Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Zimmerman Trial

It currently seems to me that it is very likely that George Zimmerman is not guilty of second-degree murder.

I'm really embarrassed that I jumped to the opposite conclusion soon after the incident. In my defense, and in retrospect, it does seem that early coverage by the media was extremely biased against Zimmerman.

So far as I can tell, it seems likely that Martin attacked Zimmerman, and that Zimmerman shot him during the attack. The fact that Zimmerman may have followed Martin for awhile doesn't seem to change anything significantly, and the fact the the police dispatcher said that they didn't "need" him to do that doesn't either. Zimmerman does not seem to have been doing anything illegal, Martin assaulted him, Zimmerman shot in self-defense. There are complications, but none of them seem make much difference. It was a terrible tragedy, and Zimmerman may not have acted optimally. He may even be a racist. But he does not seem to be a murderer.

To deny that Martin attacked Zimmerman, we have to accept that Zimmerman called the police, then hunted down Martin and, basically, executed him. This seems so unlikely as to be absurd. It is certain that there is reasonable doubt about it. The more likely story, that Martin attacked Zimmerman in retaliation for being followed, is far more likely.

Then, of course, there are the injuries that Zimmerman suffered... We'd also, apparently, have to believe that those were self-inflicted or something...

I've encountered some conservatives who are going a bit loony about this trial, predicting acquittal and consequent riots...  Sadly, many liberal discussions I've encountered have been every bit as loony. It seems to be an article of faith among certain liberals that Zimmerman is guilty...but this position seems to be motivated largely by background positions about guns and race.

I have not been following the trial with great care, and, of course, IANAL...but that's the way it seems to me at this point.


Blogger The Mystic said...

First, let me say that I stopped following the trial because it really is none of my concern. However, I'm interested in your position here because it seems to me uncharacteristically careless, though I admit that usually means I'm being a dumbass.

Nonetheless, you say in your post "To deny that Martin attacked Zimmerman, we have to accept that Zimmerman called the police, then hunted down Martin and, basically, executed him."

That strikes me as extremely uncharitable. To deny that Martin attacked Zimmerman, we don't need to assert that Zimmerman executed him, and we don't need to believe that Zimmerman's injuries were self-inflicted or anything like that. Is it not possible that Zimmerman initiated the conflict with some degree of minor assault (maybe reaching out and grabbing Martin either to get his attention or to stop him from leaving) and that Martin then reacted violently, resulting in the fight wherein Zimmerman, finding himself on the ass end of an ass-kicking, shot and killed Martin?

It seems to me that we don't have sufficient evidence to know exactly how the conflict started, and so we're stuck with the presumption of innocence, unpalatable though that may be given the circumstances (is this where we'll have to end up any time someone kills another and, without evidence aside from his testimony, claims he was attacked?).

For what it's worth, my guess is, and has been from the start, that a man who calls 911 to report a man doing nothing but walking down the sidewalk and then follows him against the advice of the 911 operator is far more likely to be the problem than a man who was simply returning home from a trip to a store. If I had to place a wager, I'd wager heavily that Zimmerman provoked Martin in a way that at least borders upon justification for Martin's violent retaliation. The transgression which set off the chain of events here was probably small, but in a tense situation, it was costly. With Martin now deceased and Zimmerman being the only one left knowing what happened, it'd be pretty easy to bend the facts slightly and brush away the whole part about Zimmerman's initiation of the conflict, were that the case.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

Zimmerman was told to stay in his truck, but he disregarded that request to confront Martin. How is that Martin's fault?

You're really screwed up on your reasoning on this one, Winston.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Unless somebody passed a law I don't know about, DA, that says that the dictates of police dispatchers have the force of law, I don't see how your point is relevant. Zimmerman following Martin does not give Martin the right to attack him. Supposing Martin attacked him (which is entirely plausible), Zimmerman then has the right to defend himself.

A stupid situation, but not one in which Zimmerman is guilty of murder.

I'll frankly be rather surprised if Zimmerman is found guilty, even of manslaughter.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Putting aside how the FL law is actually written, I don't see how there can be a consistent theory of justified self-defense that lets Zimmerman shoot Martin for attacking him, but does not allow Martin to attack Zimmerman for having stalked him through the neighbourhood with a gun. One is supposed to be able to deploy force in self defense where there is reasonable fear for your safety. We know Martin knew Zimmerman was following him, and was definitely creeped out. We don't really know what happened next, but the likelyhood that Martin just up and charged Zimmerman to "retaliate" for being followed is at least as implausible as Zimmerman deciding to simply execute Martin. What is most likely is that Zimmerman closed with Martin and tried to detain him in some way. We don't know if he laid hands on him, or said something, or flashed the gun. But does that matter? In any of those scenarios, it would be quite reasonable for Martin to fear for his safety, and to try to defend himself with his fists.

