As I am sure you are aware, last week, in an unusual move, George Zimmerman took the stand at his bond hearing and made the following statement: “I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a bit younger than I am, and I did not know if he was armed or not.”
Because he took the stand, the prosecution was allowed some limited cross-examination related to the statement. Zimmerman’s attorney’s should thank their lucky stars that the cross-examination was ineffectual because the prosecutors made a cardinal mistake: they didn’t listen to what he just said.
They crossed examined Zimmerman about why he was making an apology now, at the bond hearing, and not before. They tried to get into things he said, or could’ve said but didn’t, on earlier occasions or during police questioning. But the judge cut them off, because the questions weren’t limited to Zimmerman’s statement.
What I am about to say is truly “Monday morning quarterbacking” — actually Tuesday afternoon quarterbacking in this case — and is a little unfair, since this is based on reflection, not while in the courtroom, in the moment, with the knowledge that the hearing is being broadcast live throughout the world. But you are reading this blog for my thoughts, not for fairness.
If I was the prosecutor…
Since the judge would only allow me to focus on Zimmerman’s statement, that is what I would have done:
First I would focus on the admission of being “sorry,” but only for the Martin’s loss:
-You say that you are sorry for the Martin’s loss of their son?
-Does that also mean that you are sorry for your actions that lead to the loss of their son?
There is good chance that the judge would cut me off with that question, but if not, I would try for this:
-Does that mean that you take responsibility for your actions that lead to the loss of their son, Trayvon Martin?
-Does your statement that you are sorry mean that you agree that your actions were preventable?
-Does your statement that you are sorry mean that you agree that your actions were wrong?
Or, I would see if I could guilt Zimmerman into expanding his “apology”:
-Since you do not apologize for your actions, does that mean that you don’t feel sorry for what you have done?
-Would you like to also tell the Martin family that you are sorry for confronting Trayvon while carrying a firearm?
And so on, with details, such does your statement mean that you regret following Mr. Martin?
Next, I would ask Zimmerman about why he felt it was important to explain about his mistake regarding Trayvon’s age.
But, really, all those questions would just be in the hopes of getting Zimmerman riled up, off his game, and defensive. The real questioning would be about the last part of his statement, that “I did not know if he was armed or not.”
This is the statement that jumped out at me.
Remember, the only justification for Zimmerman’s use of deadly force is that he was defending himself because he had a reasonable belief that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily injury.
The Florida “stand your ground” statute states:
“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
So when Zimmerman admitted that he did not know whether Martin was armed or not, he just shot a giant hole into his defense.
So, were I in the prosecutor’s position, I would have leapt at the chance to expand on that:
-Mr. Zimmerman, you said that you did not know if Mr. Martin was armed?
-In fact, you did not see Mr. Martin carry any weapons?
-You did not see him carry any object that could be used as a weapon?
-Mr. Martin did not display any weapon?
-Mr. Martin did not reach for any weapon?
-Mr. Martin did not tell you that he had a weapon?
-Mr. Martin did not threaten you with a weapon?
And so on.
If this line of questioning were allowed, it would have significantly damaged Zimmerman’s defense.
Next, second-guessing the defense attorney.