Reader PeterK sends along this interesting transcript from the Piers Morgan show last night. Morgan interviewed Alan Dershowitz and the crime novelist Patricia Cornwell about the Trayvon Martin case. Check out these passages:
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, unfortunately, because Florida has this absurd “Stand Your Ground” law which makes it very, very difficult to successfully prosecute even people who may have deliberately and willfully shot because all they have to do is raise a plausible claim of self-defense and all kinds of restrictions kick in.
And remember, there are really two versions of what happened here and they’re both rather extreme. The Martin version, the Martin family version is that Zimmerman was following him. There was no provocation. He started the fight and then he shot him in cold blood. That would be very simple first-degree murder.
The Zimmerman account is equally simple minded. That is, the young man Trayvon hit him from behind. Jumped on top of him. Banged his head, grabbed for his gun, and said, you’re going to die tonight. If that’s the case, it is a simple case of self-defense.
But when the forensics come out finally, and when the autopsy comes out, we’ll find it’s a much more nuanced case. And it will turn largely on who hit the first blow. And since there are no real witnesses to that, there may, inevitably, be reasonable doubt under Florida law.
MORGAN: Patricia Cornwell, forensics, forensics, forensics. Never have I seen a case in recent times that could in the end have forensics be more important than this.
PATRICIA CORNWELL, BESTSELLING AUTHOR: That’s exactly right and Mr. Dershowitz is exactly right. What we’re waiting for now is what did the medical examiner really find? What is the trajectory of the bullet? Was it a contact wound? Was it a slightly distant wound? Is the location of the wound consistent with the handedness of the shooter and what he says about where he was positioned at the time of the shooting? Such as if he says he was on his back or they were standing up or who knows what?
But there’s — in addition, the gun. Does it have Trayvon’s DNA on it? Does it have his fingerprints on it, on it or the holster that might indicate he was grabbing for it? What’s on the — the iced tea bottle? What’s on the cell phone? For example, maybe there was some sort of struggle. The alleged wound to the back of the head. How do we know that wasn’t caused by maybe somebody who was frightened and hit somebody with their phone because it’s all they’ve got in the hand or a bottle. Those should be checked for DNA, for evidence. The clothing should be checked for trace evidence.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I think there’s a big difference between facts and admissible facts. Take for example the expert voice analysis. That’s very dramatic and it’s terrific newspaper stuff. Not clear that that would be admissible in a trial because it has to pass a certain threshold of scientific credibility. So we may end up with a situation where we know facts, but the jury who ultimately hears the case, if there is an arrest and prosecution, won’t know those facts and you would get a disparate outcome where people think he’s guilty based on what they know but based on what the jury heard, there might be an acquittal.
So nobody knows how this case is going to end up ultimately. It’s much too nuanced, much too complex, and we shouldn’t accept the two extreme views until we’ve seen the forensic evidence.
This is helpful. My big takeaway from this is that the police in Sanford, Florida, might have made a reasonable call in failing to charge George Zimmerman. Why? Two things:
1) The absence of direct witnesses to the shooting or the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin. As far as we know, only two people saw what happened that night. One of them is dead, and the other is claiming self-defense.
2) Without witness testimony, there is no one to gainsay Zimmerman’s account. As Dershowitz says, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law makes it very difficult to make a homicide case against Zimmerman. Dershowitz explains elsewhere in the CNN interview that an arrest is “a formal legal proceeding for which you need probable cause under the statute. And the statute makes arrest very difficult to achieve.” Given the facts the police had the night Zimmerman was brought in
Besides, even if they get a charge, the jury would have to be convinced that Zimmerman is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Unless forensics comes back with some smoking-gun evidence, it’s hard to see at this moment that Zimmerman’s guilt could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case may turn on poor police forensics work on the night of the shooting. But that’s not George Zimmerman’s fault.