New FBI Evidence in Trayvon Martin Shooting
Two developments late last week in the legal case of George Zimmerman, the man accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last February in Sanford, Florida, reveal that the judge has his hands full with Zimmerman and his new legal team, which got a boost with new character evidence and at the same time are challenging the judge’s impartiality.
Zimmerman: Good Guy, but Maybe Kinda Violent
First, on July 12, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey released documents from the FBI’s ongoing investigation into whether Zimmerman violated the civil rights of Martin in the shooting.
The FBI findings reportedly indicate that interviews with people who know Zimmerman show, on the whole, that he is an upstanding guy, and not a racist. But other interviews indicate incidents involving violence with an ex-girlfriend and her dog, a MySpace racist rant, and possible abuse at the hands of his Peruvian mother.
Also, Detective Chris Serino – initially the lead investigator on the case – is interviewed, and he gives a mixed picture of Zimmerman, saying that while he believed his story and only asked for charges to be filed because he felt pressured to do so, he also thought Zimmerman was overzealous and had “a little hero complex.” Serino was reassigned from the case at the end of June, just after city leaders fired Sanford’s police chief, who initially did not want to file charges against Zimmerman, over his handling of the case.
The documents also reportedly indicate that rumors about whether Zimmerman has a law enforcement insider somewhere on his team could be true: According to one news report, one of Zimmerman’s advisers is a federal air marshal and former Seminole County sheriff’s deputy. Speculation has bloomed over whether the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman was somehow influenced by his inside connections.
Revolving Courthouse Door?
Serino and the Sanford police chief aren’t the only players to exit this drama, and they may not be the last. Zimmerman’s first legal team quit in early April, the day before he was charged with second-degree murder, and then the new defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, had the first judge removed over a conflict of interest. State Attorney Angela Corey is the second prosecutor on the case; the first stepped down amid controversy in March.
Now O’Mara wants Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. removed: On July 13, O’Mara moved to disqualify Judge Lester, claiming that Zimmerman does not believe he can get a fair trial based on Lester’s comments during the several bail hearings that have been necessary in the case. (Zimmerman originally made his $150,000 bail but did not disclose his extra cash from the defense fund his supporters had amassed; after the judge discovered the undisclosed funds, he blasted Zimmerman for the duplicity, put him back in jail, and set a $1 million bail.)
Most industry watchers believe this move is fruitless, and the prosecutor is reportedly opposing it. “Sorry, but judges aren’t like Magic cards[;] you can’t continue to trade up,” remarked Chris Danzig on Above the Law. An attempt to remove a judge who found that a defendant lied to him in a bail hearing is not likely to succeed; judges are supposed to make character judgments when they set bail, looking at whether the defendant will flee, etc. “To assert that Judge Lester should be removed as a judge because he has determined that Zimmerman is not a credible witness is ludicrous,” lawyer/trial watcher Malia Litman wrote on her blog.
But Zimmerman supporters think the motion has a chance and think Judge Lester should withdraw. “Like Angela Corey, Judge Lester purposely ignored any evidence that tended to support Mr. Zimmerman’s claim of self defense,” complained Arnold S. Trebach, a professor at American University.
One thing is for certain: the drama will continue in this Florida courtroom as Zimmerman’s “stand your ground” defense in the shooting of Martin plays out.
Do you think the Judge Lester should be removed, or is this simply a legal tactic on the part of Zimmerman’s lawyers? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.