Regular readers will find the most recent revelation—a color digital picture of George Zimmerman shortly after being assaulted by Trayvon Martin—to be illustrative of truths they have known, but surely no surprise. From the early days of my coverage of this case, there has been no doubt that Zimmerman suffered head and facial injuries, including a broken nose. These injuries have been documented by the EMTs that treated Zimmerman, Sanford police officers, and Zimmerman’s physician the day following the incident. They have also been ignored, explained away or minimized by the media, the prosecution, and other supporters of the narrative.
Most people familiar with the case have seen the black and white image—obviously produced by a copier—of Zimmerman’s facial injuries, however, only recently has the defense been able to obtain and disseminate the digital color original which makes the seriousness and extent of Zimmerman’s facial injuries far more obvious. Zimmerman’s nose was clearly badly broken and a very short time after the incident, badly swollen.
In addition, a much clearer color image of the fresh and still-bleeding injuries on the back of Zimmerman’s head has been made available. As I’ve noted in past updates, the prosecution can be expected to slow-roll discovery, even to withhold exculpatory information from the defense; that observation appears to have been accurate. Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, told Fox News:
“That’s really one of my frustrations. They originally submitted a black and white photo so we asked for a color copy. They then submitted a color photo copy that was drab’…
‘We kept asking for a digital copy and then we had to file a motion [in court] to have it submitted.’
O’Mara says that the discovery phase has been rife with issues.
‘It just seems like it’s been pulling teeth for discovery in this case,’ he said.”
A recent motion filed by O’Mara also illustrates the issue. O’Mara wrote that during his deposition, Sanford Police Captain Robert O’Connor testified he spoke with Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda in early November, 2012. O’Connor told de la Rionda that he spoke with Sanford Police Investigator William Erwin in early October, 2012. Erwin told O’Connor that he had been present at the Sanford PD when then-lead investigator Christopher Serino (since “transferred” to patrol—Update 13) played for Tracy Martin (Trayvon’s father) the 911 tape in which screams for help were audible. Erwin, with Serino, heard Mr. Martin say that the screams were not those of Trayvon Martin. O’Mara’s motion continued:
“Investigator Erwin heard this acknowledgement by Mr. Martin, and is therefore a significant witness to corroborate the statement of Mr. Martin that those screams he heard were not those of his son, Trayvon Martin.”
This is, obviously, a significant issue in the case. If the person screaming is not Trayvon Martin, there is only one other possibility: it’s George Zimmerman, as Zimmerman has always maintained. Equally obviously, independently establishing this through Martin’s father would strengthen Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. The prosecution surely understands this, and as with the color photos, they have withheld this information from the defense. O’Mara continued:
“To date, the State Attorney’s Office has failed to disclose this exculpatory information to the defense, even though Mr. de la Rionda was aware of it no less than two weeks before the deposition of Captain O’Connor…But for the straightforwardness with which Captain O’Connor answered the questions, this information may still exist undisclosed to the defense.”
Bryan Preston, Austin editor of PJ Media (full disclosure: I am a PJ Media contributor) posted a related article on 12-04-12. Preston’s concern revolves around the impressions transmitted by the poor quality black and white copy of the original digital color photograph of Zimmerman’s face as opposed to the color original. Regarding the black and white image he writes:
“Can you tell how old George Zimmerman is? To me, he looks like he could be any age from 20 to more than 50. But the graininess and lack of visible hair on the top of his head suggest that he is an older man.
The lack of color in the photo obscures Zimmerman’s race as well. As a friend of mine pointed out to me, the man in that photo is brighter in complexion than the man is in reality. The black and white photo renders Zimmerman a pale white. The whites of his eyes and his facial skin are nearly the same tone. The contrast makes his face emerge harshly from the shadows behind him.
The man in the photo above looks somewhat menacing. The misshapen nose suggests a history of brawls, the color having been drained away, taking with it the reds and purples indicating a fresh wound from a very recent attack. The vacant look in his eyes suggests no remorse for the killing of a young man, which the man in the photo had done moments before the photo was taken.
‘This man might be a thug.’ That’s the nonverbal message of the photo above.”
Regarding the color original, Preston writes:
“Seen in color, the ‘thug’ who might be, becomes a wounded young man. Shock and fear ring his eyes. There may be small wounds or acne on his forehead. Blood drips from his nose and his lip appears to be busted open. His nose appears to be freshly broken. Instead of being a white ghoul emerging from shadows, he is a wounded man sitting in a car after a life changing, possibly life destroying, event has happened. The ghoul has flesh and blood after all. He bleeds.”
