Zimmerman: Oh the Irony of it All!

July 21, 2012

Scales of Justice
image by DonkeyHotey on creative commons, flickr

W9 is George Zimmerman’s cousin. On Monday, July 16th at 11 am, the prosecution released her tape recorded statements to the media in which she accused George Zimmerman and his family of being racially prejudiced against African Americans and George Zimmerman specifically of sexually molesting her multiple times during a 10-year period that began when she was 6 years old and he was 8. She is now 26 and he is 28. The two families have lived in the same community and socialized together often during that period.

She said the molestation incidents involved fondling and digital penetration of her vagina. She said she finally ended the sexual abuse by getting away from him and running out of the house. She told her parents and they told his parents. Due to pressure from her parents and because she feared Zimmerman would hurt her, she decided not to report the sexual abuse to the police. After that Zimmerman was no longer invited to family social events.

She first contacted the police anonymously two days after Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, She told them he was racially prejudiced and capable of hurting people.

They interviewed her a second time after he was in jail charged with second degree murder. When they asked her why she had waited so long to report the sexual abuse, she said it was the first time she felt safe.

A virtual tsunami of outrage and disgust swept the country and the world after the media reported W9’s accusations and various news organizations posted her two tape recorded statements on their websites.

Anticipating the public furor that would follow the release of the tape recorded statements, Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, posted the following statement on his website:

The defense moved to block the public release of Witness #9’s statement in a motion filed on June 18, 2012 contending “The content of this statement is not relevant to the issues of this case, and it would not be admissible in the State’s case in chief.” The motion further contends that this irrelevant statement should be withheld from public dissemination [pursuant to Florida’s Sunshine Law] because of the substantial risk that public disclosure will lead to widespread hostile publicity which would substantially impair the Defendant’s fair trial rights, and would pose a serious threat to the administration of justice.

That request was denied on July 13, 2012 by Judge Lester. Because there is a [defense] Motion for Disqualification [of Judge Lester] pending, this morning [Monday, July 16th], we asked the prosecution not to release Witness #9’s statement until there was a ruling on the Motion for Disqualification. This is an appropriate request as, should the motion for disqualification be granted, reconsideration of recent rulings by the judge is appropriate. However, the prosecution elected to make the public disclosure anyway.

Did Mark O’Mara handle this matter appropriately, or did he fumble the ball?

For the following reasons, I contend that he fumbled the ball prejudicing his client.

Let’s review the facts, keeping in mind that W9 made two statements. Statement 1 was about race and Statement 2 was about sexual molestation.

1. 05/24/2012: State files a Request for a Protective Order seeking non-disclosure of W9’s statement;

2. 05/24/2012: Defendant’s concurrence;

3. 06/01/2012: Hearing on the Request for a Protective Order;

4. 06/13/2012: Order Denying Request for Protective Order;

5. 06/18/2012: Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration specifically mentioning W9’s second statement (accusing defendant of sexual molestation), but not describing the subject matter;

6. 06/29/2012: State’s Response to Motion to Reconsider Disclosure;

7. 07/13/2012: Defendant’s Motion to Disqualify (filed at 11:20 am);

8. 0713/2012: Order Denying Motion for Reconsideration (filed @ 12:02 pm). Judge Lester says W9’s statement is admissible and should be released to the media because race may be an issue at trial;

9. 07/16/2012: Defendant’s Motion for Stay of Order Denying Reconsideration (filed at 10:56 am) arguing that the order must be stayed until the Motion to Disqualify is decided because it was filed first.

10. State releases W9’s two tape recorded statements at 11 am.

Keep in mind that neither side wanted to disclose the sex statement in a pleading that could be viewed by the public. Instead, O’Mara referred to statements 1 and 2, without clarifying that they involved different subject matter.

What we got here is . . . failure to communicate.

Judge Lester apparently thought both statements referred to race because he specifically said the statement might be admissible since race might be an issue. I am not surprised that he assumed both statements referred to race because the discovery released to date contains multiple recorded statements by witnesses concerning the same incident or subject matter.

