Lawyer: Self defense law doesn’t apply to teen murder case
SANFORD, Fl. — A lawyer for the man at the center of the Trayvon Martin death investigation said Florida’s “stand your ground” law doesn’t apply to the shooting that killed the unarmed teen.
“In my legal opinion, that’s not really applicable to this case. The statute on ‘stand your ground’ is primarily when you’re in your house,” said Craig Sonner, attorney for George Zimmerman.
“This is self-defense, and that’s been around for forever — that you have a right to defend yourself. So the next issue (that) is going to come up is, was he justified in using the amount of force he did?”
Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed February 26 as he walked to his father’s fiancee’s house in Sanford, Florida, after a trip to the convenience store. Police say he was shot by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who says he was acting in self-defense.
Martin was unarmed, carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea, according to police.
The 2005 law allows people to use deadly force anywhere they have a right to be if they have reasonable fear an assailant could seriously harm them or someone else.
It also eliminated a long-standing “duty to retreat” in the face of imminent harm, asserting that would-be crime victims have the right to “stand their ground” and “meet force with force” when attacked.
The case has sparked a national debate over the Florida law and concerns about racial profiling. Martin was black and Zimmerman is white Hispanic.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor, Angela Corey, to look into the case. She said her office will decide whether to charge Zimmerman, clear him, or send the case to a grand jury.
The case has also prompted a U.S. Justice Department investigation, which is in the fact-finding stage.
Rallies and demonstrations have taken place in cities across the country, with some questioning why Zimmerman has not been arrested.
The Sanford Police Department said officers were prohibited from arresting Zimmerman the night of the shooting because physical evidence and testimony supported his claim that he acted in self-defense in accordance with Florida law. The police department gave the explanation to City Manager Norton Bonaparte, who included it in a letter to the community about the case, posted on the city’s website.
Sonner said he and Zimmerman have not discussed what happened the night Martin was shot, though he said Zimmerman has talked with authorities — unaccompanied by counsel — whenever they have asked him to do so.
Zimmerman said he was driving in his gated community when he saw Martin walking and called 911 to report a suspicious person.
Zimmerman told the dispatcher he was following the boy, but the dispatcher told him that wasn’t necessary. Moments later, several neighbors called 911 to report a commotion outside, and police arrived to find Martin dead of a gunshot wound.
Sonner says his client was injured that night and went to the hospital with a broken nose and a serious cut on the back of his head.
“This is not about self-defense,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told a crowd in New York on Saturday. “This is about a man deciding somebody, based on who he was, was a suspect and that he would take matters into his own hands.”
Sharpton, who attended a rally in Sanford earlier this week, promised a “spring offensive of non-violent protests” nationwide about the case.
Protests have already taken place in Washington, D.C., and Miami, and more are planned for New York, South Carolina, Virginia, and Atlanta. The New Black Panther Party planned a rally outside Sanford police headquarters Saturday afternoon.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law, said Friday he does not believe it applies to the case.
“Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back,” Bush said while visiting a university campus in Texas.
Sanford police said Zimmerman did not indicate a chase, telling them instead that “he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon,” the police said in the letter posted by Bonaparte.
Sonner said he believes Zimmerman’s life is in danger and has advised him to keep a low profile.
“This case is spinning out of control,” he said. “I hope there’s a way to rein things in so it doesn’t become an issue of a racial battle. I hope that things come back so that there can be a time for justice and for healing and not for just skipping the whole judicial process and going straight to sentencing.”
Police arrested a man Friday who had made written threats to kill Sanford’s police chief.
John Stewart, 68, was charged with a second-degree felony for allegedly sending Chief Bill Lee an e-mail with the subject line “Coming after you.” The message said Stewart had multiple weapons and said, “You and your family deserve to be hunted down and shot like a dog, just like Trayvon Martin.”
Lee temporarily stepped down from his role Thursday because he was becoming a distraction to the investigation.
Credit: CNN. CNN’s Kim Segal contributed to this report.