The Martin case continues to take unexpected and unusual turns. One of those turns is the primary focus of this article. I originally hoped to provide analysis of the Special Prosecutor’s interview with Martin’s girlfriend—Dee Dee—in this article, but for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this article, will defer that to next Wednesday. Thus we have:
The Bond/Passport Issue:
Those following the case are aware that the passport issue has already disappeared. Zimmerman did have two passports as a result of the mistaken belief he had lost his original passport, which expired in May. He did request and receive a replacement and so, in the strictest sense, had two passports, but again, one was expired and useless. In addition, his attorney, Mr. O’Mara, was aware of all of this and reportedly in control of the only usable passport. As a result, Judge Lester immediately lost interest in this situation. The issue of money is more complicated and remains unclear.
There is no question that Judge Lester was aware of a substantial sum of money raised in Zimmerman’s defense through the Internet (at the time, somewhere between $130,00 and $150,000). The transcript of the original bond hearing (on April 20, 2012) makes this clear. During that hearing, he spoke with Shelly Zimmerman—George’s wife—by phone and established that she did not know when the website was set up or how much money had been raised. He also established that her brother-in-law did have those answers and could come to the phone, but the Judge did not request that. Mark O’Mara was working with Zimmerman to deal with that money and any issues related to it and was in regular contact with Judge Lester about it. On April 27, 2012 the Flopping Aces site noted:
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of wrongly killing Trayvon Martin, will not immediately have to turn over donations made to his website, a Florida judge said Friday.
Zimmerman collected about $204,000 in donations through the website, but did not disclose the contributions during his bond hearing last week, according to his attorney, Mark O’Mara.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda asked Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. to increase Zimmerman’s $150,000 bond. But the judge said he would delay ruling on the request, in part because he does not know if he has authority to say how the money can be used.
Lester and O’Mara both said they are concerned about releasing the names of donors to Zimmerman, who has faced threats since the case began making national headlines in March.
‘My fear is they may well be targeted for reprisals or animosities or whatever,’ O’Mara told reporters after the hearing.
Zimmerman’s family testified last week at his bond hearing that they did not have the kind of resources that would have been necessary to meet the prosecution’s suggested $1 million bond.
About $5,000 from the website contribution was used in making bond, O’Mara said. The rest came from a loan secured by a family home.
Although Zimmerman spent some of the contributions on living expenses, about $150,000 remains, O’Mara said Friday. O’Mara said he has put the money into a trust he controls until a final decision is made about its use.
Lester asked for additional information about the accounts but did not indicate when he would rule.
‘I’m not going to make a snap decision,’ Lester said.
Keep in mind that at the time of the original bond hearing, the Special Prosecutor had recordings of all phone calls between George and Shelly Zimmerman while George was in jail awaiting that hearing, yet did not raise that issue during that hearing.
On June 1, 2012, ABC News reported:
A judge revoked bond today for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of a Florida teenager in his gated community, and ordered him to surrender himself in 48 hours.
Prosecutors had filed a motion today to revoke his bond, accusing Zimmerman of “deceiving” the court about his finances and his possession of a second passport, which he apparently acquired two weeks after the shooting.
‘The court was led to believe that they didn’t have a single penny,” said prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda. “If this [the money] wasn’t relevant to bond then why did they lie about it? I don’t know what other words to use besides that it was a blatant lie.’
The judge seemed to agree.
‘They were well aware of the money that was available,’ [said] Judge Kenneth Lester.
The Orlando Sentinel has a brief story about this aspect of the case:
Defense attorneys for George Zimmerman issued a statement today, explaining that their client made a “mistake” when he failed to tell a judge about thousands of dollars he’d raised through his website.
‘We feel the failure to ‘says the statement, posted on the defense team’s blog. ‘The gravity of this mistake has been distinctly illustrated, and Mr. Zimmerman understands that this mistake has undermined his credibility, which he will have to work to repair…
Zimmerman had collected thousands in donations online through a PayPal account, prosecutors said, but his wife told the judge that they were basically indigent. Lester granted $150,000 bail.
According to the defense’s new blog post, of the original $204,000 raised by Zimmerman’s fund, about $150,000 was moved to defense fund his attorneys helped establish, and $30,000 ‘was used to make the complicated transition from private life in Sanford, FL to a life in hiding as a defendant in a high-profile court case.’
