Before George Zimmerman faces an actual trial for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, he will have a “mini trial” as the judge assesses whether the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman should be dismissed under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
The hearing likely won’t take place for several months, but if the judge agrees that Zimmerman was indeed standing his ground, the murder charge could be dismissed. That is what Zimmerman is seeking in requesting the hearing. Both sides will present evidence before Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, as well as present expert testimony. Zimmerman himself might even testify on his own behalf, since he is the only survivor of the Feb. 26 confrontation.
“Most of the arguments, witnesses, experts and evidence that the defense would muster in a criminal trial will be presented in the ‘stand your ground’ hearing,” said the statement posted by Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara on Zimmerman’s official defense website.
Zimmerman’s burden will be to show that he shot Martin because he “reasonably believed” he might be killed or suffer “great bodily harm” at the hands of the unarmed 17-year-old. The law says a person has no duty to retreat in the face of such a threat.
Janet Johnson, a Jacksonville defense attorney who has represented defendants in other “stand your ground” cases, told the Associated Press that Zimmerman has a good chance to win his claim if he can demonstrate he was in a place where he had a legal right to be and that he didn’t create the danger.
“Or, if he did, he had abandoned that activity when Mr. Martin ‘attacked’ him,” Johnson said in an email. “There’s only one side since Trayvon Martin can’t testify.”
If the criminal charges are dismissed, the family also would have no grounds for civil action in a wrongful-death lawsuit. But it would be painful to imagine the furor that would result around the country if Zimmerman walked away from killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy.
Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martin’s parents, said in an email he believes the “stand your ground” claim will be denied and that a jury ultimately will decide Zimmerman’s fate. Indeed, the safer political decision for the judge is to put the matter into the hands of a jury.
“Trayvon’s parents do not feel that this is a man that feared for his life the night he shot and killed their child, this is a man whose only fear is spending his life in prison,” Crump said.
Besides, observers who have been watching Zimmerman’s treatment by Judge Lester, who admonished him and his wife for lying to the court about their finances, don’t think his credibility is very solid right now.