Jury selection begins today in the second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed seventeen year old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman claims he was defending his life against Martin’s alleged aggression and threat on his life. The prosecution claims that Zimmerman was the instigator, and that he took Martin’s life with “a depraved mind.” Soon a Florida jury will have to sort it all out.
The most powerful piece of evidence in the case may be an audio recording of a 911 call placed by a neighbor, which the prosecution contends has the sounds of Martin screaming just before the gun is fired. The defense vigorously disputes this, arguing that it may be Zimmerman who is yelling for help, and at any rate the audio is of such poor quality that expert witnesses ought to be precluded from testifying about it. If the jury hears this recording, and believes it depicts Martin begging for his life in his final moments, it could have a powerful emotional impact, and undercut Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was the aggressor. The judge has yet to decide whether experts can testify about this audio recording.
For the defense, the best evidence may be Zimmerman’s multiple police statements, in his own handwriting and recorded on video tape immediately after the shooting. Throughout Zimmerman is calm, cooperative and respectful to law enforcement, and tells the story without counsel that he was concerned about recent break-ins in the area, that as neighborhood watch commander he was simply keeping an eye on Martin who he believed was behaving strangely, and that Martin assaulted him.
While the case has provoked rallies and protests, inside the courtroom the case must be decided based on admissible evidence. Several witnesses heard and saw portions of the altercation, and they will testify and be cross-examined. A teenaged girl spoke to Martin on the phone just before his altercation with Zimmerman and says that Martin said he was being followed and that he was concerned, but her credibility has been called into question. Zimmerman has some lacerations on his head consistent with his story, but the prosecution will surely question whether they substantiate the severity of the attack Zimmerman says he suffered at the hands of Martin, which it says would have resulted in skull fractures. And while he has consistently maintained that he shot Martin once in self-defense, the details of Zimmerman’s story changed in his various police statements.
It’s important in any case not to reach conclusions before the evidence is in, and it’s imperative in cases like this that have become touchstones for painful social issues. George Zimmerman, like all of us, deserves a fair trial. We know now that young Trayvon Martin, armed only with an iced tea and a bag of candy, died tragically that rainy evening. Did Zimmerman improperly profile and follow him, provoking the incident? The jury will have to answer that difficult question.
The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of Avvo.com.