About $20,000, the lawyers say, ‘was kept liquid to provide living expenses for the first several months.’ Neither Zimmerman nor his attorneys have direct access to the defense fund, the post says.
‘While Mr. Zimmerman acknowledges that he allowed his financial situation to be misstated in court, the defense will emphasize that in all other regards, Mr. Zimmerman has been forthright and cooperative,’ the post says.
The statement notes that he ‘stayed in ongoing contact’ with law enforcement, gave ‘voice exemplars for comparison’ and ‘has twice surrendered himself to law enforcement when asked to do so.’
‘At the point of the bond hearing, Mr. Zimmerman had been driven from his home and neighborhood, could not go to work, his wife could not go back to a finish her nursing degree, his mother and father had been driven from their home, and he had been thrust into the national spotlight as a racist murderer by factions acting with their own agendas. None of those allegations have been supported by the discovery released to date, yet the hatred continues.’
There is no question that the judge was completely aware of the Internet account at the original hearing where the prosecution was asking for a one million dollar bond. He spoke with Shelly Zimmerman about it by phone, yet did not ask the logical questions necessary to follow up on that aspect of their finances. The issue was being discussed after that hearing as well because the prosecution was asking the judge to increase the bond, and the Judge was aware of how much money was in that account (it was increasing daily and has dramatically increased since his re-incarceration).
The transcript of the original hearing shows that the judge was considering the Zimmerman’s normal financial means and the Internet account as two separate matters. In telling the judge they had no money, as the court was considering those separate issues, they were correct and were not deceiving the court.
This is where I find myself somewhat confused by this entire matter. The Special Prosecutor has, from before the original bond hearing, been aware of the phone calls between George and Shelly Zimmerman. If she felt they had far more money than they were saying and were lying about it, she had all the “evidence” she needed, yet did not raise that issue at the single hearing—the bond hearing—devoted to that issue. And at that hearing, the money was anything but concealed. After the hearing, the money and its disposition were also known to the court and the prosecutor, apparently on a regular basis.
Bond is issued—in any amount—to secure the appearance of the accused in court. Zimmerman is not a flight risk and has, from the beginning of this case, fully cooperated with the authorities. In fact, as Mr. O’Mara noted, the only person at real, daily risk is Zimmerman. There is no reason to believe that Zimmerman has become an increased flight risk at this, or any other time. As I already noted, the court has recognized that the passport issue raised by the prosecutor as though it was a violation of national security amounts to nothing. The prosecutor’s motion to revoke bond took a near-hysterical tone, while simultaneously admitting that Zimmerman’s original passport expired in May of 2012.
While it does appear to be the case that Zimmerman was, in some way negligent in dealing with this matter—Mr. O’Mara has released a public statement to that effect–considering the fact that the court was aware of it from the beginning of this case and was dealing with it on a continual basis, I’m having a little difficulty understanding the specific basis for revoking Zimmerman’s bond, and the Judge’s reasons therefore.
In such cases, the facts are usually far more cut and dried. Defendant Smith tells the judge he has no money at all and is given a small bond. The Judge later learns that Smith had ten million stashed in a numbered Swiss account and had no way of knowing that until the evidence of the account was presented to him. In the Zimmerman case, he knew about the Internet money all along.
It does appear, considering what they knew and when they knew it, that the Special Prosecutor’s Office is doing their best to cause Zimmerman the greatest possible difficulty. Are they doing this unethically? I can’t say with certainty, because again, I’m still not able to fully understand what is going on here. The prosecutor did make arguments about the Internet money at the original bond hearing, and the judge decided not to immediately rule on that issue.
To whatever degree Zimmerman didn’t play strictly by the rules, he behaved foolishly. I’m still confused about what Mr. O’Mara knew about this and when he knew it—to say nothing of whatever advice he may have given Zimmerman–so he may yet bear some portion of whatever blame might reasonably be apportioned. I’m also confused about what the judge knew and about his intentions in dealing with this. There is, as far as I can determine, nothing preventing him from demanding and receiving a day by day, penny by penny accounting of the Internet account about which he was aware from the first day of this case, yet he apparently chose not to do that, in essence, ensuring that he would be, to at least some degree, uninformed. He noted that he needed to research the issue to determine what powers he had in dealing with this money. Did he determine that he had no powers? Did he simply let it slip his mind? Why is he apparently behaving as though he was blind-sided by an issue about which he was aware from day one? Most unusual and confusing.
