Jurors like the big picture. The big picture is easy to understand. The big picture allows jurors to plainly see the issues so that when it comes time for them to deliberate and render a verdict, they can put the pieces together and reach the correct legal conclusion. Because after all is said and done, that’s exactly what these 6 women jurors in the Zimmerman trial will be asked to do. After all the investigators, experts, and character witnesses testify, and after all of the evidence is submitted, these women will be asked to come to a legal determination about what happened on that fateful night that ended with an unarmed 17-year-old young man being shot to death.
One of the first things any trial attorney learns is the value of a strong “theory of the case.” Ultimately, your job is to get the jurors to see the facts from your perspective. This can be a lot easier said than done. The prosecutors in the Zimmerman trial have failed to succinctly present a clear and concise theory, and they’ve also failed to plainly lay out their witnesses in a way that makes it easy for the jurors to see this case the way prosecutors need them to see it. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, and in Florida the state has to prove three elements to get a conviction. The first two elements are almost a given: Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman killed him. Proving the third element is the crux of the entire case: was Zimmerman’s use of deadly force the result of a depraved mind or recklessness? Put another way, the state carries the burden of proving that by pulling out a gun and firing at this unarmed young man on that rainy night, Zimmerman’s actions were unreasonable, and therefore, legally criminal.
How do they do that? Based on the case they’ve presented thus far, the prosecution is still struggling to find an answer. While the prosecutor is getting lost in seemingly spotty lines of questioning and witnesses who seem to assist the defense as much as (if not more than) the state, the defense is well on its way to creating reasonable doubt. The state needs to (quickly) use Zimmerman’s words against him. But at the rate this trial is going, the likelihood of Zimmerman taking the stand is incredibly doubtful. He’s already presented video stating his version of the night without being subject to cross examination, so he really doesn’t need to take the stand. The state can and should, however, use that video against the defendant.
In the video and in other evidence, Zimmerman has over and over again referred to Trayvon Martin as a “suspect.” During the 911 call we heard Zimmerman saying that he was following Martin because Martin was suspicious, but we’ve yet to hear exactly what was so suspicious about this young man. Martin was heading back to his father’s fiancé’s home, wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain, and carrying candy and a soft drink, tell me again what is so suspicious about it? The lack of reasonably articulable suspicion leaves a logical conclusion to be drawn that what Zimmerman found “suspicious” was Martin’s skin color. Blackness is NOT a reasonable cause for suspicion. It can’t be, because if we allow that type of blatant racial profiling, we might as well willingly forfeit our black and brown boys in droves. And isn’t this what made us all so upset at the onset of this case? Zimmerman’s lack of ability to tell anyone, including the investigators on the case, what he found so initially suspicious about this young man that compelled him to disobey the 911 operator’s instruction to stop following Martin, approach Martin while carrying a handgun, and ultimately used that handgun to shoot this young man to death.
As we watch this trial continue to unfold, I want the prosecution to make it easy for the jury and take us back to this big picture. The big picture of Zimmerman’s actions being patently unreasonable under the circumstances. The big picture of Blackness, in and of itself, not qualifying as “suspicion.” The big picture of Zimmerman shooting and killing this unarmed boy being unmistakably, tragically, and most importantly, legally criminal.