girl, and the primary shooter, a 15-year-old boy.

On 24 June, Lothar Schafer bought himself and his teen son a .45 calibre Hi-Point carbine. The following day, the shootings began when the quartet of friends rode around Osceola County from midnight to dawn, shooting at houses and cars. At six one morning, the 15-year-old decided to shoot a young man at a bus stop ‘for fun.’ The same boy also stands accused of stabbing a robbery victim in the throat.

Jorge Muriel, the anguished brother of one of the accused said, “I wish I didn't grow up when guns were so common. … If people didn't have guns this wouldn't have happened.” ‘People’ in this case were all less than 21.

Details how investigators zeroed in on the youths remain sparse. We do know the Osceola Sheriff’s Department called in the local Florida Metal Detecting Club which proved its, er, mettle by finding the shell from the bus stop shooting, which linked the murder to the other shootings.

Remember the chief prosecutor in the Casey Anthony trial? Jeff Ashton announced a few hours ago he’ll prosecute the shooters. Stay tuned, my friend.

15 comments:

Fran Rizer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leigh Lundin said...

Toe Hallock, Fran (as did I) found your blog Paradigms for a Quarter well-written, entertaining, and informative. Check eMail and contact Fran:
franrizer(at)gmail(dot)com

Dale Andrews said...

I suspect most attorneys (myself included) expected a not guilty verdict. The simple fact is that guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt" and this prosecution didn't accomplish that. They likely would have established guilt if the standard was "preponderance of evidence," but it isn't. It is easy, in the midst of detective stories and Perry Mason, to forget that the jury does not find a defendant "innocent." They find him "guilty" or (at best) "not guilty." Most lawyers (again, myself included) I suspect would predict a different outcome in any subsequent civil case by Martin's family. There the standard is much more lenient and the jury's finding much closer to a determination of whether a party, while not guilty, can also be deemed innocent by a jury of peers. See, e.g., O.J. Simpson.

R.T. Lawton said...

I didn't follow the case, except for what was reported in our local newspaper. When the prosecution got the charge of Manslaughter added to the jury's choices, I assumed their prosecution presentation had some glaring weaknesses and they were hoping for a compromise verdict. Apparently, in the juror's minds, those weaknesses did not rate even the Manslaughter verdict.
Seems there was also a mini-drama on the side (if I understand it correctly) in which a prosecution employee testified earlier that some evidence was not given to the defense before trial, however the prosecutor's office subsequently fired said employee, claiming that it was the employee himself who deleted the evidence? Looks like Florida has soap opera drama that even Shakespeare didn't dream of.

A Broad Abroad said...

The broad interpretation and application of Florida's 'Stand your ground' law is worrisome in the extreme.

A Broad Abroad said...

Footnote:
Last Sunday’s column couldn't have been more topical. Below, a selection of related news items that caught my eye. (Yes, I do know how to do the posh invisible hyperlink posting ‘thing’, but there were just so many!)

DuckDuckGo, a search engine with zero tracking, credits the NSA’s Prism revelations with record numbers of new users.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/10/nsa-duckduckgo-gabriel-weinberg-prism

The US Government pays to snoop on you using your tax dollars.
http://news.yahoo.com/price-surveillance-govt-pays-snoop-073058205.html

Using game theory and data analytics, a team of political scientists predicted Egypt’s current turmoil back in 2011.
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/07/politics/egypt-predictive-analysis/index.html?eref=edition

In a move reportedly prompted by recent revelations by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, the Kremlin security agency is to buy typewriters 'to avoid leaks'.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23282308

A report indicates more extensive co-operation than previously thought between Microsoft and the NSA regarding surveillance.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/12/us/report-indicates-more-extensive-cooperation-by-microsoft-on-surveillance.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

Leigh Lundin said...

Thank you, Dale. I couldn’t have said that better. Already I’m hearing people say Zimmerman was proved innocent. Then again, throughout the trial, before and after, Mark O’Mara exhibits the amazing ability to casually use his assertions as fact, i.e, “We proved Mr Martin was the aggressor,” etc.

