The Trayvon Martin case is not expected to go to trial until June, 2013. The trial could be finished online before it starts in the courtroom if the defense has its way. Criminal defense attorney, Mark O’Mara has been vigorously defending his client in the media, particularly online through social media. The defense has put court pleadings in the web site dedicated for the defendant’s case, commented on the evidence and witnesses just in case any would be jurors need to read them. The Zimmerman defense has a Twitter account, web site and had a Facebook account dedicated to the case.
The prosecution has tried on two occasions to get a gag order issued in the case. On both occasions, two different judges have denied the gag order. The last one was denied last week. A gag order may be issued where either side of a case is releasing information publicly that may prejudice the case or the defendant. Judge Debra Nelson stated that there was no evidence of “an overriding pattern of prejudicial commentary that will overcome reasonable efforts to select a fair and impartial jury.”
One may wonder why the defense would go to such lengths to publicly try to present its case to the online community. Previously, the defendant, George Zimmerman conducted an on air interview. Now his attorney conducts interviews and conducts public relations through online accounts concerning the case. Anything that the defendant says either in court or publicly can and will be held against him. A Facebook or online forum generated by the defendant’s attorney does not have the same problem. The purpose that the defense is trying to attain is to get sympathetic jurors towards its case. Defense attorney O’Mara says he uses the online and interviews to counter the negative publicity against his client. Whether it’s a shrewd practice or a stupid one remains to be seen.
Speaking of online social media, the defense requested the Facebook page of Trayvon Martin in a possible attempt to see if there is any evidence to portray him as a violent teenager. That strategy may ultimately backfire. Trayvon Martin was coming from the store with a bag of Skittles and iced tea when he was profiled, followed and shot by George Zimmerman. Attempts to cast Trayvon Martin in a negative light may backfire against the defendant since George Zimmerman was the one disobeying instructions given by the 911 call center. Trayvon Martin was walking back to his father’s home in a gated neighborhood where he had a right to feel safe.
This week, the defense intends to start deposing the first responders to the scene of the crime. It will be interesting to see if Judge Nelson will allow the defense to comment on and post online the deposition transcript or excerpts of the deposition of any witnesses. That would be going too far in my opinion. The defense says it does not intend to identify witnesses that are deposed. Those who support Trayvon Martin’s family have always wondered if a fair trial could be held.
If the judge does not bar the defense from commenting online about any witnesses’ deposition testimony, should they attempt to do so, it will amount to the case being tried online before its start date of June 13, 2013. And if that happens, a trial could be over before it even starts—at least in the minds of the jurors. Of course, that’s what the defense is aiming to do.
Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Washington Times among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.