It seems that most members of the media have made up their mind about what took place the night Trayvon Martin was shot, February 26, 2012.  Melissa Harris-Perry and Al Sharpton on MSNBC, everyone on HLN, most legal “expert” guests on most programs, including CNN.  I’m sure lots of local channels in Florida.  What impact has this trial-by-media had on the perception?  I think the Casey Anthony case shows what kind of power the media has.  The Martin family was invited on programs and of course, they are sad about their son.  It is horrible when anyone dies, but that doesn’t have any relevance to the truth of the matter.  George Zimmerman’s parents are horrified that the public is treating him this way.  We should all be thankful that emotions aren’t the way we seek the truth or there would be no need for a fair trial.  There will always be people who don’t like others or think certain things about others that are not always true, but that isn’t what’s important.  What’s important is what happened, not what you think happened.  The Martin family’s emotions led to widespread protests, which included celebrity involvement all the way to the President.  These protests, apparently, came on the heels of racial problems in Sanford, Florida.  Then, NBC edited the 911 call by George Zimmerman resulting in more of a bigot-perception.  Media also used the sneaky technique of aging-down, is this case Martin. They used a picture of Martin when he was 12 and showed it split screen with Zimmerman’s mug shot.  Giving the implication that Martin was a helpless child and Zimmerman was a large bully.  All that can be said is that it’s sad when people make gut reactions to horrible events, it gets us nowhere, it only sets us back.  Social action groups have had strong reaction.  Did this lead to personal bias reaction?  Why should the history of racial issues in the U.S. and in Sanford, Florida come down upon one man?  It isn’t fair to hinge the future of race relations on a possible mis-perception of the case of one man.  It is a fact that George Zimmerman could have acted in self-defense and that everyone should wait until after everything is presented in court to make any kind of final decision on what they believe.  How can your belief of something be based on fact when you don’t know the facts?

Take Robert Zimmerman for example, the brother of George Zimmerman.  He spoke out in defense of his brother about a month after the shooting when the media caught wind of the story that had yet to become a case.  He was accused of fabrications, merely because he disagreed with those who had formed an opinion based upon absolutely no facts other than a shooting took place and that Trayvon Martin was 17 and he didn’t have a weapon.  No one took into account that your body can be a weapon, as can any nearby surfaces or objects.  No one took into account that people under the age of 18 can commit acts of violence against others.  All that was taken into account was that it was a tragedy.  It is a tragedy, but we shouldn’t send George Zimmerman to jail because what happened is sad.  Sending an innocent person to jail is a tragedy too.  We need to fully understand whether or not he actually committed any sort of crime.  The media tends to first build public opinion and then reflect it.  They do not report the facts.  They filter the facts.  Certain shows fabricate facts.  The media has a financial interest in shaping public opinion and keeping sensationalism going.  Just like privatized prisons have a financial interest in keeping people in prison.  They portray stories that are profitable, bottom line.  The worst part is that the public doesn’t get how misinformed they are about certain events, mostly trials.  The media isn’t in the business of accuracy.  Facts don’t fill up 24/7 news channels.  Most people don’t want to ask the hard questions, did Zimmerman act in self-defense?  It is easier to just believe that a 17-year-old guy who was unarmed was murdered.  The reason why people won’t really openly talk about this is because they are afraid of backlash.  This proves that the media isn’t investigating or reporting anything they are merely acting as an echo chamber for their and their viewer’s opinion.

There should be compassion for Trayvon Martin.  He was a young guy; he had some issues, but nothing uncommon for millions of teens.  He could have gotten his life together and lived a fulfilling one.  Everyone deserves to life a full life.  That goes for George Zimmerman too.  If he acted in self-defense then he should not be imprisoned, period.  I think it’s a sad day in our country when mobs of people can demand the arrest of a person and pressure the government to do so.  It’s a modern-day witch-hunt at its worst.  People even attacked Piers Morgan for not pressing Robert Zimmerman during questioning.  By pressing I assume they wanted him to attack Robert Zimmerman.  How much journalistic integrity is in that?

