Jonathan Turley, a defense attorney and professor at George Washington University, told the Guardian Thursday that the case against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, including the 911 tapes that document him following the victim, may not be as clear-cut as many assume.
Turley, who wrote a separate post on his blog about the Florida shooting on Wednesday, told the publication that the Trayvon Martin case still contained several murky elements that could hinder the prosecution if George Zimmerman is charged with manslaughter or second-degree murder.
'Solid Grounds' To Arrest Zimmerman
Jonathan Turley believes there is more than enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman, and to secure an indictment against him.
Even under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, one of the laxest laws in the country when it comes to proving reasonable fear of death or injury, the 28-year-old volunteer neighborhood watchman still ignored a 911 dispatcher, pursuing his 17-year-old victim in his SUV before shooting him.
Police would have been on solid grounds to arrest him, Turley told the Guardian. You lose that defense [under Stand Your Ground] if you are the aggressor or if you do not have a reasonable basis for fear or serious harm or death.
Even if Martin made the first move, there's still the fact that Zimmerman was armed with a handgun, and that the person most likely to be on the defensive in this case would be Martin. Martin was still significantly younger, weighed significantly less, was completely unarmed and was traveling on foot.
Even if he is not the aggressor, there will remain the question of escalation or confrontation, Turley cautioned.
Forensic Evidence Key To Case
But arresting someone under suspision of murder or manslaughter, both of which are currently options for the special prosecutor appointed to oversee the case, and landing a conviction based on those charges are two different matters.
And despite how obvious the case may seem to those who know the circumstances leading up to the shooting, Turley points out that one area remains rife for defensive maneuvering: the maddening gap of evidence during the actual confrontation.
We haven't seen any of the forensic evidence, which is the key, Turley told the Guardian.
This point is especially crucial both for differentiating between manslaughter and murder and between justifiable homicide (acting in self-defense) and simply killing another person.
At what point does a physical struggle justify the use of lethal force? he asked, noting what would likely be a key point of contention for a jury if Zimmerman is put on trial.
How far the gun was from Trayvon Martin, how many shots were fired and how Zimmerman got his injuries (reports indicate that he sustained minor cuts and some bruises in the altercation).
If I was the defense counsel in the case, the first thing I would do is the trajectory of the bullet, how close it was the gun to Martin, where it was fired, Turley said.
New Evidence Released
Of course, what sealed the Trayvon Martin case for many following the Florida shooting are the three 911 tapes released last week by the Sanford police.
Two of the tapes record neighbors frantically calling the police to report the fight happening outside their homes, and feature a voice many assume is Martin's calling for help.
The third, however, which many consider the most damning, is of Zimmerman himself, talking to a 911 dispatcher after having spotting Martin coming back from a 7-11 and cutting through a gated community on the way home.
This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something, Zimmerman told the operator, describing him as a young black man before muttering, these a--holes always get away.
Later on, Zimmerman is instructed by the dispatcher not to follow Martin when the teen began to move away. What is undisputed at this point is that Zimmerman ignored that directive, stopping him car and getting out with his gun on him.
Ambiguity of 911 Tapes
According to Turley, however, these same 911 tapes provide nearly as much for the defense to work with as they do the prosecution.
It has him ignoring requests not to follow Martin but it includes a portion where he is saying that Martin is approaching him, Turley pointed out, noting a portion of the 911 tape where Zimmerman said Martin was coming near him with his hand in his waistband.
It's difficult to believe because of his size and the fact that he was armed that he felt in imminent threat of death, Turley wrote on his blog.
But lawyers could point to the tape showing that Zimmerman believed Martin might be armed. That Martin was moving towards him and checking him out.
All of this could play to a version of the story where the question of intent and reasonable fear becomes far more clouded than the case seemed initially.
Some parts of the 911 tape would work to the disadvantage of Zimmerman, others to his advantage, said Turley, telling the Guardian that the case was, as a whole, not as conclusive as people think.
What the Trayvon Martin case comes down to then, is a shooting that's more than suspicious enough to be followed up and just uncertain enough--and with just enough blanks in the narrative--to give Zimmerman's defense team room to manuveer.
The tapes both help and hurt Zimmerman, Turley reiterated on his blog, before telling the Guradian: It would be a very difficult case for the prosecution without more evidence.