Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

April 16, 2012

Zimmerman case critical

TAHLEQUAH — All Oklahomans – those who favor unfettered gun rights and those who would prefer a level of restriction – should be paying close attention to the George Zimmerman case in Florida. Its outcome will affect how Americans view Second Amendment issues for years to come.

Zimmerman, a “neighborhood watch” volunteer in Sanford, gunned down an unarmed teenager, then claimed he acted in self-defense, although 911 call records do not support his version of events. At the heart of this case is Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which can provide justification for using deadly force when a “reasonable belief of threat” exists. Historically, claims of self-defense hinged on a “duty to retreat” component, which required the victim to avoid physical confrontation if possible. Stand Your Ground and other laws are based on the Castle doctrine, which removes the imperative to retreat if the attack occurs in the victim’s home. In some states, like Florida, retreat under certain circumstances isn’t required even in a public place.

Zimmerman was finally arrested last week for the Feb. 26 killing. The delay was unfortunate, because it sparked widespread protests and allegations about motive that may not be valid. Even if the actual motive was self-defense, legal experts say Zimmerman’s actions stretch the boundaries of Stand Your Ground’s original intent.

Sen. Durell, Peaden, author of the Florida measure, says Zimmerman has “no protection” under his law, and co-sponsors agree. That’s because Zimmerman didn’t just stand his ground – he pursued his target, against the advice of a 911 operator. Recordings of the call indicate he was “stalking” Martin, and photos taken after the encounter do not necessarily back Zimmerman’s claims about Martin’s behavior.

If Zimmerman’s actions were justified under the tenets of Stand Your Ground, he would likely never stand trial. A judge could grant him immunity from prosecution, as was the case with the earlier killing of Pedro Roteta, who was caught stealing Greyston Garcia’s car radio. Garcia pursued Roteta with a knife and stabbed him to death. That case was also borderline, because Garcia initially lied, saying Roteta was armed. Roteta’s “weapon” was a bag of stolen radios, but he did swing it at Garcia. Martin, on the other hand, was armed only with a bag of Skittles and a can of tea. Roteta was committing a crime; Martin, it seems, was not.

Many activists suggest the slaying of Martin was racially motivated. The problem with the “hate crime” assertion, from a jury’s standpoint, could be that Zimmerman, a Latino, also has minority status. Other issues will also fall under the microscope, such as the validity of the law itself, and likely, it will be used by both the pro- and anti-gun lobbies to bolster their philosophies.

Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder, and it will be up to a jury to decide if he’s guilty of that crime under the law. As a human being, he’s already guilty of a terrible flaw, and he’ll pay a price for that.

Around these parts, if a 26-year-old 5-foot-9 man weighing 190 pounds felt threatened by a 17-year-old kid he didn’t know, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 160 pounds, the kid would likely get a good old-fashioned butt-kicking, and the man might spend a night in the detention center before the cops and lawyers sorted things out. Instead of this ages-old way of doing business, Zimmerman turned his personal suspicion into a fatal encounter, then went to ground instead of facing the fallout.

Whatever else he is, George Zimmerman is a coward, not a hero. But he still deserves a fair trial, with the facts of the case, rather than public emotion, deciding the outcome.

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