Thursday, April 12, 2012

Murder in the Second Degree

That's the charge that Special Prosecutor Angela Corey delivered against George Zimmerman for his role in the death of Trayvon Martin.  This after exculpatory evidence of his injuries was presented.  It's a clear-cut case of self-defense, right?  How can Ms. Corey press charges?  Surely this is a political witch hunt!

Maybe, maybe not.  In many cases the difference between a justifiable homicide and murder is the intent of the killer.  And George Zimmerman's actions on the night of February 26th are murky enough that his intent could be taken either way.  Don't believe me?  Here's another version that fits the events as disclosed just as well as Mr. Zimmerman's account:

George Zimmerman is patrolling his neighborhood.  There have been burglaries and he is frustrated by the lack of progress in solving them.  He sees a young man walking in the rain.  George is a good neighbor.  He likes kids and even volunteers his time helping them.  He knows most of the kids in the neighborhood.

But he doesn't recognize this young man.  It's late, wet, and George can think of no good reason for a stranger to be walking through his neighborhood.  George dials 911 to report the sighting.  He articulates his suspicions.  "They always get away", he complains to the dispatcher.  He appears to suspect that the young man he is following is one of the burglars plaguing the gated community.  Is this racial profiling?  If so, then Jesse Jackson himself had admitted to the offense in the past.

By this time young Trayvon has noticed that he is being followed.  What's wrong with the driver?  Is he a gang member, or possibly a serial killer?  Following people on foot in a car late at night is not normal behavior.  It's suspicious.  Trayvon is now profiling George Zimmerman based upon the normal rules of society that say that following strangers is not a good thing.  Trayvon is talking to a friend on his cell phone.  He should have called 911.  Trayvon does the sensible thing and tries to get away.  On foot, he is able to move out of George Zimmerman's sight.

George continues to actively search for the young man, even after the dispatcher advises him that, "we don't need you to do that."  In short, he is hunting Trayvon at this point.  When asked for an address he stops the car and gets out so he can better read the signs.

The confrontation occurs.  Whether George sees Trayvon or Trayvon charges George, the outcome is a struggle that leaves George Zimmerman battered and bloody.  George fires a single shot, mortally wounding Trayvon.

Zimmerman's injuries appear to be consistent with having his head repeatedly pounded against concrete.  His life is in danger; just ask Natasha Richardson or Billy Mays.  Blunt force trauma to the skull can and does kill people.

We lack some key details.  What was the distance between the two men when Zimmerman fired the shot?  Was Trayvon standing up at the time?  These are key questions.  Let's say the Trayvon has decided that he has beaten the stranger sufficiently to now make his escape.  As he is backing away, the man pulls a gun.  According to the affadavit Trayvon's mother has identified the screams for help heard on the 911 call from one of the witnesses as coming from Trayvon.

This completely changes the nature of the encounter.  Trayvon has disengaged, he is no longer the attacker.  If George Zimmerman, his head swimming from concussive trauma and adrenaline pulls the trigger, he is no longer acting in self-defense.  If done accidentally, this is now manslaughter.  If done deliberately, this is murder.  What matters is the intent.

What can we surmise about George Zimmerman's mental state that night?  We know that he was frustrated and angry.  We know that he made the conscious decision to hunt for Trayvon, even leaving the safety of his truck to do so.  We know that he was armed.  We know that he was severely beaten.

Is it unreasonable to believe that George Zimmerman may have pulled the trigger in anger after the confrontation was over?  The investigating detective appeared to believe so.  He recommended that manslaughter charges be filed but was overruled by the Chief of Police.

I'm not surprised at the charges.  George Zimmerman's actions that night can be interpreted in at least two different lights depending upon the assumptions made by people deliberating the evidence.  George Zimmerman may have acted in an adrenaline-blurred rush of terror.  The investigators have the advantage of hindsight and no immediate possibility of death.  There are no winners in most self-defense shootings.  There are only survivors.

Let's spend a moment examining the possible motivations of Angela Corey.  Vociferous members of the electorate are agitating for justice as they see it.  There have been demonstrations and random acts of violence done in Trayvon's name.  Alleged "leaders" of the civil rights movement are making vague threats of dire consequences if Zimmerman is not elected.  Even the U.S. Justice Department is taking a look.  It's enough to give any elected official the sweats.

Ms. Corey's thoughts are known only to her.  But I would like to point out that the "Stand Your Ground" statutes came about because enough legislators believed that prosecutorial decisions were being made for political purposes.  Think about that before you demand the laws be changed.

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