However, considering the way this unremarkable case has been blown completely out of proportion, one might want to give George Zimmerman and his family—or anyone in his position–a little slack. Even absent the incredible political character of this case, who—not a career criminal–upon being charged with second degree murder, would understand all of the processes and rules of the criminal justice system? Even as a police officer, I often had to do research to be fully informed about the kinds of issues being discussed here.
Imagine that not only have the President of the United States and the First Lady weighed in against you, but the full weight of the racial grievance industry and the media have come down solidly against you. One day you’re just another citizen going about his life, and the next, you’re a murderous, racist child killer. Movie director Spike Lee has publicized the address of your parents—obviously encouraging deadly violence—and got it wrong, terrorizing an innocent elderly couple. The New Black Panthers, a violent group of actual racists that routinely calls for the death of white people, including white babies, has put out a bounty on you, and you know that they are favored and protected by the Federal Department of Justice because AG Erik Holder saw that a case of voter intimidation against them the DOJ already won was dismissed (to say nothing of the fact that the DOJ does nothing about the bounty). You know that the airwaves and the Internet are full of death threats against not only you but your wife and family. Your life, and the lives of your family have been destroyed. You can’t work, you’re destitute, and everyone you know and love has been forced into hiding. Do you have a future? Who knows?
This sounds like the plot of a particularly bad B-movie. But it is exactly what has happened—and more and worse—in this case. Again, to whatever degree Zimmerman has not adhered to the letter of the law in this situation, he is certainly wrong and is obviously bearing the consequences of that failing. However, one might be able to understand one in his position hoping to keep his wife and family from utter financial ruin–or worse.
Perhaps one day all of the facts will be known and the actions of the Special Prosecutor and others might make more sense. But for the moment, I find myself, once again, trying to analyze matters without all of the facts, and ending up at least partially frustrated.
AN APPARENT CONTRADICTION:
Reader JOC56 wrote:
Mike, re. ‘the button’ & headphones: On page 2 (of 7) of Christopher Serino’s Report of Investigation he states that “…a bag of Skittles candy, a red 7-11 red lighter in his pockets, headphones next to him, and a photo pin on his sweatshirt”. I think at some point the photo pin was removed (during CPR perhaps?) and placed into TM’s pockets along with the headphones before the body was transported. There are a lot of inconsistencies in the evidence released back in May. I assume that when you have multiple people looking at a crime scene at different times that is to be expected. As a former police officer what is your experience as far as this is concerned?
This insightful and well-informed comment clearly illustrates the nature of reality in such cases: apparent contradictions are common. Sometimes they arise because of paperwork errors, because officers don’t communicate as fully as they could/should in the field, because patrol officers and investigators have very different focuses, and for a wide variety of other systemic reasons such as inadequate or confusing forms or poorly thought out procedures. To whatever degree they are important, they are often sorted out in court and found to be insignificant, or occasionally, embarrassing to this or that officer who realizes all too late—on the witness stand—that he should have paid just a bit more attention to that aspect of his duties.
Here’s a screen shot of the PDF of the evidence portion of what I believe is Officer Ayala’s original report. Note that it indicates that he found the photo pin/button (and several other items) in one of Martin’s unspecified pockets.
Here’s a screen shot of the PDF of Investigator Serino’s report. On page 2 of 7 of that report he writes that the photo pin was on Martin’s sweatshirt.
However, this screen shot from page 4 of 7 of the same report, the evidence section, indicates that the photo button was “collected from with in [sic] the victim’s pockets.”
What to make of this? The original officer—Ayala—places the button in one of Martin’s pockets. The investigator, who was called to the scene later, also places it in one of Martin’s pockets, yet also claims to have seen it on Martin’s hoodie.
To understand this, one must consider the nature of evidence and how it is handled in law enforcement. I speak about this not only as a former patrol officer and detective, but as a former division commander in charge of an evidence section and all aspects of that function. This is one aspect of the Sanford Police Department’s investigation about which I have some small concerns.