Sure, it's possible for one person's justified violence make another person reasonably afraid, so Zimmerman may not be guilty of murder. But he did create, from nothing, the situation in both he and Martin would be justified in deploying increasing force by clearly menacing Martin, giving Martin reason to be violent, giving himself reason to be more violent still. That decision to continue following Martin was clearly reckless and resulted in death. Murder two is likely not the right charge, but Zimmerman should be convicted of some form of homicide, not for the decision to shoot, but for recklessly placing himself in a position to shoot.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

The trouble with your logic is that the other guy also is allowed self-defense. He clearly thought he was being stalked (and Zimmerman really was a "creepy-ass cracker" to chase him around first in a car, then on foot.)

It looks to me like Zimmerman started a fight, then shot the other guy when he was losing. This is NOT KOSHER.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

Winston, where in my comment did I say that Zimmerman broke any laws by disregarding the request of the dispatcher that he not follow Mr. Martin?

Your logic-fu is very weak, Winston. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the basic facts of a case before making an opinion one way or another.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Ok, ok...recalculating...

Good points...

6:33 PM  
Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...

A few things, the Sanford Dispatcher actually is a sworn LEO, that Zimmerman may not have known this is of course no defense.

As to Martin, the only things permissible towards a defense of stand your ground are those known at the time of the shooting. So, all the right-wing smears about him and past drug use, thuggish photos of facebook don't matter because those weren't known to GZ.

Additionally, Martin has ZERO obligation to stop or do anything GZ demands. He's under no legal requirement to defer or listen to him.

It's incontrovertible that GZ initiated the 1st contact so if anyone had a Stand Your Ground Defense it was Martin.

GZ is guilty of murder and sadly will probably walk.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I address this in a new post... Though in the last 24 hours I've swung anti-Zimmerman, then back to not-sure, I think the comments here are generally too anti-Zimmerman.

I've never really understood how Zimmerman had a good SYG case...but I know enough to know that the FL law is odd. It seems clear that, as laypeople understand SYG, Martin seems to have had the better case there.

Of course no one has said nor suggested--anywhere--that Zimmerman had any authority, nor that Martin had an obligation to stop.

Much of this all hinges on the question "who attacked whom?" Morally, you are sometimes entitled to attack someone else--in case, say, you know that they intend to launch an illegitimate attack against you. Legally...well, I don't know... But my guess is that, if X initiates physical violence against Y, there's some kind of presumption in favor of Y...

And, back to the dispatcher question: a police officer saying "we don't need you to x" is not equivalent to them demanding that you not do x... It sounds more like advice or something... It's not irrelevant, but I can't imagine liberals putting so much weight on such an utterance if the case were slightly different...

2:20 PM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

a police officer saying "we don't need you to x" is not equivalent to them demanding that you not do x...

1st, One would think that the reasonable thing to do was to listen to someone like the dispatcher who is trained on what is the safest approach to take in such circumstances. The cops were on their way, and there was no overt evidence that Trayvon was doing any thing illicit at that point in time.

2nd. Zimmerman was a wanna-be cop, he had applied but was rejected by a PD, so he was more than just a concerned citizen who was worried about crime.

Josh Marshall has been following this case, I would recommend reading what he's recently written about it.

2:45 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I think the crux of this case can be roughly approximated as follows:

Is it reasonable to believe that Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman so as to give Zimmerman the right to defend himself with lethal force?

It seems one would have to believe Mr. Martin to be quite the spontaneously dangerous fellow for that to be the case. If Martin was known for this sort of belligerence, that'd be one thing, but since he doesn't appear to be, we might turn to Zimmerman, who we know to have charges of spontaneous violence against him (assaulting an officer during questioning, domestic violence), who we know to have been swearing angrily about Martin, who we know to have had little, if any, reason to actually be suspicious of Martin, and who we know to have called 911 to report Martin for doing nothing other than walking down the street, AND who we know to have disobeyed the advice of the 911 dispatcher to stand down, instead choosing to pursue Martin in such a way that ultimately ended in Martin's death...

I can't shake a reflexive suspicion I've held since I first heard about this case; Zimmerman is responsible for Martin's death.

However, Zimmerman needs to have his guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If it's reasonable to doubt that Zimmerman killed Martin without just cause, then he must be let go.

I admit it's not an easy call to make, but it sure doesn't seem reasonable to believe that Martin attacked Zimmerman without any cause whatsoever. Moving down that line, the question is whether Zimmerman provided good reason for Martin to fear for his safety in such a way that justifies Martin's self-defense.

Given what we know about the beginning of the incident, and what we know about Zimmerman and Martin, it's only at our most charitable that I think we can doubt Zimmerman's guilt.

That might be enough to free him under our rigorous and invaluable legal obligations, but I certainly wouldn't trust him, myself.

8:58 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

One more thing:

Your description of the neighborhood was something of which I had not heard in such detail.

We should remember that both Zimmerman AND Martin are in dangerous environments. Martin was a kid walking home in a semi-dangerous neighborhood at night, alone. It is really easy to see how this could have been a misunderstanding with dire consequences. Simply being tailed or even quickly approached in the dark night in such an environment might be reasonably seen as sufficient cause for serious alarm, if not immediate self-defense.

I walked through downtown LA from 11:00 PM to 11:50 PM one time (2 miles) and it seemed something of an unspoken rule that you don't address, converse, or move strangely towards your intermittent neighbors. And when the police chase a guy past you, you just feel happy the police are there. (seriously)

9:40 PM  

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