I hope that the public learns something this time.  People don’t seem to learn things the easy way.  I think the age of social media has really affected people’s ability to think on their own and have honest conversations about hard subjects.  We are supposed to be a more open-society then ever, that isn’t reflected very well in court cases.  The media better serves the public by informing us and steering clear of opinions and fabrications based upon agendas, such as financial interests, but they are better served by tainting public opinion.  That’s a problem.  It’s wishful thinking to believe that when the media is wrong they will admit it and act better next time just like it is wishful thinking that people can accept when they are wrong about high-emotion events.

Even if Trayvon Martin did attack George Zimmerman I still think that acts of kindness should be given to the parents, just like acts of kindness should be given to anyone.  Regardless of how troubled he or George Zimmerman is and the trial will tell us, the world needs more compassion.  I read in the NYTimes that Miami Heat basketball players gave Trayvon Martin’s mother sneakers and other memorabilia in remembrance of her son.  That should happen no matter what.  Families are not guilty by association and that goes for the Zimmermans as well.

We need to ask ourselves what is the meaning of justice?  To the Martin family justice is one thing to the Zimmerman family another.  To us, the public, justice is supposed to be the truth.  One family is wrong, that is a fact.

Regardless of whether the public or attorneys for George Zimmerman are ready, the judge is determined to have jury selection begin on Monday, June 10th.  In a rush up to the trial for an incident that only occurred a little over a year ago, the judge made several rulings.  Judge Debra Nelson denied the defense’s request to have witnesses testify confidentially in order to have them avoid what happens to witnesses in America who testify in a televised trial.  It is a sad state of affairs in the American judicial system when witnesses don’t feel safe to testify about what they know about in a trial.  Of course, prosecution witnesses don’t feel threatened because the media’s view is almost always pro-prosecution.  That’s not to say that there aren’t rude and disrespectful so called Americans who attack witnesses on both sides of an issue or mentally ill people who fall victim to the exploitation the media performs on trials.  Heck, the media even attacks people who disagree with them, ever see Dr. Drew’s “What kind of person supports Jodi Arias” segment.  Wow, beyond offensive to those who have that opinion.  The prosecution said that they didn’t want witnesses to testify anonymously because the jury could assume they are more important.

This is America, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty and they have a right to confront witnesses against them as well as get witnesses to testify for them (even if they have to resort to the power of subpoena).  However, people who don’t seem to be able to cognitively comprehend the importance of a trial in a person’s life see this as mere entertainment and treat it like a sporting event.  People need to grow up and act appropriately in adult business like a trial.

It is a fact that when people don’t feel safe, for instance, in gang trials, they will not come forward and say what they know.  The same phenomenon that affects gang trials is now affecting trials televised on TV and streamed online, that is beyond heartbreaking.  Regardless of what you think of George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, you don’t know either of the two people and both deserve a fair trial.  Why do people not want a fair trial?  Why do people threaten witnesses?  There are three reasons:  1.) They are selfish and want attention for themselves even to the point of destroying another person; I believe Dr. Drew would say you are an immature narcissist, 2.)  They don’t care about the truth and only want what they want to happen regardless of whether they are right; This is because these types of people value their being right more than another person’s life, and 3.) An unstable person who doesn’t fully grasp that the media is more entertaining than informative.  The first two types of people are to blame for their actions, 100%.  These types of things are witness intimidation.

We know that in the Jodi Arias trial, Darryl Brewer was allowed to testify without his face being shown, but the media got a hold of a picture of him anyway.  Leave it to the media to totally not care about the safety of a person.  Following this, he did feel compelled to do an interview about not being able to testify in the sentencing phase that resulted in a mistrial.

