Angela Corey and her team of prosecutors must know something that the rest of us don't.
In order to charge George Zimmerman with second-degree murder, local defense attorneys say, there must be something showing that Zimmerman acted with a "depraved mind" when he shot Trayvon Martin. And, to negate a defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law, there must be evidence that Zimmerman attacked Martin first.
"I don't think she can prove that he acted with a depraved mind or an evil intent," said Denis de Vlaming, a Clearwater defense attorney. "That's a tremendously high burden for the facts as I know them."
Nevertheless, de Vlaming said he wasn't surprised Corey went for a murder charge.
In a highly scrutinized case complete with racial overtones and a public outcry for justice, the prosecutor went for the most serious charge she could, de Vlaming said. Even if a jury does not buy murder, they might settle on a lesser charge of manslaughter.
"It gives the jury some options," said Pinellas defense attorney Jay Hebert. "Typically it is difficult to prove a second-degree murder case where the person doesn't know the other person."
While second-degree murder requires prosecutors prove the "depraved mind" standard, manslaughter only requires they prove recklessness — that a defendant must have known the risks associated with his actions and done them anyway.
Was George Zimmerman simply acting in a reckless manner that led to his gun being fired? Or were his intentions more sinister, the result of a lack of regard for human life? Those are the questions a jury must answer.
But no matter the charge, ultimately only one question matters.
"The most critical issue in this case is 'who struck who first?' " said Stephen Romine, an attorney for de Vlaming's firm. "That part, so far, we haven't really heard anything about."
If Corey presents evidence showing that Zimmerman initiated a physical attack against Martin, "stand your ground" can't apply, Romine said. But if Martin attacked Zimmerman first, the shooting could easily be ruled justified.
It doesn't matter that Zimmerman followed Martin. It doesn't matter what words were exchanged. All that matters is which person began the physical confrontation.
"As long as he (Zimmerman) wasn't doing anything illegal, 'stand your ground' applies," Romine said. "He still has a right not to be attacked."
From a defense perspective, combating the charge against Zimmerman is a matter of proving that he was protecting his own life when he shot Martin, de Vlaming said.
"In my opinion, it's going to be won or lost on forensics," de Vlaming said. "I would align as much forensic experience as I could possibly find on the issues."
That means finding witnesses — audio experts who can analyze the 911 calls, forensic pathologists who can examine Martin's wounds, and any witnesses who may have seen the attack.
But all the evidence presented publicly thus far has not provided a definitive answer of how the scuffle between Martin and Zimmerman transpired.
"It will be interesting to see what they have," Romine said. "Whatever evidence the prosecutor arrested him on, at some point the rest of the public will see it. What we all have to hope for is that the decisions being made are being made on the evidence and not on the uproar."
Reach Dan Sullivan at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]