Last week brought major developments in the George Zimmerman case, from the cancellation of the grand jury, to the bizarre press conference by Zimmerman's former "attorneys" to the announcement of second-degree murder charges. While charging him was an important first step, the road to a conviction will no doubt be an uphill battle for prosecutors. Jon Leiberman, frequent CNN contributor and former America's Most Wanted correspondent, and I take a look at what's next and what could happen in a case that has everyone watching.
Why was George Zimmerman charged with 2nd degree murder instead of manslaughter?
When special prosecutor Angela Corey announced she'd be charging him with second-degree murder, it came as a surprise because it seemed like all signs were pointing towards manslaughter. Now, she'll have to prove Zimmerman intentionally killed Trayvon Martin, as opposed to the lesser standard, which would be easier to prove to a jury. Knowing the political ramifications Corey faces should she lose the case, she definitely took a risk by charging him with second-degree murder, which leads us to believe there has to be evidence out there that we don't know about yet that convinced her she'd be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had the intent to kill. Whether or not there is some smoking gun here that proves this, it was still a wise strategy on Corey's part, as a jury can always find him not guilty of second-degree murder but guilty of manslaughter. A jury can never find someone guilty of a higher charge, but they can always find him guilty of a lesser charge, so in a sense, she's covering her bases.
Will Judge Jessica Recksiedler recuse herself?
Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, who was randomly assigned to this case, revealed her husband works with an attorney who George Zimmerman originally approached to represent him. Zimmerman reached out to Mark NeJame, who turned down the case due to his position as a CNN commentator and referred Zimmerman to his current attorney, Mark O'Mara. Recksiedler has asked O'Mara and prosecutors to file motions with their views on the possible conflict ahead of Friday's bond hearing. It's not likely the judge will be recused as this doesn't seem like enough of a conflict of interest to merit it. However, it was a good move to make both sides aware of this potential conflict early on. Had this been revealed later on down the line, it could have posed a threat towards the integrity of the case. Recksiedler will probably stay on the case, though it is worth noting she didn't automatically recuse herself, but instead asked both sides to file motions if they feel it's a conflict. No judge with higher career aspirations would turn down a major case like this.
Will George Zimmerman be released on bond?
He's set to face the judge Friday and his attorney Mark O'Mara is expected to ask the judge to set a reasonable bond, allowing him to remain free on bail. There are several issues the judge will have to consider when making her decision, mainly, is he a flight risk? From the picture Zimmerman's former attorneys, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner, painted in their wacky press conference last Tuesday, it seemed as if Zimmerman very well could be a flight risk. They had lost contact with their client and alluded to the fact that he wasn't even in the state of Florida. However, it's unlikely at this point that Zimmerman indeed is a flight risk, especially since his face is right now one of the most recognizable in the country. The judge will probably set a reasonable bail, as the defense will make a strong case he's not a danger to the community nor a flight risk. Yet, if the judge does agree to allow Zimmerman to post bond, I'm betting he'll have to wear an ankle-monitoring bracelet, a la Lindsay Lohan, to track his location. Still, O'Mara will have to consider whether his client is safer behind bars. Yes, allowing him to remain free on bail is better for his mental health, but definitely poses a risk in terms of his physical safety. O'Mara is likely currently looking into locations where his client can stay should the judge grant bail, but if Zimmerman haters were threatening the home they believed to be his parents just a few weeks ago, I can only imagine what could happen if Zimmerman leaves the safety of solitary confinement.
Will the case be dismissed due to Stand Your Ground?
The key to this case is the evidentiary hearing, where O'Mara will likely use the Stand Your Ground defense to try to get the case dismissed before it reaches a jury. Traditionally in Florida, cases similar to this have been dismissed based on the defense that under state law if someone is in a place they have a right to be and feels reasonably threatened with bodily harm, they can use deadly force. While using this defense would force Zimmerman to testify about the night of the shooting, which could be risky, it is the best defense he has. The law is very subjective and Zimmerman will have to convince a judge he felt reasonably threatened that night. Still, due to the complex nature of the case and the high public pressure, I doubt the case will be dismissed ahead of a jury trial. Another likely strategy the defense could use to try to get the case dismissed is calling the integrity of the initial police investigation into question. Mark O'Mara is going to exploit every chink in the armor. Based off of what has been released to the public, the perception is that the police fumbled their initial investigation; they never took Zimmerman to a doctor to verify the broken nose and head injury he claims he sustained, they didn't interview Trayvon's girlfriend immediately, it seems as though they didn't look for eye witnesses. Now, it may just be the public's perception, or it may be the initial investigation in fact was compromised. Either way, O'Mara will definitely call this into question in an attempt to get his client off.
Can George Zimmerman get a fair trial?
Unless you've been living under a rock the last two months, everyone at this point knows the story of Trayvon Martin. So finding twelve impartial jurors will definitely be a challenge, but I don't think it's out of the question. While attorneys may be unable to find jurors who have never heard of the case, the key is finding jurors who don't have preconceived thoughts or notions about the case. The key is finding jurors who haven't already made up their mind based on what's been released to the media. Tensions are so high in Sanford that Mark O'Mara will have to determine whether he's more likely to find an impartial jury in another jurisdiction. He'll have to weigh the option of having the case moved or busing in jurors from another location. He'll have to look at other possible jurisdictions, their populations, their ethnic breakdowns, and if he makes a strong argument that a change of venue is key to a fair trial, it likely could happen.