The order was filed at 12:02 pm on Friday the 13th (oh, the irony), approximately 30 minutes after O’Mara filed his Motion to Disqualify. Therefore, he had Friday afternoon, the weekend, and Monday morning until 11 am to obtain an order directing the prosecution to hold off on releasing W9’s statement 2 until the matter could be reconsidered, but he did not git ‘r done.

He also did not appeal the order to the Court of Appeals.

The problem was further complicated by the judge going on vacation this past week and next week. Therefore, O’Mara had to act Friday afternoon. However, even if Judge Lester had been available Monday, he could not have acted on the motion to stop the release of W9’s statement before the prosecution released it, since the motion was filed only 4 minutes before the statement was released.

What should have been done?

An emergency oral motion and argument via conference telephone call on Friday afternoon seems to be the most obvious solution, but it did not happen. Alternatively, an emergency request for a stay before the presiding judge on Monday morning might have worked, or an emergency appeal to the Court of Appeals.

O’Mara did not attempt any of these options.

Will the evidence be admissible at trial?

Not during the State’s case in chief because it does not fall into one of the categories of admissible uncharged misconduct evidence that is admissible pursuant to Rule 404(b). If and only if the defendant were to open the door by introducing evidence that he has a law abiding, peaceful and non-violent nature, would the prosecution be able to march through the open door and confront him with W9’s accusation that he was a child molester. That is extremely unlikely to happen.

Therefore, there is no good reason to believe the evidence will be admitted at trial.

Should W9’s statement have been released to the media?

Probably not, under Florida Freedom Newspapers Inc., v. McCrary, 520 So.2d 32, 35 (Florida 1988) because:

(a) restricting public access to it was necessary to prevent a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice;

(b) no alternative, other than a change of venue would protect Zimmerman’s right to a fair trial; and

(c) closure would be effective to protect Zimmerman’s right to a fair trial, without being broader than necessary to accomplish that purpose.

How much damage has been caused by the release of the statement?

How does one unring a bell rung round the world? The damage to Zimmerman’s defense is incalculable and the parties will not know how far and wide it may have spread until they attempt to select a jury.

Will they be able to select a jury?

Yes, I believe they will be able to eventually seat a jury of people who claim not to know about W9’s allegation or, if they do, they will claim to be able to disregard it in deciding whether the State has proven Zimmerman guilty of murder in the second degree beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sayin’ it’s so, don’t mean it’s so.

If he is convicted, will this be an issue on appeal?

Not likely. If they are able to seat such a jury and it convicts Zimmerman, a reviewing court will assume the jury followed the law and did not consider W9’s allegation in deciding the case.

If he is convicted, could this be an issue raised as an ineffective assistance of counsel claim in a state or federal habeas petition?

No, for the same reason.

Conclusion

This was an avoidable mishap that never should have happened. Mark O’Mara bears the responsibility for letting this issue slip through his fingers. But for being so busy cranking out his groundless Motion to Disqualify Judge Lester, he might have had the time and the energy to correct the problem before 11 am on Monday morning.

The convergence of coincidences is remarkable, however, almost as if this happened according to “God’s Plan.”


Zimmerman: I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning

July 16, 2012

The you-know-what hit the proverbial fan today in the George Zimmerman case.

The prosecution released W9’s damning account of being raped and molested by George Zimmerman over a 10 year period that began when she was 6 years old. W9 is his cousin. She is two years younger than him. The rapes she endured involved digital penetration of her vagina and the molestations involved fondling.

She submitted out of fear. She feared him physically and she feared her family would not believe her because he was so good at charming everyone. She finally mustered up the courage to terminate the abuse by running away from him and leaving the house. She told her parents, who told his parents, but nothing happened except he stopped attending joint family get-togethers. Her parents discouraged her from reporting the crimes to the police and she did not do so until he was in custody after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. When asked by police investigators why she waited until then to report the crimes, she said she finally felt safe to do so.

I listened to her account and I thought it was very credible. Don’t kid yourselves, child victims of sex abuse rarely report the abuse because they are afraid they will not be believed and afraid of reprisals. This lady has a lot of guts and courage to come forward with these allegations knowing as she must have known that the information might become public.

Question: What impact will this have on selecting a jury in the murder case?

