George Zimmerman’s attorney yesterday made the announcement we knew was coming. The killer of Trayvon Martin will seek to escape prosecution through a “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) hearing. Florida’s insane law sets a very low bar by allowing someone to meet force with force if “he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” And odds are Zimmerman could walk.
But just because the odds are in Zimmerman’s favor that doesn’t mean he will automatically walk. An SYG hearing is a mini trial with submissions of evidence, witness questioning and cross-examination. Zimmerman almost surely will have to take the stand. As I’ve written before, this is a risky proposition for a man who claimed self-defense after killing an unarmed 17-year-old and who lied to the presiding judge.
Kendall Coffey, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida from 1993 to 1996, told me in June that the risk for attorney Mark O’Mara and Zimmerman is that a SYG hearing could expose the defendant to a difficult cross-examination that prosecutors could use against him at trial if the case is not dismissed by the judge. If Zimmerman does indeed take the stand, I would like him to answer one question I posed in June.
How did Trayvon’s arms find their way underneath his body when Zimmerman said he held his victim’s hands “away from his body,” “held his hands up,” “pushed his arms apart,” “moved his arms apart” and “moved his hands apart”?
Presiding over the SYG hearing will be Judge Kenneth Lester. This is the same judge who Zimmerman lied to at his first bail hearing. And this is the same judge who O’Mara tried to get bounced from the case because of Lester’s stinging denunciation of Zimmerman in his order revoking the killer’s bail.
“[I]it is ironic that defense counsel would insist on proceeding — where the defense has the burden of proof — before the same judge he tried to disqualify earlier as being biased,” Coffey told me in an e-mail last night. “Moreover, unless the defense has a strong cure for weakened credibility, he will not have an easy time getting the judge to throw the case.” Each side would have a right to appeal the judge’s decision.
“We believe that the killer’s motion will be denied during the Stand Your Ground Hearing, and as justice requires a jury will ultimately decide the fate of a man that killed an innocent child,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Trayvon’s parents, in a statement yesterday. But if Zimmerman succeeds in getting away with murder based on SYG he will have done so legally.