Maybe it’s because I watch a lot of Law & Order but if I were the prosecutor, that’s exactly what I’d be trying to do for the jurors.
First, I’d attempt to set the scene for that night. It was raining, a hard rain that blanketed everything and made visibility difficult. A teenager was braving the elements, hood up, electing to walk the short distance from the store. He was a lone, black teenager walking in the rain through the streets of a suburban Florida gated housing community. He wasn’t known to other members of the community; he was visiting his extended family and was not a regular fixture in the neighborhood.
At some point, Trayvon began to have suspicions that he was being followed. Who knows what went through his mind then. It is, after all, Florida and both the state and the region had seen its share of racially motivated violence over the years. So, it’s understandable that, in the absence of any type of official sanctioning of the shadow, aka a marked police vehicle with lights blaring, the young man would become concerned. Any rational human being would do so. He spoke to his girlfriend via cellphone and she advised him to run away. He probably tried to do so but was no match for the overzealous neighborhood watchman who was determined that this time; “they” wouldn’t get away. At some point a confrontation erupted; muffled cries for help were heard followed by a shot. And when it was all said and done, a 17 year old, unarmed African American youth lay on the rain-soaked ground, dead of a single gunshot wound.
The prosecutor wants to look at George Zimmerman’s state of mind that evening. He needs jurors to recognize that this was a man fervently preoccupied about the safety of his neighborhood and increasingly suspicious of newcomers, so much so that he stalked and killed a lone teenager walking through, simply because the youth was unknown to him. But the burden of proof has to be difficult for the state, especially with the racial component. I would argue that the facts of the case should be enough to bring a conviction, in spite of, or even with the help of the “Stand Your Ground” statutes.
776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—
The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
History.—s. 13, ch. 74-383; s. 1190, ch. 97-102.
Hussein & Weber, PL
And the facts are simple. One man stalked and killed another without just cause. It’s not self defense when you provoke the attack and whether or not it was Zimmerman’s duty to retreat should not be given weight. And it shouldn’t be, as argument, that he “…reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm…” since he had no business, legal or personal, being out there in the first place. It makes no difference that he was a neighborhood watchman. The minute he disobeyed a lawful order from police dispatch to break off his pursuit, he was no longer sanctioned as part of the community effort and became simply another vigilante looking to kill for retribution (776.013(2a) & 776.013(2c)). In fact, it’s been disclosed that members of the watch are told not to follow with the purpose of apprehending. They are told to put such actions squarely in the hands of law enforcement. Another thing: George Zimmerman has never shown any regret or remorse or offered an apology remaining confident in his right to take the life of another in such an orchestrated fashion.
And with that we come to the main problem with Stand Your Ground. It gives ordinary residents an exaggerated feeling that they can use deadly force whenever they see fit, regardless of the circumstances. There’s no vetting of the situation because the killing of the other party makes such determinations impossible. Even members of the law enforcement community have come out in question of the statute calling it dangerous and confusing. Unchanged and at its best, tragic accidents will occur with seemingly no true recourse for justice. At its worst, it’ll be open season with citizens creating all sorts of scenarios in an effort to settle all family business. And make no mistake, it would be just as wrong, Zimmerman just as guilty, if Trayvon were white. What’s important to consider is, what’s the value of a human life? Today, it’s a young black man’s but who knows what tomorrow or the next day will bring.
Sources: Hussein & Weber, PL, Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, Jacksonville, FL (Stand Your Ground Statute); Wikipedia, Stand-Your-Ground law