In a case like Martin’s, a responding officer’s first job is to secure and protect all potential evidence. However, if a victim might be revived, evidence takes a back seat, but even so it may never be disregarded and officers must be as careful as possible to secure and protect it.
Any officer taking possession of any piece of evidence is absolutely responsible for:
(1) Recording the date, time and location from which that evidence came into his possession.
(2) Properly marking and bagging/securing the evidence. Officers usually do this by putting items in plastic or paper bags provided for that purpose and marked with the appropriate labels for collecting that information. They’ll keep it in their pockets, if possible, or will lock it in the truck of their patrol car.
(3) Being very, very specific about what they’ve taken. I’ve previously noted that they called a can of Arizona Watermelon Cocktail “iced tea,” which is disturbing. Watermelon cocktail is no more iced tea than a banana is an apple. Precision is vitally important, and an officer often doesn’t know which factors can make or break a case at its beginning.
(4) Keeping anything they’ve collected under their exclusive control until they can lock it into the secure lockers established for that purpose at their headquarters. When they do that, they note the exact date and time and any other relevant information such as the locker # in which they placed it, etc.
(5) Ensuring that items which must be photographed in place prior to collection are protected and undisturbed. Police lore has many stories of low-ranking cops who overturned a bucket on a bloody footprint and ignored the orders of higher-ranking officers to move, eventually saving the case and ensuring a very bad guy was put away. Such stories are usually apocryphal, but illustrate an important point.
Whether an officer collects five or fifty items, he must be as precise and exact for the first as for the last item. When I worked car burglaries, I often spent entire days after serving search warrants carefully logging, photographing and completing paperwork on huge numbers of recovered items such as 100 or more individual CD’s, hoping for, and sometimes finding, that one set of initials or a distinctive marking that would make a case. Handling evidence is always a matter of attention to detail.
All of this is done to maintain an unbroken chain of evidence for each and every item taken into custody. If they wish, a defense attorney can demand that every person who handled a piece of evidence testify in court. This will commonly include the officer that originally found an item and logged it into evidence, the evidence technician who received it and put it in the secure evidence facility, any detectives who might have actually handled the item, and any evidence technician or officer who actually brings it into court. This is necessary to prove that no one has tampered with the evidence. If the chain is broken, the evidence may be ruled inadmissible and a case could be lost. Smart attorneys never do this unless they can prove a real problem in the handling of the evidence that will have a real effect on the case. It takes a great deal of time and risks ticking off the judge and jury.
Perhaps I just don’t have the relevant forms, but I’m not seeing this level of detail in the reports of the Sanford PD available to me, and if that is, in fact, the state of their evidence system, the chief of that agency should be concerned indeed. If a case ends up in court two years in the future, will officer Ayala remember in which pocket the photo button was found? When he found it? Will Investigator Serino be able to explain the apparent contradiction in his report? Doubtful.
What most likely happened is that at some point—perhaps before Serino arrived or after—the items were, in fact, removed from Martin’s pockets. Officer Ayala’s report indicates that he and Sgt. Ralmondo did perform CPR on Martin (Ayala did compressions, Ralmondo breaths), but the 711 videos indicate that the button, even if it had been still attached to Martin’s hoodie, would not have been in the way. It was attached to the hoodie quite off the centerline of Martin’s chest. When doing CPR, no officer—even if they needed to remove a button or other obstruction—would take the time to put it in a person’s pocket. They would simply remove it and toss it aside. And any officer handling the button as a potential piece of evidence, if they removed it from Martin’s hoodie, would never put it in one of his pockets, but would handle it as I’ve already explained. Putting an item somewhere on the victim other than where it was originally found is an enormous mistake that could confuse or harm a case. At the very least, valuable time will be wasted trying to explain how that happened. No competent police officer would do that.
The most likely explanation is that, as I’ve previously proposed, Martin removed the pin from his hoodie and put it in a pocket prior to confronting Martin, perhaps because he knew he was about to engage in a fight and didn’t want to lose it, or because he didn’t want such an obvious identifier on his otherwise unremarkable clothing. All of the SPD reports save Serino’s place the pin in one of Martin’s pockets, and most of those were written by officers originally responding to the call, people in a position to see the state of the evidence long before Serino arrived. Remember that Serino’s account also put the pin in one of Martin’s pockets though earlier he apparently contradicted himself.
