For all the disputed facts in the Trayvon Martin case there is actually a fairly large amount of evidence which is undisputed. No one disagrees that George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. No one disputes that Martin was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Many homicide cases involve more serious questions of fact or intent. In this case the police have the weapon used in the killing. They have the body to prove that the victim did die. Prosecutors even have Zimmerman’s confession that he intended to kill Martin. The only way that Zimmerman should be able to escape prison time, or perhaps worse, is if he can prove that this was a justifiable homicide. However, as detailed below, there are a number of problems with Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.
Problem #1: The lack of a threat to Zimmerman
Zimmerman provided perhaps the most (*)(*)(*)(*)ing evidence against himself when he called the police dispatcher to report Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claimed that Martin was suspicious simply because he was “walking” and “looking around.” Zimmerman never cites anything about Martin which could provide a threat to his person, or any other person. Subsequent reports showed that Martin was only carrying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of ice tea at the time. Zimmerman, on the other hand, was carrying a 9 mm handgun. Given those set of facts, it is hard to imagine how Zimmerman felt threatened enough to initiate the contact with Martin.
Since the story has exploded, Zimmerman’s attorney has claimed that Martin punched Zimmerman in the face and slammed his head into the sidewalk. Zimmerman’s attorney claims that at this point his client fired the weapon when fearing for his life. However, there are a number of problems with the story.
According to multiple reports, Zimmerman weighed 250 pounds compared to Martin, who weighed only 140 pounds. Will a jury really believe that Zimmerman was at such a physical disadvantage that he felt it necessary to use deadly force on Martin? The Florida statutes dealing with self-defense state that the person using deadly force must be in “imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.” In other words, Zimmerman must prove more than just that he was losing a fight to a boy nearly half his size. Zimmerman must prove that he feared death or great bodily harm, even though he did not seek medical attention at a hospital until a day after the alleged fight.
Problem #2: Zimmerman initiated the conflict
In the audio recording with police dispatchers Zimmerman was specifically told not to follow Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman said “OK” after being given that instruction. However, according to his own attorney’s claims, Zimmerman was first punched by Martin when he was outside of his truck. This evidence suggests that Zimmerman did step out of his car, and if anyone perceived a threat at this time it was likely Martin.
Martin was simply walking home at the time. According to Martin’s girlfriend Martin called her minutes before the shooting to complain about a strange man who was following him. Imagine how Martin felt being followed by an adult male nearly twice his size in a truck. Imagine how threatened Martin could have been when this "strange man" stepped out of his car with a visible gun holster. Under these circumstances, Martin may have reasonably feared imminent “death or great bodily harm.”
Because he was arguably the original aggressor in the conflict, Florida Statute 776.041 will require a higher degree proof for Zimmerman to justify his use of deadly force. Specifically, Zimmerman will either have to prove that he feared “death or serious bodily” injury, but as covered before Zimmerman may have difficulty making the case.
In the alternative, Zimmerman could prove that he “indicated clearly” his intent to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but that the assailant (Martin in this hypothetical) continued his use of force. The problem with this defense is multiple witnesses who have said that it was Martin, not Zimmerman, who was crying for help at the time of the altercation.
Problem #3: The “stand your ground” law still required fear of death or serious bodily injury
Much has been made of Florida’s “stand your ground” law which is found in the Florida Statutes chapter 776.013. The law may or may not apply to Zimmerman. Zimmerman will still have to prove that he was not engaged in an “unlawful” activity when he shot Zimmerman. In addition, Zimmerman will have to prove that he was in a place where he had a “right to be” and had “no duty to escape” when he shot Martin.
Even if he proves these elements, the stand your ground law still does not allow someone like Zimmerman to use deadly force unless, once again, he reasonable fears death or serious bodily injury. The fear must be reasonable, not merely subjective based on some irrational thought process that Zimmerman may have had at the time.
In conclusion, everything goes back to Zimmerman’s mindset at the time of the shooting. If a jury believes that Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life at the time the shooting he could be found not guilty. However, it is hard to see how Zimmerman’s fear was reasonable when Martin was unarmed at the time, and when Zimmerman held a significant physical advantage over Martin.