State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman (3): Why the Case was brought

No one deserves more credit — or blame, depending on your point of view — for George Zimmerman being charged with murder than attorney Benjamin Crump. He represents the parents of the teenager Zimmerman shot dead last February in the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where both had been residing.

It was Crump’s unrelenting accusation that irregularities in the Sanford police and attorney’s office were deliberately blocking Zimmerman’s prosecution for the killing that sparked off the public demonstrations that eventuated in his current incarceration on a second degree murder charge.

Initially, Zimmerman was released on a $150,000 bond. That was subsequently revoked after the existence came to light of a Pay Pal account in their names containing a $210,000 defense fund that Zimmerman was recorded cryptically urging his wife to conceal in telephone calls made from jail.

Last Friday, outside a Seminole courthouse just before Zimmerman’s attorney was about to seek a review of his bail, Crump solemnly intoned before tv cameras:

George Zimmerman has very serious credibility issues. You can’t lie to the court and think that America’s going to forget about it. This is a trial that is going to be based on evidence and we want everyone to focus on the evidence.’

 Crump is the signatory of a letter written to the Department of Justice about the case last April on his firm’s stationary in which he stated:

 ‘[W] have obtained new information… of paramount importance in considering whether or not a fair and impartial investigation was conducted by the Sanford police. In particular, we learned that… within hours of the shooting…Sanford Chief of Police Bill Lee met with State Attorney Norman Wolfinger. We also believe that family members of shooter George Zimmerman were present at the police department. It was further revealed that State Attorney Norman Wolfinger and Chief Bill Lee overruled the recommendation of the lead homicide investigator… who recommended that George Zimmerman be arrested for manslaughter…’

 Wolfinger had already stepped down from the case after a  partner at his law firm had become Zimmerman’s counsel and Wolfinger sought to avoid any suggestion of a possible conflict of interest. Wolfinger, however, responded to Crump’s allegation by vehemently denying any such a meeting or communication had ever taken place. Urging the Department of Justice ‘to investigate and document that no such meeting or communication occurred’, Wolfinger said:

I have been encouraging those spreading the irresponsible rhetoric to stop and allow State Attorney Angela Corey to complete her work… Another falsehood distributed to the media does nothing to forward that process.

Sadly, Wolfinger’s urgings were disregarded, and Zimmerman now faces a murder charge despite always having claimed that he had shot Martin in self-defense after being set upon by him.

There are seemingly several corroborating eye-witnesses and forensic evidence which bears out Zimmerman’s claim. So why was the charge  brought against him?

In my first posting about the case, I suggested the reason was fear on the part of the Florida authorities that otherwise riots and public disorder might erupt, given how high feelings were running among its sizable African-American population on account of homicide charges not having been brought. The reason feelings were running so high among them was because of a narrative that had been spun by the media which had attributed Martin’s killing, and the failure of the Sanford authorities to prosecute Zimmerman for it, to anti-black prejudice on their part. Credit for planting the seeds of this narrative, and for so carefully nurturing it in the media, must go to the law firm of which Benjamin Crump is a senior partner.

It would, indeed, have been great folly of the Zimmermans were they to have sought to conceal from the authorities at the time of the initial bail application how much money was at their disposal. However, contrary to what Crump claimed last Friday, any complicity George Zimmerman might have had in such wrong-doing does not diminish the credibility of his explanation of why he shot Martin. The reason why was well stated by Zimmerman’s counsel Mark O’Mara at a press conference held after last Friday’s application for a bail review:

The point is he was attempting to trust the system, but then a prosecutor walks in from another county, moves in, charges him with second-degree murder and now he’s facing a life sentence… I don’t know what goes through a 28-year-old’s mind at that point. Yeah, he mistrusted you, he mistrusted the system, he allowed a lie to exist.

Despite the extreme slenderness of the basis for a homicide charge against Zimmerman, there is one straightforward explanation why Benjamin Crump and associates might have sought so unremittingly to whip up public outrage at the fact no charge had been brought against Zimmerman. This was to exert maximum pressure on the Florida authorities to bring one.

Likewise, there is a  straightforward explanation why they might have been so keen to see such a charge brought, despite lack of genuine basis for one. This  explanation would also account for why the law firm has consistently gone in for the irresponsible, inflammatory rhetoric of which Wolfinger complained.

As has been pointed out on the website of the Conservative Treehouse, whose coverage of the case has been exceptionally illuminating throughout, under Florida law:

‘Without an arrest there is no standing for a civil case awarding monetary damages to Tracey Martin and Sybrina Fuller [the mother of Trayvon Martin] against George Zimmerman, the HOA for The Retreat At Twin Lakes [where the fatal shooting occurred], and possibly the City of Sanford and all of their respective insurance companies. Without an arrest there is no implied probable cause which could lead to compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death…’

As the Huffington Post reported: ‘Crump and his law partner… are… personal injury attorneys who primarily handle wrongful death and negligence cases.’ When asked how, and if, he was being compensated by Trayvon Martin’s parents, Crump reportedly ‘dodge[d] the question’, replying:

‘You do it because it’s the right thing to do. As long as you make your goal to do right and do good, all the money and financial material stuff will come.’

 How curious it is that Crump and partners should have chosen to represent the parents of Trayvon Martin pro bono , when they might have chosen so to represent any of the thousands of other African-American parents whose children are murdered each year. In the vast majority of their cases, however, their children would have been killed by another African-American, and so there would have been no racial angle to exploit. As black economist Walter Williams has noted, of the 7,000 odd African-Americans murdered each year in the US, 94 per cent of their murderers are fellow African-Americans.

In light of that statistic, Crump and associates may have offered their services to Trayvon Martin’s parents, less to win them retributive justice for his death than lucrative damages in a civil suit for wrongful death, where standards of proof are lower and allegations of racial hostility towards African-Americans on the part of Zimmerman and the Sanford authorities could be made to yield the desired result, regardless of their merits.

David Conway

David Conway is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Westminster-based social policy think-tank Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society which he joined in 2004 and where he worked full-time as a senior research fellow for five years, after leaving academia following a thirty year career teaching Philosophy at various British universities. Professor Conway's numerous publications include A Farewell to Marx; Classical Liberalism: The Unvanquished Ideal; Free Market Feminism; The Rediscovery of Wisdom; In Defence of the Realm; A Nation of Immigrants? A Brief Demographic History of Britain; and Liberal Education and the National Curriculum.

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