Preston’s assertion is that someone manufactured the black and white image for the express purpose of manipulating the case, and if the color image had been available from the beginning, much might have been different:
“Had the color photo been available in the days after Martin’s unfortunate death, there might never have been a backlash against the Sanford police. There might never have been a national movement to arrest and prosecute Zimmerman. President Obama might never have taken sides with the New Black Panthers, who put a bounty on Zimmerman’s head, and with the usual tragedy trolls who always seek to convert corpses into political talking points. The NBC News edit that made Zimmerman sound racist could have been countered with a color photo showing Zimmerman’s wounds, corroborating his explanation of what happened that night. But someone chose to hide the color photo and manufacture the black and white, so that that photo would tell a different story.”
Preston is essentially correct. Let’s examine the relevant issues of police procedure and criminal justice practice.
POLICE PHOTOGRAPHY AND EVIDENCE PROCEDURES:
I was an active-duty police officer in the days when digital photography was in its infancy. The highest quality, most expensive digital cameras featured less than a single megapixel of resolution and image processing software was rudimentary by contemporary standards. Even this weak technology was available only in my final days as a police officer. Digital photography was not yet accepted by the criminal justice system which is often slow to adopt new technologies, in part because cops aren’t generally fond of change, because of the expense, but also because such adoption often requires changes in law, and in practice by the courts and the rest of the criminal justice system.
Being a crime scene photographer was among my many police assignments. In those ancient days, all photographs were made on 35mm color film, and copies for discovery or any other reason were made from the original negatives, which were kept and treated as evidence. For the initial round of discovery, Xerox copies would be made of any color photographs, and copies from the negatives would be provided later as a matter of normal procedure. Such copies usually took at least a week or more so I could get the new copies from the photo lab, handle all necessary evidentiary procedures, and ensure the defense received all of the photos, omitting nothing.
With digital photography, everything changed. There was no longer a chain of evidence involving negatives or actual prints, and if the police chose, discovery of photos could entail nothing more complex than sending the involved jpeg images via e-mail. “Prints” were displayed on a computer monitor first, and only later—if ever–printed on plain or photo paper, included in a Power Point presentation, or merely projected on a wall. The chain of evidence consisted of the officer that took the photographs testifying that he took them, swearing that they had not been altered in any way, and affirming they fairly and accurately represented what he originally photographed.
THE TRIAL IN DUEL VENUES:
As I’ve previously noted, this case is being simultaneously tried in two domains or venues: in the court of criminal justice and in the court of public opinion. To date, it is the latter court that has been far more important and which has had the greatest influence. Prosecutor Angela Corey has shamelessly played to that court while repeatedly misrepresenting and/or omitting fact and law and even threatening those who have dared point out her carelessness with legal practice and ethics. As I pointed out in Update 9.4, Corey unsuccessfully attempted to harm Professor Alan Dershowitz’s employment with Harvard because of his criticism of her actions.
It is in dealing with these issues that Bryan Preston is absolutely right, yet slightly off the evidentiary trail. President and Mrs. Obama’s shameless racial pandering in this case, the involvement of a wide variety of race baiters, the grotesquely false and biased pronouncements of CNN, NBC and a variety of other media outlets, to name a few, have all been designed to play to the court of public opinion while simultaneously having an effect on the real courts, and the power of these efforts—their potential to warp justice to socio-political ends—should never be underestimated.
However, I suspect the initial production only of the black and white facial image of Zimmerman is somewhat less sinister than Preston supposes. Conversely, as time passed, the prejudicial effect of withholding the original color images is fully as ugly, cruel, even potentially criminal, as Preston charges.
Let’s return to Fox News for a bit of background information:
“Zimmerman’s lawyers said the photocopy of the image was provided by the prosecutors in the first round of discovery. The high-resolution digital file was finally provided to the defense on Oct. 29, and defense attorneys have said they will make all public documents related to the case available on their website.”
Unfortunately, we don’t know if this means the local prosecutor’s office or Angela Corey, who took over the case only later. In either event, what likely happened–at least initially–is neither sinister nor mysterious.
