Another Perspective

Memo to the Zimmerman Judge

Judge Lester should recuse himself in the Zimmerman-Martin case.

By 7.9.12

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Honorable Kenneth R. Lester, Jr.
Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court
Seminole County, Florida

Dear Judge Lester:

I just finished reading the text of the "Order Setting Bail" regarding George Zimmerman, wherein you raised the bail to one million dollars. With great respect, I am moved to tell you that it was a distressing experience to this old retired lawyer because the order was so far removed from the actual facts of the case.

In that order you portrayed the defendant, George Zimmerman, as a clever, knowledgeable person who has "tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so." You described him as a fellow who lied to everyone, including his own counsel, about the state of his finances and accordingly was not to be believed on any matter. You waxed eloquent on the deception played upon you when Shellie Zimmerman, the defendant's wife, stated in court that she was not aware of any funds the couple had.

Your honor, you then went on to state: "While not exactly the same, this Court finds that deceiving the Court at a bond hearing is akin to violating a bond condition." Then, sir, you came perilously close to equating that deception to the act of committing a new offense while out on bond.

You went on to consider the defendant's past and present conduct and had to conclude that there was no record of previous convictions "or failure to appear at court proceedings." You reviewed the defense claims that Zimmerman's silence in the presence of his wife's false testimony in court was occasioned by his fear and confusion. You rejected those arguments and then jumped to this extraordinary conclusion: "Although there is no record of flight to avoid prosecution, this court finds that circumstances indicate that the Defendant was preparing to flee to avoid prosecution."

On the core issue of the weight of the evidence supporting the charge of second degree murder, you concluded that the State's case was "strong" and to support that finding you mentioned the infamous probable cause affidavit submitted by special prosecutor Angela Corey. In that affidavit and in testimony of one of her investigators, it appeared that "the Defendants actions were imminently dangerous to another and that he acted with a depraved mind regardless of human life." You agreed with those damning statements.

In my view, you are wrong on each of these important points, save one. The Zimmermans did mislead you on their finances and my hope is that you see that for what it is, a small part of the overall picture. Recall that George and Shellie have been the victims of what amounts to a national lynch mob, led in part by the president and the attorney general. They have received a flood of death threats from the Black Panthers and many others. They have been forced to leave their home in Sanford. So have other family members. George has had to leave his job and his college. They have been forced into hiding and he must now stay in a safe house. Think of how you would feel if you received constant death threats and had to leave everything with which you were familiar. In that situation, it is quite understandable that you would become secretive and be very cautious when asked about your finances in a court hearing.

These are terrified young people and you are treating them as clever pariahs and devious criminals. You are supposed to assure their dignity and their safety. You have sought to do neither. Just the opposite. For shame.

It is as if you had graduated from the Al Sharpton School of Law.

My review of all of the available evidence and information leads me to believe, as have other legal analysts, that the state's case is fatally weak. That has led me to conclude that George Zimmerman is innocent, which is an extraordinary public statement for an old lawyer and legal scholar to make -- since the case has not yet been tried. I am not saying merely that there is insufficient evidence for the state to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. I am saying innocent. Period.

Here are some of the facts that led to my conclusion. Zimmerman's claim of self defense is supported by almost every piece of information that has come to light. The first police officer on the scene arrived within minutes of the tragic shooting. He observed that Zimmerman was bloody and looked beaten. The second police officer arrived moments later and reported that Zimmerman told him that he had been screaming for help but that no one would help him. The fire department emergency medical technician told of how he had treated Zimmerman's head and face wounds. A subsequent doctor's report confirmed his injuries and stated that he suffered from a broken nose.

Such reports made within a short time of the incident, in my experience, are the most persuasive. There is no time to make up stories in such hurried circumstances. All of them support Zimmerman's claim of self defense. These statements made in the heat of the moment, or near to it, are much more compelling than the affidavit filed by Angela Corey months later, an affidavit you cited with approval.

None of the early statements by officials mentioned any hint of racial bias in any comment made by the defendant.

Trayvon Martin was killed with one shot to the chest fired at close range. This was consistent with Zimmerman's description of the encounter. Had Zimmerman been intent on stalking and killing the young man, he could have taken out his pistol and fired several shots from a distance, perhaps hitting him in the back.

On the evening of the sad event, George Zimmerman agreed to voluntarily take a CVSA Truth Verification test in the Sanford police station. This is a form of lie detector test used by many police departments. While not ordinarily admissible in a formal court trial, as you know, it does help guide police and prosecution officials in determining whether or not to proceed with an arrest and prosecution in the early stages of a case. The confidential report gives the examiner four choices to describe how the subject fared. The examiner checked the fourth and highest level: "The examinee has told substantially the complete truth in regards to this examination." Such evidence quite probably figured in the decision by the police chief and the then-prosecutor to drop the case, at least initially.

It is of major significance that, in the early stages, the only official to question Zimmerman's racial tolerance and also his innocence was lead detective Christopher Serino. Within a few days he practically accused Zimmerman of being a bigot and also urged that he be charged with manslaughter. Recently, Serino was reduced to a patrolman on the night shift. The change was labeled as voluntary but there is some new information that his role in the case, on numerous fronts, has been quietly discredited.

Your honor, I am baffled to try to understand your conclusion that Zimmerman was preparing to flee the jurisdiction. That is simply bizarre. Adam Vincent, a Seminole County probation officer, testified, "We never had any problems from Mr. Zimmerman while he was under our supervision…. For all intents and purposes he was a model client."

I have been forced to conclude that like Christopher Serino and Angela Corey, you have made it obvious that in your mind George Zimmerman is guilty of second degree murder. It would help restore my faith in the legal profession, which faith is a cornerstone of my very being, if you recused yourself from the case -- and moreover issued an apology to all concerned for the misleading contents of the bail order.

With sadness and deep concern,

Arnold S. Trebach

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About the Author
Arnold S. Trebach, J.D., Ph.D., the author of several books, is professor emeritus of public affairs, American University. He was involved as a front line protester in the original civil rights movement and has been a federal civil rights official.