I am troubled with what I perceive to be the failure to focus on the obvious in the death of the teenage boy in the trial of George Zimmerman.
Perhaps I have a vantage point because I have teenage boys. I think of how our sons would react if they were being chased and pursued by a stranger at night. I have no doubt that if our sons felt that the man was trying to hurt them and they could not flee, that they would confront the man, and, if they felt threatened, fight in self-defense. I think the teenager in the Zimmerman case was doing the same.
I am not a proponent that the evidence demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman maliciously pursued and attacked the teen, Trayvon Martin, because he was black. That should be irrelevant to the legal case.
But, I am saddened to say that if the teen had been white I doubt anyone would seriously consider that a man carrying a loaded handgun could be innocent of killing with that gun a white teen armed only with Skittles candy. But, because the teenage boy was black, the defense has sought to create a plausible scenario of self-defense sufficient to argue reasonable doubt, without mentioning anyone’s race. In other words, the self-defense defense might work because the teen was black.
Let’s examine the undisputed evidence:
1. The man thought the teen looked suspicious.
2. The man called the police to report his suspicions about the teen.
3. The man was told by the police not to chase and pursue the teen.
4. The man decided to chase and pursue the teen anyway.
5 . The man was carrying a loaded gun.
6. The teen was not carrying a gun.
7. The teen was not carrying any weapon.
8. The teen was carrying candy.
9. The teen was not committing any crime.
10. The teen was not trespassing, as he was walking toward his father’s condo.
11. The man and the teen met in a physical confrontation.
12. The man and the teen fought, wrestled to the ground, and punches were exchanged.
13. The man shot the teen with his gun.
14. The man shot the teen while both were on the ground.
15. The shot from the man’s gun killed the teen.
16. There is no evidence that the teen was committing a crime or about to commit any crime.
17. But for the man chasing and pursuing the teen, there would have been no physical confrontation.
18. But for the physical confrontation, there would have been no fight.
19. But for the fight, the man would not have shot the teen.
20. But for the shot, the teen would be alive.
The man’s actions created a course of conduct that led to a dangerous situation: the physical confrontation and the fight. The dangerous situation subjected the man and the teen to the risk of death or injury, as the man was carrying a loaded gun.
Manslaughter is defined as: “The killing of a human being by the . . . culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification . . . ”
Does the evidence support a finding of guilty of manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt?
I believe it does. But for the man’s negligence in carrying a loaded gun and chasing and pursuing the teen, after being told not to by the police, there would have been no physical confrontation and the teen would be alive.
No reasonably careful person would do what the man did, and that should be obvious to everyone.
And, that is without considering anyone’s race.
Roberto “Bob” Martinez is an attorney in Miami and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.