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Serious Legal Obstacles to Convicting Trayvon Martin's Killer // Very Similar Legal Precedents Create Uphill Battle

13.04.2012 - 15:34


Some argue that Zimmerman can't defend his actions under Florida's "stand your ground" self defense law because he didn't just stand his ground; instead he went after Martin and confronted him, argue some of his defenders. But even if this version of events is established, it might not defeat Zimmerman's self defense claim, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

In another Florida case just weeks ago, Miami judge Beth Bloom dismissed second-degree murder charges against a killer who not only didn't stand his ground but actively pursued his victim. Greyston Garcia saw Pedro Roteta stealing his car radio, grabbed a big knife, pursued Roteta, and eventually stabbed him to death. Although the circumstances of this situation seem to present a much stronger case for convicting the killer - and the fatal stabbing was captured on videotape - Judge Bloom dismissed the charges after deciding that Garcia's testimony regarding his need to defend himself was credible.

After first lying to the police, Garcia claimed that after chasing him down, Roteta made a move which Garcia through was an attempt to stab him. However, Garcia never saw a knife because Roteta didn't have one - all he was holding was a bag of stolen radios.

Interestingly, this case - despite the judge's decision to throw out the charge even before a jury got to consider the evidence - received far less public attention, and created less public controversy, than the Trayvon Martin case. Perhaps the reason, suggests Banzhaf, is that the Martin case involved a white person killing an unarmed black person, whereas the Garcia case apparently involved one Hispanic man killing another unarmed Hispanic man, with no racial or ethnic overtones.

Those pressing for Zimmerman's conviction also argue that Zimmerman disobeyed police instructions not to follow Martin, and that this undercuts his self defense claim. But, in an eerily similar situation, a Texas grand jury refused even to indict someone who deliberately disobeyed a dispatcher's repeated pleas (likewise recorded on tape) not to confront suspected criminals, and shot two of them to death outside his home.

Joe Horn, like Zimmerman, was suspicious, thinking that two men had burglarized a neighbor's house. Disobeying the police dispatcher's repeated directions to remain in his own home and let the police handle a suspected crime, Horn racked his 12-gauge shotgun and left his home to investigate. He then shot two immigrants, both in the back. Nevertheless, the grand jury refused to indict, one again not letting a jury of his peers evaluate a claim of self defense.

Banzhaf notes, by the way, that neither Zimmerman nor Horn was required to obey the directions of a police dispatcher relayed over the telephone.

Banzhaf suggests that special prosecutor Angela Corey may also not be able to persuade a judge that Zimmerman acted with "depraved indifference," a key element for the charge of second degree murder, at least based on the evidence that has been made public to date. Wanting to stop crime, or to prevent alleged criminals from possible escaping, is a far cry from not caring whether or not they die.

Also, noted Banzhaf, simply confronting a suspected criminal, while almost never a wise decision for a civilian, does not establish depraved indifference, nor even necessarily make Zimmerman an aggressor in the eyes of the law.

If Zimmerman confronted Martin as many suggest, and even exchanged harsh words with him, this would not justify Martin allegedly punching Zimmerman and then pounding his head into the ground as has been alleged, said Banzhaf. If that's what happened, a judge could still find that Zimmerman was protected by the "stand your ground" self defense law.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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Washington, DC 20052, USA
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