Of course, it isn’t surprising at all that the media or the prosecution didn’t want this.  I don’t know if this is the case here, but a reason why some prosecutors want witnesses, who are afraid to testify in full camera view in a high-profile case, to have their testimony televised is to pressure them into backing out.  This usually occurs in cases where prosecutors don’t have a lot of real evidence.  There are other pressure techniques used by underhanded prosecutors in non-televised trials as well.  Now the media has a different angle.  The media always wants people to testify in full-camera view because they think it makes for better television.  Take HLN for example, they want to be able to hear all testimony, not to analyze the trial for your education, but to sensationalize it on shows that are the opposite of educational.  Thankfully, the potential jurors identities in the selection phase will be kept secret.  We don’t need the media or viewers harassing potential jurors and diluting the jury pool, which they should understand is bad, but don’t or do understand is bad, but don’t care.

“This is to be done in order to protect the prospective jurors from harassment and pressure from the public at large,” Nelson said in the ruling.

It has been ruled that potential jurors won’t be sequestered during jury selection, but the jurors need to be sequestered once picked, hopefully they will.  Trial by media is a present danger in the Information Age.  Juries who aren’t sequestered are done so for financial reasons, which is a poor reason not to ensure a fair trial.  We all know, we aren’t stupid, that the media blows trials up into something they are not.  They totally eviscerate a defendant in most cases, whether correct or incorrect.  I know we are supposed to trust jurors to follow the admonitions, but it isn’t about trust at this point.  This isn’t the 1800s, where people who didn’t attend trial didn’t know anything about it and jurors could just not get a newspaper at the corner of the street.  This is 2013; there is more misinformation than information on the Internet about everything.  There is a palpable bully culture present on social media.  News shows tend to cover the same things all day long, 24/7 in order to compete with one another for money.  Every paper and magazine usually has the “trial of the year”, including lying tabloids.  You can’t walk into work without someone talking about it or go to the doctor without a talk show being on.  It simply is not possible for a juror not to hear something they are not supposed to hear because it isn’t reliable.

I find it quite sad that the judge actually has to make rules on what the media can and cannot photograph or record.  The media corporations are like children, they can’t keep themselves out of trouble.  They know that it is important to keep a jury unbiased.  This is about a person’s life, but to the media it is about money.  It is about truth.  You know people have this misconception that in court you don’t get the truth, you get a version of the truth, well in the media you don’t get the truth, you don’t even get a version of the truth!  You get closer to the truth in a courtroom than you do in public opinion these days.  It’s agendas that are the issue.

They don’t care about keeping the jury unbiased they just want to make as best a show, fictionalized enough to be sensational for people to be entertained watching.  It is a sad fact that horrific murders are entertaining to some people.  Watch ID for a little while.  I watch some shows on ID, but there are shows like Deadly Sins that are purely meant to be entertaining.  You’ve heard of murderabilia probably.  It’s a collector’s market for items related to infamous or notorious murders.  Nancy Grace talks a lot about it all the time.  One thing she forgets to mention is that it’s the government that contributes most of the items to the public realm.  In some of their famous government auctions, they sell murder-related items to make money, just like they sell drug-dealer homes.  It’s all the same to them.

The defense wanted jurors to travel to the scene of the shooting, a pretty rare request by defense attorneys, but it was, no surprise, denied.  I don’t think the jurors have to see the scene in this case, but unlike in most cases, since this was a little over a year ago, it would probably be in the same condition.  The judge called it a “a logistical nightmare.”

The judge also barred the defense from mentioning why it took so long for the prosecution to charge Zimmerman for this alleged crime.  In my opinion, it is important to allow the jury to understand why the State changed its mind.  Sometimes it isn’t for the right reasons, for example, the Adam Kaufman case (a Florida man who was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in the death of his wife).

Not all the rulings went against the defense, just most of them.  The prosecution was denied a gag order request.  It is wrong to try cases in the media, but Mark O’Mara isn’t stupid.  From the beginning, the coverage was stacked against George Zimmerman.  Even NBC edited a 911 call to make Zimmerman sound racist (they have denied it was on purpose).  It is so bad out there that people actually created a racial group that isn’t real just to avoid being wrong about Zimmerman being white, which was what was originally reported.  White-Hispanic is tautological and not a real thing because Hispanic people have origins in the Iberian peninsula.  Now, Zimmerman is no longer White-Hispanic, he is described by the races of his parents, “his father is White and his mother is Hispanic.”  That’s an odd way of reporting.  They should just say he is Hispanic, that’s the truth.  I’m glad the judge allowed Mark O’Mara to continue to talk in public.  I don’t think the media or the public should be making judgments or opinions before trial.  Defense attorneys cannot play their case in the media as hard as the media can play the prosecution’s case.