The Sanford prosecutor’s office would have received all of its materials directly from those that produced them: the Sanford Police. Normally, the detectives involved would instruct the Sanford Police records division to make copies of all relevant case files—which would include photographs—and forward them to the prosecutor. In this case, the original case file would probably include color prints of relevant digital photos, which would simply have been reproduced on the copy machine available. If that machine were like most copiers I’ve seen in police agencies, the quality of copies it made would account for the poor quality of the black and white image of Zimmerman’s face. No additional manipulation would have been necessary to produce that image. A single run through the copier would have done the trick. It is therefore unlikely anyone at the Sanford Police Department produced that photo as a means of harming George Zimmerman as the case had not yet been the subject of national hysteria.
It is after the case was turned over to Angela Corey that things became interesting, interesting as in the ancient Chinese curse that intones: “May you live in interesting times.” All Sanford Police case files, including colored images—print and digital (jpegs)–and all related documents from the local prosecutors office, would have been turned over to Ms. Corey, whose unprofessional hostility toward George Zimmerman and whose questionable legal ethics have been repeatedly laid bare through her actions and those of her office.
As Mr. O’Mara has asserted, and as I expected, Ms. Corey’s office appears to have actually and knowingly withheld exculpatory evidence, but at the least, they seem to have made obtaining any evidence favorable to Zimmerman a slow and difficult process. Having had possession of all of the evidence in the case for many months, any ethical and legal failures can be reasonably laid at Ms. Corey’s feet.
As Mr. O’Mara has made clear, he has, for many months, asked for original color photographs, and received them only through court order. In normal cases, the involvement of al judge is not necessary. The prosecution knows they must give the defense everything they have, and do so without being ordered by a judge. They do this willingly because if they have a valid and provable case—and ethical prosecutors will not proceed without one—there is nothing to be gained by delay and obfuscation. In fact, the evidence should help to convince the defense that their case is—if not hopeless—surely an uphill slog. Such prosecutors generally say little or nothing to the press about any case, saving their words for the courtroom.
Contrast this with what we know about the conduct of Ms. Corey’s office in this case. As Bryan Preston concluded:
“I keep using that word — manufacture — deliberately, because that is what was done here. Someone took the high resolution digital original and printed it out, then ran it through a copy machine several times to introduce noise, and remove the color and reduce the quality. They may have also taken it into Photoshop to manipulate its contrast and add additional noise. That is manufacturing.
In doing all of this, they deliberately stripped George Zimmerman of his humanity.
Who did this? For what purpose?
Did someone in a position of authority take a look at George Zimmerman’s name, which suggests an older white male rather than a younger Hispanic, then take a look at this young, black victim, and decide to scapegoat Zimmerman deliberately because of the narrative that his name and Trayvon Martin’s racial background provided?”
Was the original black and white facial image “manufactured” in the manner suggested by Preston? It’s possible, but more likely it was simply the result of an old, tired copier not designed to accurately reproduce photographic images in the first place.
Indeed, the effect was to make Zimmerman look much older, to obscure his racial identity—which made it plausible for the media to invent a new race and to call Zimmerman a “white-Hispanic”—to portray him as much older, and to make him appear thuggish, all of which beautifully fit the media narrative of the much older, much heavier, much larger white man murdering a slight, smiling, cherubic, Skittles-eating black child.
This surely was not lost on Ms. Corey and Mr. de la Rionda and they have obviously done all they can to ensure this fiction has been maintained. The purpose? To maintain the viability of the narrative in the court of public opinion for as long as possible and to ensure the maximum spillover effect on the real courts and any potential jury pool.
Was Zimmerman scapegoated? Of course. In contemporary identity politics, a black victim trumps a Hispanic victim with a white-sounding name any day of the week.
Despite the correct and just decision of the local prosecutor not to lodge charges against Zimmerman, a higher level of politics, fueled in part by the President of the United States and abetted by the Federal Department of Justice, took over, making Zimmerman’s arrest a foregone conclusion. The fact that the FBI’s investigation found no real evidence of racial animus in Zimmerman’s background—quite the opposite—should not be taken as absolute evidence that no federal charges will be brought against Zimmerman. In fact, should Zimmerman’s self-defense claim prevail in the Florida courts (as I believe it must), I would be surprised indeed if the Holder DOJ simply let the case drop. After all, Trayvon Martin was one of the AG’s “people,” and there will surely still be some racial hay to be made for the benefit of our “post-racial president” and his supporters.
As for George and Shellie Zimmerman, at least they’re still alive. By the time all of their legal troubles are resolved, even that will likely be cold comfort.