In a blog post a few days back, I criticized the way the prosecutors were handling the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. I thought that this was a case that was very winnable for the State if they kept it simple – unarmed kid walking home from a store minding his own business and confronted and ultimately shot and killed by a man who was told by the police to leave the kid alone. Who the real aggressor was in that scenario seemed obvious to me and it seemed obvious as well that it could be portrayed that simply to the jury. But the State kept blowing it by not having a cogent theory and by putting up witnesses who hurt their case as much as they helped it.
As it turns out, however, the State may still have a chance thanks to Zimmerman’s defense team. First we had the three hour opening that included an ill-advised “knock-knock” joke. Then we had photos of the defense lawyer and his family foolishly celebrating with ice cream cones after the cross of the State’s first witness. But now they team has handed an even bigger present to the State – the ridiculous, needless and insensitive cross of the victim’s mother.
Mark O’Mara, one of Zimmerman’s criminal defense attorneys, today urged Sabrina Fulton, the mother of slain teen Trayvon Martin, to admit that her son may have “caused his own death.” Why? What is the purpose of that attack on a victim’s mother?
He also should have known how it was going to go once he started by apologizing to her for her loss and getting only this response: “You need to ask a question.”
The only important part of Ms. Fulton’s testimony was that she identified the voice screaming for help on the 911 audiotape of the incident as being her son’s voice. But instead of just doing a simple cross about how much she loved her son and would want to protect him and his memory, etc. he went way too far:
“If it was your son, in fact, screaming as you testified, that would suggest that it was Mr. Zimmerman’s fault that led to his death,” O’Mara observed. “And if it was not your son screaming, if it was, in fact, George Zimmerman then you would have to accept the probability that it was Trayvon Martin that caused his own death, correct?”
“I don’t understand your question,” Fulton said. “I heard my son screaming.” At that point, an inner voice should have spoken to O’Mara and said:
“Let it go, Mark -Let it go! Move on, Mark, leave it for summation.” But no, he felt he had to go for the jugular and continued:
“You certainly had to hope that was your son screaming even before you heard it, correct?” O’Mara continued.
“I didn’t hope for anything,” Fulton insisted. “I just simply listened to the tape.”
“I don’t meant to put you through this any more than necessary, but you certainly would hope your son, Trayvon Martin, did nothing that could have led to his own death, correct?”
“What I hope for is that this wouldn’t have ever happened and he would still be here,” Fulton shot back. “That’s my hope.” Note how her simple answer gets right back to the simple theory of the case. This incident should have never happened.
I suspect that if Ms. Fulton had as little class as the defense team, there would be an Instagram photo of her and her family having some ice cream cones. The fundamental rule of cross examination is don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. Have a purpose, have a goal. Accomplish it and move on.
Here it would have been easy to establish Ms. Fulton’s expected bias for it being Trayvon’s voice on the tape. Why put her through the ringer with these other pointless questions about what she hoped for before she heard the tape, etc. Then on summation you can argue that of course, his Mom would not want any evidence to suggest that Trayvon may have had a role in his own demise. Jurors rarely place great weight on a defendant’s or a victim’s mom’s testimony on these types of issues. But they do feel for the victim’s family and they certainly need no help from the defense to be made more protective or empathetic towards them.
At some level, I blame the cameras in the courtroom. Some defense lawyers feel like they need to get a zinger in for every witness or show that they are not scared of dealing with the tough witnesses and issues. They are on display and are trying to sell themselves to the media, the public and future clients. This cross should have been short and sweet but that type of cross is not fit for the national stage.
Both sides can’t let this case turn out to be a straight forward murder trial. They both need to turn it into theater, into Made For TV movie-worthy drama. Instead they are turning it into a circus.
May the least worse lawyer win.