How can the George Zimmerman Case Possibly Go To the Jury?

The prosecution rested today in the George Zimmerman trial. The defense moved for dismissal, but Judge Debra Nelson denied the motion, saying, “The state has presented enough direct and circumstantial evidence for the case to go to the jury.”

That is not a surprise, of course. But really: on what possible basis should this case be going to the jury? The basic standard here is that the prosecution must have presented evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to convict Zimmerman, bearing in mind that it is the state’s duty to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. Andrew Branca, who is covering the trial for Legal Insurrection, explains:

It’s a two step analysis–

(Step 1) Has State proved each and every element of the charge (or a lesser included charge) beyond a reasonable doubt? If no, acquit. If yes, proceed to step 2.

(Step 2) Has State DISPROVED one or more elements of self-defense? If no, acquit, if yes, guilty.

Note that self-defense fails if ANY SINGLE element of self-defense is disproved beyond a reasonable doubt–if, for example, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that GZ was the lethal-force aggressor, then no self-defense justification for George.

The jury has heard Zimmerman tell investigating police officers that Trayvon Martin jumped him, knocked him to the ground, pummeled his face and banged his head repeatedly into the pavement. Fearful of his life, Zimmerman says he pulled his gun from his waistband and fired one shot at Martin, which proved fatal. Zimmerman’s account is supported by Jonathan Good, the only eyewitness to any part of the altercation between the two men, who testified that he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, punching him in the face. Zimmerman’s defense is also supported by his own condition after the altercation–he had a bruised face and a bloody nose, and the back of his head had several sharp horizontal cuts, which could only have been caused by his head being smashed against the pavement, just as Zimmerman said. Further, the testimony of the chief police investigator into the incident showed that the investigation’s findings were consistent with Zimmerman’s account.

So the evidence in favor of Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is powerful. What has the state mustered on the other side? 1) The testimony of a friend of Martin’s who was talking with him on the phone shortly before the fight started. That testimony, if anything, helped Zimmerman; in any event, she did not “witness” anything that bears directly on who started the fight. 2) DNA evidence which proved nothing, one way or the other. 3) Various irrelevancies about Zimmerman’s character and personality. 4) The testimony of Martin’s mother, who said the screams in the 911 tape came from Martin. Apart from the mother’s obvious and overwhelming bias, the foundation for her testimony approaches zero. Has she ever heard Trayvon scream, as though in fear for his life? Presumably rarely, if ever. But in any event, she certainly has never heard Zimmerman scream. For all she knows, the screams on the audio sounded exactly like Zimmerman. I am a little surprised, frankly, that the judge admitted such shaky testimony. 5) The testimony of Martin’s brother to the effect that it was Trayvon screaming on the 911 recording. His testimony suffers from all of the defects of his mother’s. In addition, he admitted that two weeks after the shooting, he said in a television interview that he couldn’t tell whether the screams were Trayvon’s.

How could a jury rationally find that this meagre evidence–contradicted by eyewitness testimony, physical evidence and the fact that the police investigation was fully consistent with Zimmerman’s account–proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense? I don’t think a reasonable jury could so find, and if that is the case, the defense motion should have been granted, and the case should not have been allowed to proceed.

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