An Object Lesson In Why You Shouldn’t Rush To Judgment In The Trayvon Martin Case
There’s an interesting report from ABC News that, if true, changes significantly some of what we thought we knew about how the Sanford Police Department handled the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin:
The lead homicide investigator in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin recommended that neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter the night of the shooting, multiple sources told ABC News.
But Sanford, Fla., Investigator Chris Serino was instructed to not press charges against Zimmerman because the state attorney’s office headed by Norman Wolfinger determined there wasn’t enough evidence to lead to a conviction, the sources told ABC News.
Police brought Zimmerman into the station for questioning for a few hours on the night of the shooting, said Zimmerman’s attorney, despite his request for medical attention first. Ultimately they had to accept Zimmerman’s claim of self defense. He was never charged with a crime.
Serino filed an affidavit on Feb. 26, the night that Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman, that stated he was unconvinced Zimmerman’s version of events.
Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot Martin, 17, in self defense.
One complicating factor in the investigation was that the first detective to interview Zimmerman about the shooting was a narcotics officer rather than a homicide detective.
The State Attorney’s office said only “no comment” when asked about the affidavit today.
The revelation is the latest salvo in a war of leaks meant to bolster each side amid rising tension over the shooting
The most recent of those leaks came yesterday when the local press got its hands on a portion of the police investigation file that revealed that a witness had told police that he (or she the gender of the witness is not disclosed) saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, who has on the ground, an punching him immediately before a gunshot was heard. Obviously, the only way the press could have gotten its hands on something like this is if someone inside the Sanford Police Department gave it to them. The same goes for this affidavit that ABC News has gotten its hands on.
This is not how an investigation should be proceeding at all. This material should be staying inside the police file and not coming to light until there’s a court proceeding, both to protect Zimmerman’s right to a fair trial and to protect the integrity of the evidence. The more you allow evidence like this to leak out into the public, the less likely it is that either of those things will be achieved. If and when Zimmerman does go to trial, his attorneys are going to have legitimate concerns about the extent to which the jury pool has been corrupted by pre-trial publicity. This is likely going to result in a much longer jury selection process, and the need to bring in a jury pool from somewhere else in Florida at not insignificant expense, with the possibility that there isn’t really a jury pool out there that can be said to have been fully immune from the coverage that this case has already gotten will continue to get.
It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. There’s a turf battle going on inside the police department, as well as between the police and the State’s Attorney, who has since been removed as the prosecutor in this case by the Governor of Florida. They’re fighting it out be releasing information to the media, which is sucking it up eagerly as the media is wont to do, and potentially damaging whatever case their might be against Zimmerman in the process.
With all that in mind, this latest report is interesting in one very significant respect. Up until now, the popular understanding, fed by the media, had been that it was the police who had released Zimmerman without pressing charges because they simply accepted his version of events and decided that he acted in self-defense. That no longer appears to be the case. The decision not to charge Zimmerman was made by the State’s Attorneys Office, over the apparent objection of at least one Homicide Investigator who apparently felt so strongly about the matter that he prepared an affidavit detailing the reasons he felt charges should be filed. That certainly could change ones view of the players in this case, and the manner in which the police department acted here.
All of this is a great example of what I was talking about yesterday. We really don’t know what happened on February 26th in Sanford, Florida, and the facts that we think we know are not only incomplete, but they could turn out to be completely wrong. Rather than trying George Zimmerman based on evidence that is obviously flawed and incomplete, we all need to step back and let the legal system do its job. And the media needs to exercise some professional judgment and realize that its job is to report the news, not play Perry Mason.