Monday 1 July 2013

Was it murder or was it manslaughter?

WAS  IT  MURDER OR  MANSLAUGHTER?                          

The Zimmerman/ Martin shooting


The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman took place on the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States. Martin was an unarmed 17-year-old African American whereas George Zimmerman, is a 28-year-old multi-racial Hispanic American who was the appointed neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily staying and where the fatal shooting took place.


Let me say from the get go that Martin was staying with his father who had been visiting his own fiancé and her son in the gated community and Martin was on his way to their home just before he was shot.  The community at Twin Lakes is a 260-unit gated townhome community in Sanford, Florida


While Zimmerman was in his vehicle on a personal errand, he saw Martin walking inside the community on a concrete pathway that ran behind the homes on both sides of the pathway. Zimmerman called the Sanford Police Department to report Martin's presence in the community as being suspicious when he stated to them, “This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about and looking at all the houses.” He also said, “These assholes, they always get away.” Martin was not a burglar prowling the neighborhood that Zimmerman thought he was. He was just on his way home.


How could Zimmerman presume that Martin was up to no good simply because Martin was looking at the various houses as he walked past them? And how could he presume that Martin was on drugs? According to a police report, there was no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter. I am convinced in my own mind that Zimmerman was either making up those allegations to convince the police that Martin was up to no good and was probably a burglar or alternatively, he really believed that what he saw was a burglar casing the homes to decided which one he would burglarize since there had previously been burglaries in the community. During the 18 months preceding the February 26 shooting, Zimmerman called the non-emergency police line seven times. On five of those calls, Zimmerman reported suspicious looking men in the area, but never offered the men's race without first being asked by the dispatcher. Crimes committed at community in the year prior to Martin's death included eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting. Twin Lakes residents said there were dozens of reports of attempted break-ins, which had created an atmosphere of fear in their neighborhood so I can understand Zimmerman’s concern when he saw Martin walking on the pathway behind the homes.  


Three weeks prior to the shooting, on February 2, 2012, Zimmerman called police to report a young man peering into the windows of an empty Twin Lakes home. Zimmerman was told a police car was on the way and he waited for their arrival. By the time police arrived, the suspect had fled. On February 6, workers witnessed two young black men lingering in the yard of a Twin Lakes resident around the same time her home was burglarized. A new laptop and some gold jewelry were stolen. The next day police discovered the stolen laptop in the backpack of a young black man, which led to his arrest. Zimmerman identified this young man as the same person he had spotted peering into windows on February 2. There is no doubt in my mind that Zimmerman took his work as the community’s Neighbourhood Watch program’s coordinator very seriously. In Florida, there is no law that such a coordinator cannot be armed as Zimmerman was and he had been licensed to carry a firearm since November 2009.


About two minutes into the call to the police, Zimmerman said, "He's running.” The dispatcher asked, “He's running? Which way is he running?” The sound of a car door chime was heard, indicating Zimmerman opened his car door. Zimmerman followed Martin, on foot eventually losing sight of him. The dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following him. When Zimmerman answered, “Yeah.” The dispatcher then said, “We don't need you to do that.” Zimmerman responded, “Okay” Zimmerman asked that police call him upon their arrival so he could provide his own location. Zimmerman ended the call at 7:15 p.m. Zimmerman then told the dispatcher that the burglar had escaped. I can presume that Martin by then was out of sight.


Why had been Martin running? It turns out that he had just called a friend on his cell phone saying that some creepy guy was following him in his car. I can only presume that Martin was afraid at this moment so he began running towards the home his father was visiting. Zimmerman probably believed that the person who was running was a burglar who believed that he had been spotted and decided to flee. Since Zimmerman had previously lost sight of several burglars, he decided that he wouldn’t lose sight of the one he was now seeing. For this reason, he ignored the order of the police to remain where he was and began to run in hopes of finding Martin whom he suspected was a burglar.


He caught up to Martin and a violent fight took place between the two of them. According to an eyewitness who saw that altercation from a distance, Zimmerman was on the ground with Martin straddling him and striking Zimmerman with his fists. Medical evidence showed that Zimmerman suffered from cuts and bruises on his face along with injuries at the back of his skull which would indicate that his head may have been thrust against the a hard surface several times. I can’t help but wonder if at that moment, Zimmerman’s head was on the pavement of the walkway rather than on the grass because the injuries to the bank of his head wouldn’t have come about if it was banged against the grass where the rest of him was laying.


