The Zimmerman Effect?
Defense lawyers are claiming that George Zimmerman’s high-profile acquittal and the subsequent furor over Florida’s controversial self-defense law will wreak havoc on a potential jury pool in the upcoming trial of an Opa-locka man accused of killing two unarmed men outside a restaurant.
“Stand Your Ground has been under attack by the media both before and after Zimmerman,” Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Herb Smith told a judge Friday, asking for a delay in the trial of Gabriel Mobley, who is claiming self-defense.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas Rebull didn’t buy the argument and set the trial date for Aug. 26.
The selection process will weed out jurors swayed by publicity, Rebull said.
“Incidentally, for whatever its worth, despite what you say are the community’s feeling, the verdict was a not guilty” in the Zimmerman case, Rebull said. The judge also noted that Mobley is African American, accused of killing two Hispanics – the opposite of the dynamics in the Zimmerman case.
A Sanford jury acquitted Zimmerman in July of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a violent confrontation inside a gated community. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, claimed that he was forced to fire at Trayvon, who was unarmed, after the African-American brutally bashed his head into the concrete.
The racially charged case was polarizing from the start, with civil rights leaders pressing for the arrest of Zimmerman, a white Hispanic. His acquittal led to protests and rallies, with civil rights leaders calling for the repeal of Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law.
The law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat in the face of a lethal threat before using deadly force, which critics say fosters an atmosphere of vigilante justice. The law also gave judges greater leeway to grant “immunity” to someone found to have used self-defense.
Zimmerman did not seek an immunity hearing. Mobley did – and lost.
He is charged with two counts of second-degree murder for the February 2008 killings of Jason Jesus Gonzalez and Rolando Carrazana, both 24.
That night, an argument between two groups of men escalated when Gonzalez punched one of Mobley’s pals in the restaurant parking lot.
Mobley, who had a concealed weapons permit and cooperated with police, pulled a pistol and shot the men dead. At a Stand Your Ground hearing in January, Mobley claimed he saw Carranza rushing up and thought he had a weapon.
“I was scared, and then I seen this other guy coming up from the back and then he reached up under his shirt so I was scared,” Mobley testified. “I thought, you know, they were going to shoot or kill us.”
Prosecutors charged Mobley five months later after analyzing surveillance video of the shooting.
In April, Judge Rebull’s denied his request for immunity, saying he did not believe Mobley was justified in firing at the unarmed men five times. That means Mobley will face a jury, but can still argue self-defense.
Mobley’s lawyers are appealing Rebull’s ruling.
Unlike Zimmerman’s defense team, Mobley’s attorneys will expressly rely on the argument that their client had no duty to retreat when he opened fire.
Smith, his lawyer, said he believes potential jurors will have the media-fueled protests – including ongoing sit-ins in Tallahassee – over the law on their minds, making it impossible for Mobley to get a “fair and impartial” jury.
He quoted from an online petition calling the law a “moral and legal outrage.”
“The view is out there in all segments of the community, represented by the media. I am afraid, as is Mr. Mobley, that we’re going to have people on the jury that are going to feel that is the status of the law,” Smith said.
But Rebull said the voir dire process, in which lawyers extensively grill potential jurors about the effects of pre-trial publicity, should ensure a fair trial.
“We will have a long and exhaustive discussion with potential jurors about Stand Your Ground and their opinions and whether ultimately they can follow the law,” Miami-Dade Chief Assistant Attorney Kathleen Hoague said after the hearing. “We’re confident that we’ll be able to find six impartial jurors.”