Prosecutor’s evidence is released to the defense and public in most states for Constitutional reasons.  This is mostly aimed at giving the defendant a fair trial and the public keeping the government in check.  There is supposed to be nothing hidden in a case that benefits the defendant and no surprises at trial by the prosecution.  What the media and public uses the prosecution’s evidence for is usually, sadly, to blindy convict the defendant without hearing both sides.  Of course, in 99% of cases, the prosecutor has a good case on paper.  It is unchallenged, unvetted.  There are no differing experts and there are no checks for accuracy.  And reporters can be just as persuasive as prosecutors.  You have to be pretty darn persuasive to convince a jury that a completely innocent person is guilty of a crime.  It happens.  That’s the power of persuasion.  If the defense does the same thing and releases everything they have to the public then the prosecution who has more resources will be able to refute what they are saying.  There are two ways for any attorney to approach a case, defense or prosecution.  Either just refute everything the other side has or show what you have.  Sometimes both are used.  The defense is usually, unless there is an exception or shifting of burden, not required to prove anything.

“The proof lies upon him who affirms, not upon him who denies; since, by the nature of things, he who denies a fact cannot produce any proof”, the logical conclusion made in Black’s Law Dictionary.

And the defense was granted a hearing on discovery violations.  A former attorney in the state attorney’s office has charged that prosecutors did not turn over some photos and text messages from Trayvon’s phone.  That hearing, which took up most of yesterday’s time, went uncompleted because Judge Nelson deferred it until after trial.  Because sanctioning a prosecutor who doesn’t do their job after trial really shows them they are wrong.  The judge can consider fines and/or contempt charges.  The prosecution told the court in April that the State had turned over to the defense “everything we’ve got”.

Also, the judge ruled that neither defense attorneys nor prosecutors can mention Trayvon Martin’s drug use, his suspension history, or his “violence” issues in their opening statements.  Neither side can mention that marijuana was detected in his blood in the toxicology report either.  If the defense is able to lay foundation good enough for the judge then they may be able to bring some of the information in.  The defense released some information as part of discovery including texts from Trayvon Martin and to Martin about fighting, smoking marijuana, and being ordered out of his mother’s home following a suspension.  There were also some pretty bad photographs.  The Martin family’s attorney has stated on news programs that this is a red herring.  It is in fact not.  I think the ruling is bad.  Here’s why.  It is quite simple.  First, a toxicology report should never be barred from trial.  What is in the toxicology report could have affected the mindset of the individual at the time.  Secondly, George Zimmerman states on his 911 call that he thought that Trayvon Martin was on drugs “or something”.  This is directly corroborated by the toxicology report and thus makes it relevant.  Now, all the jury will hear is George Zimmerman saying he believes Trayvon Martin is on drugs and the prosecution will try to make that look like some kind of assumption instead of an observation.  Without the toxicology report, the jury would know no better.

The other part of the ruling, where the defense has to establish foundation before mentioning the history of the other things like suspension, is understandable.  Neither the defense nor the prosecution is allowed nor should be allowed to just attack someone’s character.  But, according to the Florida Rules of Evidence, if the character evidence is admissible the prosecution can present character witnesses, if they have them, to show that their victim was peaceful.  I believe that Trayvon Martin’s history of violence, if there is one, would be relevant just like in a domestic violence case it’s relevant.  George Zimmerman is claiming self-defense; can someone attack someone without a history of violence?  Yes, but if there is a history of violence it puts it in more of a perspective.  There is also another reason why it is relevant.  Recently, the prosecution filed paperwork about George Zimmerman’s membership in a martial arts gym.  Now, if the prosecution plans to use this as some kind of way to show Zimmerman had a propensity for violence, even though this doesn’t follow the rules of evidence.  For many reasons, character evidence cannot be admitted purely to show bad character.  I don’t see the relevance of his membership in a gym beyond that.  If the defense can’t defend against that by showing Trayvon Martin’s propensity, then how is that fair?  Keep in mind that both sides often file things and argue things at hearings that never pan out in investigation and never make it into the court during the trial.