Answer: It will definitely complicate seating a fair and impartial jury, but the State of Florida was able to do that in the Casey Anthony case and I have no doubt they will be able to do so in the Zimmerman case.

We are immersed in this case, but many people are barely following it, if at all. The court will deal with the pretrial publicity issue by moving the trial to another county or importing a jury from another county, which is what happened in the Casey Anthony case. By questioning prospective jurors individually (i.e., out of the presence of other prospective jurors), the judge and the lawyers will be able to find out how much each juror knows about the case and whether a juror has formed an opinion about GZ’s guilt or innocence.

This precaution has worked in the past and it will work again.

Question: Is the evidence admissible at trial?

Answer: Not unless the defense opens the door by introducing evidence that GZ is a person of good character. If the defense opens the door, you will be able to hear a garbage truck backing up to the courtroom door with a load of bad character evidence to be provided in damning detail by W9 and anyone else they can find between now and the trial. According to W9, btw, there is another victim, but she is reluctant to come forward. Who knows, she might change her mind. For example, think of the recently concluded Sandusky case.

The rule in question is Rule 404(b) which prohibits the admissibility of uncharged misconduct unless it is probative of the defendant’s intent, knowledge, motive or opportunity, common scheme or plan, consciousness of guilt or absence of mistake or accident.

The evidence is inadmissible since it does not fall into any of these exceptions, unless the defense opens the door by introducing evidence of good character.

Like I said, Katie bar the door, if that happens.

While we are on the subject of uncharged misconduct evidence, let us not forget Shellie Zimmerman’s perjury and GZ’s role in putting her up to it and assisting her to conceal the Peter Pan account and lie about it in court (i.e., the internet donation account).

As Judge Lester said in his recent order setting bail, it would not have been unreasonable for the Court to have concluded that, but for the GPS bracelet, the defendant would have used his second passport to flee the country with $130,000 of other people’s money after he bailed out the first time.

If that was his intent, evidence of his role would be admissible under rule 404(b) as consciousness of guilt, for the same reason that evidence of flight to avoid prosecution is admissible to show consciousness of guilt.

I have written about this possibility before and, as I stated then, the prosecution probably will need Shellie Zimmerman’s cooperation and testimony against GZ to make that case.

Will W9’s statement be the straw that breaks Shellie Zimmerman’s back and sends her knock knock knockin’ on the door to the prosecutor’s office?

Who knows, she might even throw in an admission that GZ did not kill TM in self-defense.

Stay tuned.

Question:What about W9’s statements about racism in the Zimmerman family. Are they admissible?

Answer: No. W9’s testimony about family racism is not admissible because it’s not specific to GZ. She did not mention any specific instances where he expressed racist beliefs or epithets. and even if he had done so, it still would likely be inadmissible. Otherwise, it might be admissible under rule 404(b) to show evidence of motive.

Question: Are there any other foreseeable consequences?

Answer: Yes. The most immediate and probable consequence of this revelation today, other than a dramatic world-wide increase in disgust for George Zimmerman, should be a dramatic collapse of financial support via internet contributions to his defense fund.

Should be interesting to see what his supporters come up with to defend him. Are they vile enough to mount a full-fledged attack against W9 the way Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke?

Will Fox News reach a new low in entertainment reportage?

Question: What’s up with his lawyers?

Answer: The not-ready-for-prime-time defense team still isn’t ready. They should have filed an appeal on Friday or first thing this morning in the Court of Appeals along with a request for an emergency stay ordering the prosecution to not release the information pending the outcome of the appeal.

This inexplicable failure coming on the heels of the reckless and legally groundless motion to disqualify Judge Lester looks really bad.

Apparently, O’Mara has asked for reciprocal discovery on W9 and that is not a good move at this time because it looks so thuggish.

Why posture like that when she is unlikely to testify?

Question: Did Judge Lester really have to release W9’s statement to the media under the Sunshine Law?

Answer: I do not know, but if so, this is a perfect case to get before the State Supreme Court to carve out a privacy exception to protect victims of uncharged crimes, especially sexual crimes, from having their stories published for all the world to see when it is not likely that they will ever testify.

I am appalled by their failure to file a timely appeal.


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