Lawyers for George Zimmerman on Monday released a high-resolution, color photograph from the night of Trayvon Martin's killing, showing Mr. Zimmerman in the back of a police cruiser with a flattened and bloody nose.
While a black-and-white version of the image had been released earlier in the trial process, the release of the color image is part of the defense's effort to sway opinions about what happened on Feb. 27, when the community-watch volunteer fatally shot Trayvon.
The prosecution will likely say the picture is a mere distraction in a straightforward case, legal experts say. They will say an armed older man confronted then killed an innocent kid without any legal justification.
But the graphic photo may help support Zimmerman's contention that, no matter what happened before the altercation between the two, he had a legitimate self-defense claim, experts add.
"If you believe that your victim was unlawfully killed without any legal justification, this photo is something you wish didn't exist," says Eugene O'Donnell, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College in New York. "The photo certainly seems to show that [Zimmerman's] claim of injury is not completely contrived … and, remember, the law says you don't necessarily need to be afraid of dying [before defending yourself with deadly force], that fear of great bodily harm will do the trick."
On one hand, taking Zimmerman's case in full color to the public could yield dividends for a defense that has to infuse only reasonable doubt about whether Trayvon's death was murder or self-defense. Yet the strategy could also fuel divisiveness in a hyper-emotional case, which could turn jurors off, legal analysts suggest.
The release of the photo comes as Zimmerman's legal defense team is ratcheting up an aggressive pretrial PR campaign.
Just this week, Zimmerman launched a fundraising campaign in which he'll sign thank you notes to donors. The defense is also making moves that suggest it might explore the deliberations among police officers the night of Trayvon's death. In the end, they decided to release Zimmerman without charges.
The defense has indicated that it will call as witnesses several high-ranking officers involved in the decision, including then-Police Chief Bill Lee. Less clear is the role that one of the investigators, Chris Serino, might play as a witness. He wrote in a sworn affidavit that there was probable cause to arrest Zimmerman that night, but later reversed his opinion – and said he had been pressured into writing the affidavit. This week, he hired Jose Baez, Casey Anthony's defense attorney, to represent him.
The color photo of the bloody nose highlights how "it's going to be a case of framing," says Professor O'Donnell. "The defense is going to say that nothing [Zimmerman] did was illegal … and that the person who starts the actual aggression is Trayvon Martin."
For its part, the prosecution is going to argue that Zimmerman "has a gun and knows he has a gun … and basically knows when he precipitates [the encounter] that if the kid challenges him, he's going to kill him – that he's a man on a mission who has a weapon," adds O'Donnell. "Against that backdrop, the prosecution is going to say, 'A nose bleed is just a nose bleed.' "
Zimmerman's trial has been slated for June 10, 2013.