I’m not an attorney, but it seems to me we can deduce at least two things from the just-announced charge against George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin:
1. The special prosecutor didn’t buy Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense. Here’s what FindLaw says about Florida’s second-degree murder laws:
To prove second degree murder, a prosecutor must show that the defendant acted according to a “depraved mind” without regard for human life. Florida state laws permit the prosecution of second degree murder when the killing lacked premeditation or planning, but the defendant acted with enmity toward the victim or the two had an ongoing interaction or relationship. Unlike first degree murder, second degree murder does not necessarily require proof of the defendant’s intent to kill.
That doesn’t strike me as the kind of charge that would be filed if the prosecutor believed Zimmerman was being beaten by Martin and feared for his life, as Zimmerman’s supporters have portrayed the lead-up to Martin’s death. In fact, it seems to be the most serious charge Zimmerman could face, given that premeditation seems out of the question in this case.
2. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law did not factor into the charge. The purported connection between that self-defense law and the lack, until now, of charges against Zimmerman has sparked protests, a left-wing boycott campaign against companies affiliated with a conservative legislative organization, and a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s similar law. But, while Zimmerman’s attorneys may cite the law in his defense, it appears not to have swayed the prosecutor. Don’t expect the law’s detractors to retract their claims against it.
I haven’t commented on this case before now, because all we’ve had to go on was a series of reported “facts” that seemed to change every day, from the relative sizes of Martin and Zimmerman to things Zimmerman said that allegedly demonstrated a racial animus. The main effect of speculation based on these fleeting “facts” has been to distract from the tragedy of a young man’s unnecessary death and to spin off an entirely new, and perhaps equally unnecessary, controversy.
But it seems to me that the most salient, agreed-upon fact was that Zimmerman was in his vehicle with a gun — and, while he might not have known if Martin was armed, he:
a) knew Martin was not in a vehicle (putting Zimmerman at an advantage in terms of safety and mobility); and
b) voluntarily got out of that vehicle and thereby initiated the encounter between the two of them.
For me, those points weigh heavily against Zimmerman’s self-defense claim, even if he later wound up on the wrong end of a fistfight. So, for now, I think the prosecutor got it right in filing this charge. But we should all wait and see the evidence and testimony at trial before deciding whether Zimmerman is guilty.
(Note: Because of the sensitive nature of this story, all comments will go through moderation; I will check them periodically this evening.)
– By Kyle Wingfield