Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Sue Carlton: In court, at least, it appears Zimmerman is being treated like anyone else

Are prosecutors, a judge and a justice system picking on George Zimmerman? And now his wife?

Even before his trial, is one of the most famous defendants in America getting a fair shake?

The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot an unarmed teenager and ignited a national debate about race, self-defense and the law finds himself back in jail. And his wife is charged with perjury for lying about family finances at his bail hearing — all before we're anywhere near a trial in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

By now, there's plenty of opinion as to what happened between two strangers in a gated neighborhood on a rainy night in Sanford.

There's this: A teenager just walking home from a convenience store was targeted by Zimmerman because he was black and ended up dead.

Or: Zimmerman was within his rights — and the law — when he fired his gun because Martin confronted Zimmerman about following him and was beating him.

With all that out there and all this case has become, is it being handled by the justice system like any other?

Can it be?

Having witnessed many judges over the years (including one with a tendency to snap pencils in half when he was not happy) I can tell you they really, really do not like to be lied to. They take that whole-truth-and-nothing-but business very seriously, particularly when a ruling they make is based on the information provided.

Like thousands of defendants similarly awaiting trial, Zimmerman was granted a bail amount based in part on how much money he can reasonably come up with. That question is what landed both him and his wife in pretrial trouble.

At her husband's bail hearing, Shellie Zimmerman said under oath she wasn't "aware of" any money she and her husband had. But prosecutors later said recorded jailhouse phone calls between them showed she was quite aware of more than $100,000 raised for his defense. They also accuse her of moving nearly $75,000 from his account to hers in small amounts.

Enter the judge with the colorful: "Does (Zimmerman) get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path?"

Apparently not. Bail revoked, and Mrs. Zimmerman later charged with perjury.

I don't love the idea of recording jailhouse calls between inmates and their friends and families, but it is done, and not just to George Zimmerman. (At the Hillsborough Jail they put up signs that essentially say: Hey, we're listening in, so you might not want to incriminate yourself.)

So no, not a big surprise to see a perjury charge and bail revoked — nor to see another bail hearing set for June 29. And no surprise if he gets out, if at a higher amount. That's how it works.

So far, at least, it looks like Zimmerman is being treated as much like an ordinary defendant as possible.

Given the intense interest, probably no detail of this case will be overlooked, and no move by any of the players left unscrutinized. Hopefully, that also means no corners cut, and everything by the book all the way to trial.

Because if we've learned anything from what happened that night, and afterward, and what it says about where we are in the world when it comes to race and the law, it's that we really need to get this one right.

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