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Zimmerman’s arrest the right thing

Posted: April 13, 2012 12:13 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I have held back on writing about the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Fla., a few miles north of Orlando. The fallout from 17-year-old Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman has been fraught with charges of police corruption; hand-wringing over Florida’s self-defense law; and, of course, racial overtones.

I wanted to wait to see what, if any, action Florida State Attorney General Angela Corey would take. Finally, Thursday, she did what I believe was the right thing: charging Zimmerman with second degree murder.

According to Richard Hornsby, a board certified criminal trial lawyer in Florida, second degree murder can be used in two instances: when someone commits murder with a “depraved mind” or when someone is an accomplice to some form of felony murder. Obviously, Zimmerman was not an accomplice -- no one else was around. The question then lies in whether or not he shot and killed Martin in a state of having a “depraved mind.”

Hornsby says murder with a depraved mind “occurs when a person is killed, without any premeditated design, by an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind showing no regard for human life.”

I take that to mean that while Zimmerman did not plan to shoot and kill Martin, he did so while acting in not just a dangerous way, but without caring whether or not Martin (or anybody else, for that matter) died.

This, indeed, appears to be the appropriate charge to file against Zimmerman. Unless someone could prove that he deliberately waited that night to specifically confront Martin -- or someone like him -- it would be difficult to prosecute a first-degree, capital murder case. Even Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said she believes her son’s death was an accident.

Whatever you may think of Zimmerman -- guilty or innocent -- a charge needed to be filed. That, I believe firmly.

His claim of self-defense was shaky at best, especially after audio of his 911 call was released to the public.

A full transcript of the call starts with Zimmerman saying Martin appears to be “up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” The infamous description of Martin wearing a hoodie comes in a moment later. He claims Martin stares at him for a bit, approaches him with his hand in his waistband, and acknowledges he appears to be in his late teens.

After the dispatcher asks Zimmerman to let him know “if this guy does anything else,” Zimmerman says that “these a--holes, they always get away.” A moment later he claims Martin is running away. Transcripts indicate you could then hear Zimmerman open and close his car door. There is a supposedly whispered racial reference, but the official transcript states “unintelligible” at that point.

Zimmerman tells dispatchers he’s following Martin; they tell him not to. He says “OK” but can still be heard moving. Soon afterward is the sound of him cocking his gun.

Now, right there you would think there’s some level of premeditation. I’ll hold off judgment on that until trial because it’s possible Zimmerman did so because he truly thought he’d have to protect himself.

The call ends shortly after that, but Martin’s girlfriend has related that she was talking to him when Zimmerman confronted him. She said Martin put up his hoodie and was going to “walk fast” because Zimmerman was watching him. He’d bought some Skittles and a can of tea; police found no weapon on Martin’s person. Trayvon asked Zimmerman why he was following him but then his girlfriend can only hear sounds of pushing and the call ends.

The two calls are quite a contrast. Martin is, apparently, afraid of Zimmerman; Zimmerman appears to have a definite distaste, if not hatred, for young black men wearing hoodies.

Zimmerman claimed Martin beat him; officers reported his nose was bleeding and he had a head wound. People have made different interpretations of a police video of bringing Zimmerman to headquarters for questioning. Some people say they can see the head wound -- others, like myself, have a difficult time seeing wounds of any kind on Zimmerman.

Again, I’ll leave that to the courts.

Most of us outside Florida didn’t know about the case for about 10 days after Martin’s death. CBS News picked up a tip from its Atlanta bureau and things broke from there.

What was surprising was that Corey -- who is now prosecuting Zimmerman -- initially disregarded the desire by the Sanford Police Department’s lead homicide investigator to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter.

On his website, Hornsby says manslaughter is the committing of “an act that was neither excusable nor justified that resulted in the death of another person.”

It seems to me that would have been a reasonable charge to arrest Zimmerman on at the time; the charge could have been upgraded as time passed, if necessary.

Instead, Corey said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Zimmerman and police did not arrest him.

Quite frankly, it’s because of CBS News’ pickup of the story that led to the discovery of sufficient evidence to now charge Zimmerman with second degree murder -- a definite step up from manslaughter.

If convicted, Zimmerman could face 25 years to life in prison because he used a gun to kill Trayvon Martin.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens. At least now, with Zimmerman’s arrest, that’s something we’ll be able to do.

(Martin L. Cahn is the associate editor of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. E-mail responses to



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