Is this a major issue? To the degree that it might tend to show Martin’s forethought in removing it before confronting Zimmerman, it might be an issue of some importance. However, this can easily be cleared up in the preliminary hearing, or at trial should one ever occur. As I noted, such contradictions should not be present, but remember that this is, at this moment, only an apparent contradiction. We don’t have all of the SPD documents.
Regarding the most recent developments in the case, it’s clear the passport was nothing but an unintentional oversight and the judge has plainly accepted it as such. The prosecution has, once again, struck out. However, as I’ve noted from the beginning of the involvement of the Special Prosecutor, the approach of Ms. Corey and its other employees seems to be unprofessional and to indicate personal, emotional involvement. Its affidavit for charging lacked even rudimentary probable cause and did not prove the elements of the offense. In her statement to the press, Corey said that she’d observe legal ethics and actually observe Florida law (the minimum expected of any prosecutor, rather like observing that an English teacher actually plans to teach English), and referred to Martin’s parents as “sweet.” And in the motion to revoke bond, de la Rionda spoke of Mr. O’Mara’s representation to the court that the passport he turned over was Zimmerman’s only passport. De la Rionda wrote: “Nothing could be further from the truth.” This sort of hyperbolic editorial commentary is not professional legal writing, which is always focused on matters of fact and law.
The issue of the Internet account is not entirely resolved and remains unclear. There will no doubt soon be another bond hearing, and it is entirely possible Zimmerman will again be out of jail. Considering all of those that want him dead, no sheriff in his right mind would want Zimmerman in his jail for long, and surely the judge is aware of this, which is one more sign of the bizarre turns this case has taken. Those who believe this issue utterly destroys Zimmerman’s credibility might want to sit on those thoughts for awhile until the curtain truly comes down on this particular act of this—what? Tragedy? Farce? We’ll see.
I originally intended to address the issue of “DeeDee’s” statement in this article, but as often happens, other issues ran a bit long. With the help of a reader who prefers to remain anonymous, I’ve put together what I believe is an entirely accurate transcript of that interview, conducted by assistant Special Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. I say that I “believe” it because the task was unusually difficult. The reader who provided the foundation for the transcript got about 85% of it right; a truly Herculean effort. There are an enormous number of problems with that interview—including the fact that de la Rionda has little idea how to conduct an interview and constantly walks on Dee Dee’s statements–as you’ll soon see, but one of the most serious is that “DeeDee” not only affects a stereotypical “black” dialect (my older readers may recall the “Ebonics” controversy of the late 1990s), but also speaks with the common lazy diction of many teenagers, which often includes mumbling.
Before you begin screaming racism (sorry, all race cards are expired in this particular Internet ATM), understand that I am referring to the fact—not a prejudice—that some black people, particularly in some parts of the nation, speak with distinctive dialects which include shortening suffixes—”goin'” instead of “going,” or sometimes shorting it to “gon,” or instead of using the proper form of the most irregular verb—be (be, being, been, am, are, is, was, were), using only “be” as in “he be goin’ to the park,” or simply, “he gon’ da park.” Yes, some white people do it too. Dialects are common in all races, and as a teacher of high school English, I am daily accosted by lazy diction. This year I had a young man as white as Wonderbread who was apparently frightened by consonants as a child. “Is this due tomorrow?” might be rendered as “Ih is u uroh?” Add mumbling, and you see the problem.
To render a transcript of this kind accurately, a transcriber will inevitably have to listen to some passages repeatedly, and if they can be understood at all, then has the choice to render it absolutely accurately and be declared a racist, or clean it up to make it more readable. You’ll see my choice—which you can confirm for yourself by listening to the You Tube audio of the complete interview, on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Simply put, the interview requires a complete article, and I’ll provide the complete transcript with analysis.
In earlier articles, I suggested that putting Dee Dee on the witness stand would likely be dangerous for the prosecution. You have no idea—and apparently neither does the prosecution.
I hope to see you there!