A prominent African-American legal scholar is criticizing the prosecution’s tactics in the trial of half-Latino neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, and says that a conflict-of-interest in the case could earn Zimmerman a re-trial if he is convicted.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman, whose fate will be decided by an all-female jury in Florida, claims he feared for his life and shot Martin after a violent fistfight.
“I think the prosecution clearly believes the all-female jury is not going to be interested in the law or the facts of the case,” Horace Cooper, co-chairman of the conservative Project 21, told The Daily Caller.
Opening arguments in the Zimmerman case began Monday morning, with prosecutor John Guy portraying Zimmerman as a pistol-toting vigilante who used the term “fucking punks…they always get away” when approaching Martin, who was “armed” merely with iced tea and Skittles. Defense lawyer Don West, meanwhile, opened with a joke criticizing media bias surrounding the case.
“Knock. Knock. Who is there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? Ah, good. You’re on the jury,” West joked.
Cooper believes that a specific conflict Zimmerman had with the Sanford Police Department years before the incident may have played a role in the neighborhood watchman’s prosecution.
“In Sanford, Zimmerman was the one who led the inquiry into the official death of a black homeless man. It turned out that the son of one of the investigators in the case was responsible for the crime. So there’s longstanding animosity from the Sanford Police Department toward Mr. Zimmerman,” Cooper said. “I think the defense is going to put witnesses on the stand that will show there may have been mixed motives.”
Zimmerman criticized the Sanford Police Department at a public forum for allegedly covering up the January 2011 beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white police officer, which resulted in the resignation of then-Sanford police chief Brian Tooley.
“I would just like to state that the law is written in black and white. It should not and cannot be enforced in the gray for those who are in the thin blue line,” Zimmerman said at the forum.
“When you add the fact that the racial mix is going to be all but extinguished, and that legal rules won’t allow the kind of mongering to take place that we saw [from activists], it will be harder for the prosecution to prove its case,” Cooper said. According to Cooper, the case is reminiscent of the Tom Wolfe novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” in which a white character is prosecuted for hitting a young black man with his car during a confrontation.
Cooper also said that the court’s decision to bar any evidence related to Martin’s suspension from school, marijuana use and possible involvement in violent fights “would allow a higher court to grant [Zimmerman] a retrial if he is not acquitted.”
“Zimmerman is as much a sympathetic figure as the young man who is dead. The defense needs to show his record, and his work in the community promoting blacks,” Cooper added.