The defense has made a motion to have prosecutors prohibited from using certain prejudicial and inflammatory statements, like:  “profiled”, “vigilante”, “self-appointed neighborhood watch captain”, “ and “wannabe cop”.  Defense attorney Mark O’Mara also asked the judge to prohibit prosecutors from using the phrases “He got out of the car after the police (or dispatcher) told him not to” and “He confronted Trayvon Martin.”  O’Mara said the word “profiling” is racially charged and that the other words are misstatements that could prejudice a jury.  Definitely, “profiled”, “vigilante”, “self-appointed neighborhood watch captain”, “ and “wannabe cop” are 100% prejudicial and not at all probative.

These terms are buzzwords; they are short phrases that give a person a negative connotation of someone’s character.  They are sound bite character assassinations.  He was a “wannabe cop”, what’s your evidence?  Well, he applied to be a cop one time, he joined the neighborhood watch (which permitted him to go on a “ride along”), and people think that he pursued Trayvon Martin.  The last part thinking that he pursued him is not evidence it is speculation.  Going on a “ride along” is a community program that a lot of police departments have to show the public not to be afraid of police officers.  To show them what they do and how they do it.  It’s PR.  Being a member of the neighborhood watch I always thought was supposed to be a good thing.  He applied to be a cop and didn’t make it.  This doesn’t prove anything about his character because we have cops who are approved who are criminals for goodness sake.  It makes him a wannabe cop, but not in that sense.  He wanted to be a cop.

It’s interesting to note that the prosecution wants to use this apparently in some way, but they don’t even know where Prince William County is.  They said that he applied in Maryland and it is in Virginia.  Perhaps they should have geography class in law school.

In jury selection starting Monday, the attorneys for both sides will be looking for 6 jurors and 4 alternates, or a total of 10 jurors.  Currently, there is a Frye Hearing on the audio-analysis.  FBI speech scientist Dr. Nakasone testified that the recording should not be admissible because the science isn’t ready.  He also testified that there should be at least 14 seconds of a recording to make any accurate determination.  There is less than 5 seconds of recording on the 911 call made by a witness.  Dr. Hirotake Nakasone, a senior audio engineer at the FBI also testified to all the other noises, audible compression techniques, and other environmental factors that affect the analysis of a sample.  He also testified to the nuisances of language and speech.  The defense and prosecutors both want the call played to the jury, but only prosecutors want to present scientists who used this analysis technique.

I do not believe that the voice analysis science is ready for courtrooms.  It’s another bad forensic technique, too much variation in its analysis and techniques.

“No one can speak in the same way twice,” Nakasone said.

He testified that speech was not like DNA or fingerprints; they are not unique to an individual.  Nakasone testified that it is misleading to assume a person’s “voice-print” is unique.  Well, there are no studies to show that fingerprints are unique either, but that’s another matter.  He also stated that when someone is screaming in distress it is nearly impossible to tell if it matches someone’s normal voice pattern.

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Comments
  1. Lon Spector says:

    I come from “Al Sharpton country”-the New York metropolitian area.
    You might say that I grew up with baited-breath wondering what the next “Al Sharpton production”
    would be. We had such occurances as stores set a fire in Harlem to drive out “white interlopers,”
    A three day “grace period” of roiting known as the “Crown Heights Pogram” and many others.
    Real people lost thier lives in these “shakedowns.” And don’t forget the infamous Tawana
    Brawley hoax. I used to worry: “Sooner or later some elderly myopic Jewish businessman is
    going to rundown an Africian-American toddler on a trycicle, and that’s going to be the symbol
    for rebellion to flair everywhere!

    Like

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