RT, you highlight an interesting but important note. Traditionally, salivating Florida prosecutors have gone for the death penalty, but as we saw in the Casey Anthony trial where prosecutors left no fallback position, recently juries have become more reluctant to issue the harshest sentences. Even our manslaughter penalty is fierce– I may stand corrected, but I believe it’s up to 30 years, similar to 2nd degree murder, but with an earlier out.

Now take the Zimmerman trial: The state weakened their own case that Zimmerman committed intentional but unpremeditated murder, but he did indeed cause the death of a child. Therefore as the prosecution continued making flubs, manslaughter became more and more important.

Don West argued the state sandbagged them with the manslaughter charge, but the judge told him that was false, that he’d know about it all along. But what was interesting was the assistant prosecutor argued if the court took manslaughter off the table, then the state wanted to add aggravated child abuse– i.e, causing the death of a minor. The judge said no to that.

But another peculiarity arose out of the jury instructions to this case: Mark O’Mara argued if the jury couldn’t find Zimmerman guilty of 2nd murder, they couldn’t find him guilty of 3rd degree. I didn’t hear the arguments for that, but afterwards he said the jury obviously saw that contradiction.

ABA, the lobbyists for the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law argued they didn’t want cases like this one clogging the courts. Florida law now gives people broad license to shoot others they fear.

And thanks for the links, ABA!

Eve Fisher said...

And, of course, this sets the horrible precedent for everyone in every "stand your ground" state to be able to shoot anyone who scares them - EVEN IF THAT PERSON IS NOWHERE NEAR THEIR PROPERTY. (Unless, it appears from a number of cases, the shooter is a woman shooting a man or a minority shooting a white man/woman, in which case, even if they really were threatened with a weapon, they seem to end up in jail.) Dangerous, dangerous, DANGEROUS precedent.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, Florida police and prosecutors opposed the law, but the legislature rammed it through anyway. At the time of my first article, I seem to recall 100 homicides had either not been prosecuted or thrown out of court, thanks to the new law. If I remember right, one case was a playground skateboard argument and another was a man lost who knocked on the wrong door. Hey, life is cheap in Stand Your Ground states.

Anonymous said...

What bothers me most about the Stand Your Ground law and mentality is that it presumes the person judging another as "dangerous" is not paranoid, not suffering from PTSD, not a racist who sees anyone of a different color as a threat, and so on. It makes it every person's responsibility to dress and act, as much as possible, in a non-threatening manner -- where "non-threatening" is defined by the person holding the gun. This strikes me as very like the view that it's a woman's own fault if she's raped if she dressed in such a way as to "ask for it." The idea here is that Martin was "asking for it" simply by virtue of being black, in a particular neighborhood where people were fearful, and wearing a hoodie that made him appear threatening to a vigilante. I understand that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but it seems to me the same rule should apply to the victim who is shot down because he "looked" threatening. Has he not paid a capital price for being judged "guilty" without even benefit of a trial? I do not understand how such a thing can be.

Leigh Lundin said...

Anon, you summed up my thoughts better that I could have. Throughout, the defense put Trayvon on trial. They not only created doubt in the jury's mind… which was their goal and arguably their duty, but sadly they convinced a panoply of followers that Zimmerman was right, that he had no choice but to shoot the boy.

Toe Hallock said...

Hey Leigh: Hope I get this in before the midnight changeover. To my way of thinking, this whole Zimmerman case was a setup. Just like the 1st OJ trial. You appoint incompetent, or specifically instructed, prosecutors who spend most of the time affirming everything brought up by the defense. Then there's the business of bringing up last minute changes to the charges against the defendant, or wanting to introduce extenuating evidence. All in an obvious effort to fool the jury. As you know, despite my abysmal record, I am never ever suspicious of anything. But if I had been on that jury, I would have been royally pissed. Yours truly, Toe.

Eve Fisher said...

You nailed it, Anon.

Toe Hallock said...

Hey Leigh: Just happened to notice that the pictured profile of Florida in your post is similar to that of a Kel-Tec 9mm. Yours truly, Toe.

Toe Hallock said...

Hey Leigh: Just happened to notice that the pictured profile of Florida in your post is similar to that of a Kel-Tec 9mm. Yours truly, Toe.