There is no doubt in my mind that both men were in fear of their lives. Martin must have seen the gun in Zimmerman’s hand and believed that he would be shot to death and Zimmerman feared that he may be beaten to death. As it turned out, Zimmerman was able to shoot Martin in his chest and that shot was the one that killed Martin.


The police determined that Zimmerman yelled for help at least 14 times in a 38 second span. Although that was in dispute, I believe that since it was he who was on his back being beaten by Martin who was straddling him; it was Zimmerman who was calling for help. 


On March 12, 2012, Police Chief Lee turned the investigation over to the State Attorney's office for review. Lee said there was not enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman. The chief said, “In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense. Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him.” In response to criticisms of the investigation, Lee responded that "We are taking a beating over this" and defended the investigation. This is all very unsettling. I'm sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, February 26, he'd probably do things differently. I'm sure Trayvon would, too.


I believe that both men each made a big mistake that resulted in Martin being shot to death and Zimmerman facing a charge of second degree murder.


First of all, Zimmerman shouldn’t have closed in on Martin. He was told to stay in his car and wait for the police to arrive. He ignored that order. Even if the so-called burglar had finally disappeared, Zimmerman would be facing a murder charge in court.


Secondly, if Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him and Zimmerman told him what role he played in the community and Martin told him that he was heading home, then everything would probably turn out OK. Martin could give Zimmerman the phone number of the home he and his father were visiting and whoever answered the call would verify Martin’s explanation.


I don’t know what prompted the altercation that immediately followed but between them, one man died and the other is at risk of being sentenced to prison for life.


Now comes the crux of this article. Is Zimmerman guilty of second degree murder or is he guilty of manslaughter?


In Florida, second degree murder is described thusly:


The crime of Second Degree Murder occurs when a person commits either murder with a depraved mind or accomplice felony murder. Well it wasn’t the latter so we are left with the former.

Murder with a depraved mind occurs when a person is killed, without any premeditated design, by an act imminently dangerous to another and revealing a depraved mind showing no regard for human life.

Does Zimmerman’s shooting to death the young man straddling him while fearing for his life present evidence that his mind was depraved and that he didn’t care whether the man he shot would be killed?

In Florida, a depraved mind is a condition of the mind that is characterized by an inherent deficiency of moral sense and integrity. It consists of evil, corrupt and perverted intent which is devoid of regard for human dignity and which is indifferent to human life. It is a state of mind outrageously horrible or inhuman.


I really don’t believe that when Zimmerman shot Martin to death because he was in fear of his life, his mind fits the description of him having a deprived mind. Admittedly, he was indifferent as to whether or not Martin died from being shot, that also doesn’t mean that Zimmerman’s mind was depraved. In a moment of fear, I hardly think he was thinking of killing Martin. I believe that he was really thinking of saving his own life by any means available to him and if that meant that he had to shoot Martin, so be it.


Why was Martin beating Zimmerman while he was straddling Zimmerman on the ground? If Zimmerman didn’t tell Martin that he was a neighbourhood watch coordinator, Martin might have believed that he was being attacked by an armed thug and was taking whatever steps necessary to place the thug in a position where he couldn’t shoot him.


In my opinion, I believe that Zimmerman should have been charged with manslaughter. In Florida, manslaughter is a felony of the second degree. There has been quite a bit of discussion of how to differentiate manslaughter from first and second degree murder, but what it comes down to is this: if something you do causes someone else to die, if something you get someone else to do causes someone to die, or if you do something stupid (or fail to do something smart) in which common sense would tell you would create a dangerous situation and could cause someone to die and someone does die, you have committed manslaughter.


Common sense was obviously missing in Zimmerman’s mind when he began running after Martin. He was told by the police to stay where he was as the police would take over. This he refused to do. Admittedly, as a citizen, he had the legal right to follow Martin but if Martin told him that he was living with his father in the community, Zimmerman would have no authority to detain Martin until the police arrived.


In my opinion, Zimmerman screwed up. He placed himself in danger and shot Martin to extricate himself from the danger of being beaten to death. He subsequently killed an innocent man and placed himself in legal jeopardy. I will keep you updated when the case is finally decided by the jury.

UPDATE: On July 13, 2013, the jury decided that Zimmerman was found not guilty of both 2nd degree murder and manslaughter. I am still convinced that Zimmerman was guilty of manslaughter and so do many lawyers who spoke on CNN but the jury has made its decision and that decision stands.


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