On June 10, George Zimmerman will begin trial for the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who he shot unarmed on the street of a Florida gated community last year. But before the trial begins, Zimmerman’s defense team has aimed to portray Martin as a pot-smoking, violent teen — information the judge ruled inadmissible at the outset of the trial.
ThinkProgress spoke to three law experts in Florida on the issue, and they saw no reason that this information any indicator of Zimmerman’s guilt. By appearing on Fox News before the judge ruled on it, O’Mara saw the likelihood it would be barred and attempted to reach the jury through other channels. For instance, he broadcast a photo on Fox of a black hand holding a gun, allegedly from Martin’s phone.
“I think they are trying to poison the jury,” University of Miami Associate Professor of law Tamara Lave, a practicing attorney of 10 years, said. “I think he’s been trying to do this all along to win in the court of public opinion so he can win in the courtroom to get prosecutor to dismiss.” Unable to imagine “in good faith” he’d believe the evidence would be admitted, Lave also questioned why he would discuss it on national television when he knew the outcome.
At the pretrial, Zimmerman’s attorneys claimed a video recording on Martin’s phone was of his friends “beating up a homeless guy.” It turns out it wasn’t: it was two homeless men fighting over a bicycle. Zimmerman’s attorneys apologized for the mischaracterization on Sunday, a full five days after the pretrial.
Still, these details can prejudice potential jurors before a fair trial.
“It could have been a strategic maneuver to put things out there about the victim,” Florida attorney Spencer Charif said of one of the reasons this may have happened. “Sometimes the retraction in the newspaper is much smaller than the headline. 10 people think the video is harmless and 100 people think Trayvon had something.”
Charif, who has been a state attorney for three years and in private practice for seven, said that he “never had a video of another fight come in the defense case. I don’t know how that would have been relevant.”
According to Suzanne Villano, a Florida public defender of six years, this type of evidence is typically not probative — meaning, it does not prove the point of the case, but relies instead on its shock value.
A poll conducted last year showed a stark racial divide among people who think Zimmerman unjustly killed Martin; 91 percent and 59 percent of African-Americans and Hispanic Americans believe it was unjust, compared to 35 percent of white Americans. So the scrutiny of Martin’s records — which are promoted on sites like Drudge — are “terms that mean something,” Lave said. “Saying things to people about the value of Trayvon‘s life, that it’s worth less. “
What the jury will try to determine is whether Zimmerman was reasonable or not to use deadly force. The possible outcomes that O’Mara is aiming for is an acquittal, or a hung verdict. And Villano said from her experience as a public defender juries “are very much moved by physical evidence and didn’t like to evaluate a testimony of a witness.”
In this case, the lawyers representing Martin’s family said the so-called evidence O’Mara fought to include was intentionally fabricated.