Column | Zimmerman murder conviction looking remote

Miami HeraldJuly 2, 2013 

The prosecution overreached.

Manslaughter, maybe. I wouldn’t bet on it.

But a second-degree murder conviction for George Zimmerman looks ever more doubtful.

Civic leaders, mindful that public assumptions about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin aren’t governed by the legal niceties of Florida’s self-defense law, might want to start planning. Zimmerman may well walk. The reaction could be ugly.

Two key witnesses called last week to bolster the prosecution instead left this racially divisive case infested with doubts. Jonathan Good, who saw the confrontation between two men outside his townhouse on a dark rainy night, decribed a scuffle that supported Zimmerman’s contention that Martin had been the aggressor, the man on top, throwing the punches. Good called the blows “ground and pound.”

“I could tell that the person on the bottom had a light skin color,” Good testified.

Then there was Rachel Jeantel, the young Miami woman on the other end of a cell phone conversation with Trayvon Martin when he noticed Zimmerman, whom he described as “a creepy ass cracker,” was stalking him through the neighborhood. She was surly, sometimes inarticulate. The 19-year-old made it obvious she didn’t want to be there.

Her testimony set off a national debate, about whether this child of immigrants, with her prickly street sensibilities, had been unfairly caricatured in the press and social media. But none of that talk reached the sequestered jury and the only opinions that matter.

Prosecutors attempted to rehabilitate their case Monday, calling Sanford Police detectives Chris Serino and Doris Singleton. “These guys always get away,” Zimmerman told Singleton after the shooting.

But Serino, on cross examination, couldn’t remember any major inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s interviews and the walk-through “recreation” after the shooting. “I can’t think of any, offhand. None come to mind,” Serino said, as a conviction seemed ever more elusive. “None that I can articulate.”

A large segment of the public sees this case in a sweeping national context, rather than within the narrow parameters dictated by the rules of evidence. Trayvon Martin’s death is held as the tragic result of racial profiling, in which Zimmerman wrongly assumed this black teenager was an outsider in his neighborhood, up to no good. And that Zimmerman stalked the kid, leading to the fatal confrontation.

All that could be true yet still fall well short of the legal definition of second-degree murder, “an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.” Zimmerman’s actions might come closer to the “culpable negligence” necessary for a manslaughter conviction, but even that looks tough, weighed against Florida’s famously permissive self-defense statutes. Not with the neighbor’s “pound and ground” testimony, and the photos taken that night of Zimmerman’s injured face and head.

Prosecutor have shown, perhaps, that Zimmerman was an over-exuberant neighborhood watchman, a wanna-be cop, a pistol-packing dunderhead whose terrible misjudgment led to a needless killing. But that’s not murder two.

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