Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Records show George Zimmerman got D's in criminal justice classes

Prosecutors trying George Zimmerman on a second-degree murder charge accidentally released protected evidence Thursday, sending journalists and bloggers around the nation private academic transcripts showing that the neighborhood watch volunteer who aspired to become a judge did poorly on the classes in his major, criminal justice.

The prosecution also accidentally released a photo of Trayvon Martin's body, which both sides in the case had agreed to keep from public view. The corpse photo was a grainy cellphone picture taken in the dark by one of the people who lives near the shooting scene. It was posted Thursday on blogs that subscribe to the Duval County State Attorney's media email list.

Prosecutors recalled an email which contained Zimmerman's academic records from his Virginia high school and Seminole State College, in Sanford, where he studied criminal justice, but many media outlets had already reviewed the material. The records show Zimmerman's mediocre grades had led to academic probation.

He got D's in Introduction to Criminal Justice and Juvenile Delinquency, and a C in a course called Evil Minds —Violent Predators. He failed algebra and astronomy and had been placed on academic probation in 2011.

At one point, his grade-point average dropped to .5. His A's in English, criminal litigation and a Marriage and Family class boosted his overall G.P.A. to 2.3.

In late 2011, he was declined an associate's degree because he had failed a class and did not have the credits to graduate. He was expelled from the school about three weeks after the killing, when the struggling student suddenly became the focus of a national media firestorm for having killed an unarmed teenager.

Zimmerman claimed he shot Trayvon in self-defense after the Miami Gardens teen attacked him.

Legal experts said prosecutors probably reviewed Zimmerman's school records because they could suggest that he had enough knowledge of criminal justice to concoct a self defense claim on the fly.

"To the extent that he had some knowledge of self defense, he would have been able to put together a story that made some sense," said Frederick Leatherman, a retired Seattle defense lawyer and legal-issues blogger who has reviewed all the Zimmerman case evidence. "As he conjured up this story, he didn't know that a lot of the forensics would not match."

Zimmerman's defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, declined to comment about the accidental release of evidence Thursday. A spokeswoman for State Attorney Angela Corey released a statement saying the documents were inadvertently released without being reviewed, and asked reporters not to publish them because school records are exempt from Florida's public-records law.

O'Mara posted an announcement on his website Thursday confirming that he will seek a "stand your ground" hearing for his client. "Stand your ground" is the controversial state law that removes Floridians' duty to retreat from dangerous situations if they believe they're at risk of great harm.

"Now that the State has released the majority of their discovery, the defense asserts that there is clear support for a strong claim of self-defense," the statement said.

The hearing, the statement said, would function as a "mini trial" in which the defense will present the same arguments, witnesses, experts, and evidence that would be put forward at trial. The judge would decide whether the case should proceed, or if Zimmerman should be granted both criminal and civil immunity.

Unlike a criminal trial, where prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in this hearing the burden would be on the defense to show that Zimmerman reasonably believed that the use of his weapon was necessary to "prevent great bodily harm to himself at the hands of Trayvon Martin," the statement said.

Miami defense lawyer Emilia Diaz-Fox said O'Mara may have a rough road ahead, particularly because a police call recorded Zimmerman getting out of his car to follow Trayvon.

Diaz-Fox represented a client who waved a pistol at someone who punched him in the face during a road-rage incident. The client found himself charged with attempted second-degree murder, even though he was seated in his car when the man attacked him.

A circuit judge declined his "stand your ground" motion, and the Third District Court of Appeal agreed. After a three-year legal battle, the Miami-Dade State Attorney dropped the charges.

" 'Stand your ground' is no shoo-in," she said. "You have to have very strong facts to be able to prevail."

Comments
Police: St. Petersburg suspect, caught on video stealing safe, in custody

Police: St. Petersburg suspect, caught on video stealing safe, in custody

ST. PETERSBURG — It took more than an hour for a St. Petersburg man to break into a restaurant last week and use a hammer and crowbar to wrestle a safe from the wall before freeing in and dragging it through the back and into his car, according to po...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Search underway for North Carolina man missing from Tampa-based Carnival Paradise

Search underway for North Carolina man missing from Tampa-based Carnival Paradise

The U.S. Coast Guard was searching Tuesday for a 50-year-old North Carolina man who reportedly fell off a Tampa-based cruise ship.The Coast Guard Key West received a call from the cruise ship Carnival Paradise about 10 a.m. saying the man, Brian Lamo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Deputies: 10th-grader brings loaded gun to Bradenton high school

Deputies: 10th-grader brings loaded gun to Bradenton high school

A Bradenton Bayshore High School student faces charges after he brought a gun on campus on Tuesday, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.Around 11:45 a.m., school resource officers were alerted by school staff that the student, a 10th-gra...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Police swarm Panama City street in apparent shootout

Police swarm Panama City street in apparent shootout

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Multiple law enforcement agencies have surrounded a Panama City apartment building where an active shooter is barricaded inside.City spokeswoman Caitlyn Lawrence says it’s still an active situation. The suspect has been firing on ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

TAMPA — A 22-year-old FedEx driver died on Interstate 4 Tuesday when a tire blew out on his freight truck, which veered into the path of a Chevrolet Volt, state troopers said. Two teen girls in the Volt survived the 10:21 a.m. crash. A photo shows ci...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Crime in Florida, Tampa Bay region decreased in 2017, data show

Crime in Florida, Tampa Bay region decreased in 2017, data show

Crime in Florida reached a 47-year low in 2017, according to state figures released Tuesday and touted as a "major announcement" by a Republican governor determined to win a U.S. Senate seat. The state’s total crime rate dropped by 6 percent from 201...
Updated: 7 hours ago

FDLE: Pasco couple scammed elderly employer out of $480,000

TAMPA — A Pasco County couple face dozens of charges after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they stole more than $480,000 from their elderly employer.Chet Alan Ragsdale, 45, was arrested Monday on 28 counts of grand theft, 25 counts of ...
Published: 05/21/18
4 sinkholes open in The Villages retirement community

4 sinkholes open in The Villages retirement community

THE VILLAGES — Four sinkholes have opened up in a fast-growing retirement community in Florida, including one in front of a home that was abandoned months ago because of an earlier sinkhole. A spokeswoman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office says t...
Published: 05/21/18
Florida man caught walking around naked with a bottle of cooking oil, deputies say

Florida man caught walking around naked with a bottle of cooking oil, deputies say

A Gulf Breeze man walked around a neighborhood naked while carrying a bottle of cooking oil, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s deputies said.The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a homeowner at 8:30 p.m. on May 17 saying home security...
Published: 05/21/18
A man punched a pregnant, deaf woman and her service dog on a plane ride to Florida, police say

A man punched a pregnant, deaf woman and her service dog on a plane ride to Florida, police say

A man is accused of attacking a deaf couple and their service dog while they were travelling on a plane headed toward Orlando.The incident happened as Matthew Silvay, 30, and Hazel Ramirez, 21, were on Frontier Flight 1752 as it left Colorado Springs...
Published: 05/21/18