Should the police file on the man who killed Trayvon Martin stay secret?
Prosecutors in the Trayvon Martin case have presented their case against George Zimmerman's to the defense, increasing pressure on the judge to rule on their request to keep the evidence secret.
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The shooting, and the decision by local police not to arrest Zimmerman, led to a national uproar that touched off racial tensions and questions about liberalized self-defense laws.Skip to next paragraph
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A special prosecutor arrested Zimmerman on April 20, six weeks after the shooting, alleging that he “profiled” Martin as a criminal and “confronted” the boy without evidence that he was doing anything wrong. At the time, Martin was returning to the house where his dad was staying after having bought a Snapple iced tea and Skittles.
So far, 911 tapes and even a recorded scream before the shot rang out have been largely inconclusive as to who was fearing for his life, and when, during the confrontation. Some experts have said it was Martin calling for help, but there’s also evidence that Zimmerman’s head was being beaten against concrete before he fired the shot.
Even as the case itself develops, the legal nuances around the case are shifting. The Justice Department is reportedly considering a hate-crime charge against Zimmerman, which could come if they determine that Zimmerman profiled and attacked Martin because of his race. A hate-crime conviction added onto a murder conviction could put the death penalty into play.
Over Mother’s Day weekend, Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mom, joined a national effort to draw attention to so-called Stand Your Ground laws in 26 states, laws which remove the duty to retreat from trouble even in public places. Florida’s landmark Stand Your Ground law has been cited as part of the dynamics of the Martin case, though it’s not yet clear whether Zimmerman will claim it as part of his defense.
At the same time, two recent Stand Your Ground defenses recently failed in Florida, including that of a woman, Marissa Alexander, who received 20 years in jail after firing a gun in aggression near her children and a husband with a record of spousal abuse.
Both defense attorneys and prosecutors in the Martin case have raised concerns about the names of witnesses being released to the press, as it could affect their willingness to testify.
A judge might consider keeping secret specific pieces of evidence or the names of certain witnesses. But if constitutional tradition is any guide, the bulk of the prosecution’s case against Zimmerman will soon be public.
“If you’re starting to lean toward having secret witnesses, you’re really entering constitutionally dubious territory,” says the University of Missouri’s Davis. “We’re a nation that doesn’t like secret witnesses bringing cases against defendants.”
Meanwhile, tensions remain high around the case. Just this week, a Miami fireman, Brian Beckmann, was demoted for a Facebook comment slamming Trayvon’s parents, and police were called to the office of Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, on Monday after a report of a “credible threat” against the lawyer.
An entrepreneur quickly sold out a stockpile of shooting targets depicting Martin – or at least a black man in a hoodie holding iced tea and Skittles. And the entire Zimmerman clan, including his mother and father and wife, have meanwhile moved to another state to live undercover after Zimmerman posted bond in late April, fearing every day, the elder Zimmerman has said, for their lives.
IN PICTURES: Trayvon Martin