Following the controversial selection of an all-female jury, opening statements begin Monday, June 24, in the high-profile murder trial of former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman (shown), who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in what he argues was self-defense. National media have been following the case closely, but major controversies surrounding the entire prosecution have largely taken a back seat in press coverage to manufactured hysteria over gun laws and race — then-17-year-old Martin was black and Zimmerman is Hispanic.
Questions about whether the defendant can even get a fair trial at this point still abound. Widespread criticism of the prosecution by heavy-weight legal experts, for example, has cast a cloud of doubt over prosecutors’ bid to get Zimmerman convicted. A months-long media circus surrounding the case featuring deeply deceptive reporting added to the unease, not to mention the race-baiting by professional agitators like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Of course, President Obama’s comments — “If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon” — did not help, with analysts saying such inappropriate remarks could bias jurors.
Finally, controversial decisions by the judge as to what Zimmerman’s defense team will be allowed to introduce as evidence have also raised concerns that the defendant may not be allowed to properly defend himself. Among other measures that have drawn public scrutiny, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled, at prosecutors’ request, that Martin’s prior history of drug use, fighting, and school suspensions not be allowed. On the other side, the court sided with the defense in refusing to allow evidence from a novel technology that can supposedly tell who was screaming during a phone call.
If convicted, Zimmerman could face up to life in prison for second-degree murder, defined as the unlawful killing of a person without pre-meditation. In Florida, however, state law allows a potential victim to use deadly force if he or she has reasonable cause to fear loss of life of serious bodily harm, including in public areas. Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to the charges, but it was not immediately clear whether or not he would testify at the trial.
Defense attorneys plan to argue that Zimmerman, who was patrolling his gated complex last February following multiple break-ins in the community, killed Martin in a straightforward case of self-defense. Indeed, prosecutors did not even charge Zimmerman with a crime for a month and a half after the shooting. Not until alleged racism was injected into the case through nationwide protests stirred up by race profiteers and wildly dishonest media reports did a special prosecutor for the state of Florida bring charges.
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Photo of George Zimmerman: AP Images