A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: George Zimmerman

Spike Lee’s Twitter Vigilantism

By LASIS Staff

Back in April 2012, then LASIS  reporter (and now Credit Suisse attorney) Jessica McElroy examined the death threats made against an elderly Florida couple (who as it happened, had nothing to do with the shooting of Trayvon Martin), after filmmaker Spike Lee tweeted their address to all his followers, under the mistaken belief that it was George Zimmerman’s address.

As Ms. McElroy put it: “Mr. Lee is lucky that nothing happened to the McClains or their property. As it is, the McClains could have sued Mr. Lee for his negligent actions, and if they prevailed, the court would have reached into his deep pockets for compensatory damages (money that the defendant pays to cover the out-of-pocket costs of the plaintiff’s injury) and possibly punitive damages (to punish Mr. Lee).”

Mr. Lee’s luck may have run out.

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The Cost of Acquittal

By Zachary Edelman

On February 26, 2012, while visiting his dad’s girlfriend with his father at the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Florida, a 17-year old high school student was involved in a violent confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer.

What exactly happened on that rainy night is unclear. What is clear is that the fight ended when the older man fired his 9mm Kel-Tec pistol into the teenager’s chest, killing him in minutes. The shooter was not immediately charged with a crime.

There was general outrage, with people feeling that the lack of a charge was due to the respective races of the killer and his victim –George Zimmerman, the older male, was Hispanic (or “White Hispanic”); the teenager, Trayvon Martin, was black. There were vigils, national protests, and threats of violence, as Mr. Zimmerman became the most hated man in America. It wasn’t until 44 days after the shooting, certainly as a result of public pressure, that Mr. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.

Mr. Zimmerman’s  trial began on June 24, 2013. His lawyers argued that Mr. Martin had been on top of their client bashing his head into the sidewalk; Mr. Zimmerman, they said, shot in self-defense, fearing for his life. The prosecution contended that the defendant acted with malice and premeditation, and that Mr. Zimmerman had racially profiled his victim. Following a 14-day trial, on July 13 a six-woman jury found Mr. Zimmerman not guilty.

Demonstrators throughout the country took to the streets (peacefully, despite dire warnings from Bill O’Reilly) to protest the verdict. Many feel that Mr. Zimmerman – literally — got away with murder.  Others believe the verdict was correct given the evidence presented – he was overcharged — but are morally uncomfortable with it.  All would probably agree that Mr. Zimmerman had caught a lucky break.

Since his acquittal, Mr. Zimmerman has mostly been in hiding. When he has emerged, his activities have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. And then there’s this:

He has directed his attorney, Mark O’Mara, to ask the state of Florida to reimburse him for his legal expenses from the trial totaling $200,000 to $300,000.

The chattering class is dismayed, astonished, and disgusted by his request, but is there precedent to support Mr. O’Mara’s request?

LASIS investigates.

(more…)

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Not a Stand Your Ground Case

By LASIS Staff

As explained by Dan Abrams, Chief Legal Affairs Anchor at ABC News, the George Zimmerman case did not end up being a Stand Your Ground case. When the defense “waived the Stand Your Ground hearing, this became a classic self-defense case in Florida. Are people going to talk about it? Yes. Are they going to be able to point to this case and say this is the example of Stand Your Ground? No.”

But Mr. Abrams was wrong about one thing.  People are going to point to this case and say this is an example of Stand Your Ground.  And not just any people: the New York Times.  We understand that this case has stirred emotions and we understand the nature of 24/7 news, and both may account for why journalists are getting so much wrong in reporting this story. But we expect more from the Times.

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The Injustice of Vigilante Justice

By Jessica McElroy

The shooting of Trayvon Martin has caused a national media frenzy, with pundits, celebrities, and even President Obama weighing in on the event that has sparked protests and outrage across the country. With emotions running high, it wasn’t long before understandably outraged people threatened violence.

The New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 bounty for the “citizen’s arrest” of Mr. Zimmerman., though the reward was offered to anyone who could capture him “dead or alive.”  The Department of Justice has yet to take any action against the group.

Then, on March 23,  Elaine and David McClain of Sanford, Florida, an elderly couple who had nothing to do with the tragedy, learned firsthand about the anger directed towards shooter George Zimmerman when filmmaker Spike Lee took to Twitter to tweet to his followers what he thought was Mr. Zimmerman’s address, but was in fact the McClains’ home address.

The negligent actions of Mr. Lee and the cash reward offered by the New Black Panther Party could have resulted in violence for the McCain and Zimmerman families.  LASIS examines the civil and criminal liability that could (and should) result.   (more…)

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