THE BLOG
06/12/2013 11:00 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

Let's NOT Go to the Tape

So the Trayvon Martin trial just began, and I have a sort of perverse stake in it. I have a novel out now as an e-book, called "The Tinderbox," and its primary story line involves the shooting (in 1989) of a black teenager in Miami by a Hispanic cop. I'm bad at marketing myself or my work, but it's hard not to hope I might make a few sales based on the similarities of the incident that resulted in George Zimmerman being tried for second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

But as of yesterday, I have some qualms about over-selling the similarities between my fictional case and the one that's unfolding in Florida now. The story as I told it (which was based on a trial I covered as a journalist) is infinitely complex, rife with ambiguities and contradictions. I wouldn't wish it on the best jury you could assemble. But as of yesterday I don't believe that the Martin case is of equal complexity, or should be a particularly difficult call for a jury of Zimmerman's peers.

Reading online coverage of the trial's opening, I found links to a video tape of an early police interrogation of Zimmerman. And Zimmerman's account that he acted in self-defense -- that he feared for his life and that he did not provoke the confrontation with Martin -- is very convincing, at least to me.

Zimmerman says Martin appeared out of nowhere just as he'd seemingly disappeared from Zimmerman's sight, that in the ensuing fight Martin broke Zimmerman's nose with an initial punch and pounded his head on the concrete, that blood streamed down Zimmerman's face and he feared he was losing consciousness, that he yelled futilely for help, and that Martin, astride him, told Zimmerman he was going to die. At that point, Zimmerman said, he reached for his gun, which Martin spotted and tried to grab before his antagonist could get it. But Zimmerman pulled it out and fired one shot into Martin's chest. "You got me," Martin said, according to Zimmerman's account.

I thought Zimmerman told his story with spontaneity and clarity. A resistance to tough cross-examination seems built-in in this strikingly coherent version of the incident. I've covered numerous trials as a journalist and -- especially in difficult murder cases -- I well remember how many peaks and valleys there were for both the defense and the prosecution, how murky such grim cases can seem as they unfold in testimony and legal parrying, how prolonged a confused, conflicted jury's deliberations.

Whether the Zimmerman interrogation tapes will be admissible in court is apparently a pending question. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I'm tempted to say that I hope they won't be, for the prosecution's sake, for the sake of a fair, nuanced trial. Because the tape I saw almost seems like a defense document, and they should be able to make their case well by other means.

I even think there's perhaps an ethical dimension here; one that goes way beyond my petty concern of how to compare the events of my novel with this sadly sensational case. There might be complaints about media improprieties during the long, attention-grabbing trial, but it seems to me that release of the interrogation tapes might have been a worse "sin" of disclosure than anything that might happen at trial. The prosecution had better make certain that no potential juror's seen any of those tapes.

Meanwhile, you can buy my novel on Amazon or Smashwords. (Sorry, that's heavy-handed marketing.)

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