A Florida judge’s decision to set a $150,000 bond for George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin drew an immediate, harsh reaction from those who wanted to see the 28-year-old remain behind bars, pending trial on second degree murder charges.
“It shows you the worth of a 17-year-old black boy in America, who’s been unjustly murdered and whose life is taken for granted,” said Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, an MSNBC contributor and Georgetown University professor. “And it’s predictable, but still disappointing that there would be such a low bond set if a bond was offered at all. After all this is a man [Zimmerman] with a violent past and with little means to provide for his bond, or for his family, as he claimed, who has murdered an innocent child. That is discouraging and dispiriting, and shows what black life counts for.”
Dyson was not alone in calling the bond amount a “painful reminder that the route toward legal remedy will be as difficult to obtain as it was to prove that Mr. Zimmerman belonged in jail in the first place.”
The National Action Network, headed by Rev. Al Sharpton (also an MSNBC host), who has worked closely with Martin’s parents to seek Zimmerman’s initial arrest after the February 26 shooting, issued a statement saying though the civil rights organization “clearly feel[s] the Judge had the basis to deny bail based upon Mr. Zimmerman’s background, we will continue to stand with the family throughout their pursuit of justice.”
On Twitter, no sooner had the bail amount been announced, than the hashtag #ThingsHigherThanZimmermansBond began trending, with answers ranging from various celebrities’ blood pressure or bar tabs to “the number of calls Sprint drops in an hour.”
Comments across the social media site ranged from dejected to outraged, and several posts compared Zimmerman’s bond to the $500,000 bail set for Casey Anthony in 2008, when she was charged with felony child neglect in the disappearance and death of her 3-year-old daughter, Caylee.
The attorneys for Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, told theGrio he and his law partners braced the family for the possibility of Friday’s outcome.
“We tried to prepare them for that but it was still devastating to them that the killer of their child isn’t going to be in jail,” Crump told theGrio, adding that it was difficult for Martin’s parents to be in the same room with Zimmerman for the first time.
“It was an emotional day for the parents, being in the courtroom with the killer of their child,” Crump said. “It was [also] different because normally Sybrina would be the emotional one, and Tracy would be the one trying to comfort her, but today, Tracy wept through that whole hearing…. Sybrina was comforting him today and telling him, ‘we’ve got to stay strong.’”
And Crump said that Zimmerman’s apology, offered as soon as he sat on the witness stand, struck the parents as self-serving.“The family felt it was insincere,” Crump said. “It’s fifty days late.” Crump reiterated what he told theGrio the day before the hearing, namely that he believed Zimmerman’s apology, and his attorney’s statements to the media and after Friday’s hearing that the former neighborhood watch captain had hoped to meet privately with the parents, were legal and media tactics, not true sentiments.
“Never on his website, which he authored — never once did he apologize. He didn’t apologize in the voice mail he left for his friend,” said Crump, referring to a call Zimmerman placed to his neighbor Frank Taaffe while still in hiding, thanking Taaffe for his support.
Crump expressed confidence in the prosecutors handling the case, refuting criticism by some that they were out-maneuvered by Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, who successfully argued for his client’s release pending trial.
“I think they held back because they didn’t want to show their hand,” Crump said. “They know there’s gonna be a trial, [and State Attorney] Angela Corey has said over and over again, they wouldn’t have charged second degree murder if they didn’t believe they could get a conviction.”
Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, who has been analyzing the legal case for MSNBC, told theGrio that neither Zimmerman’s bond, nor the prosecutor’s tactics, were unusual. And he rejected the notion that the bail amount — well below the $1 million requested by prosecutors, though considerably higher than the $15,000 O’Mara asked the judge to impose — is a statement of the value of Trayvon Martin’s life.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Coffey said. “The value of his life is incalculable. The purpose of setting a bond is to validate the presumption of innocence, while assuring the defendant’s presence at trial. Indeed if the judge had imposed a million-dollar bond, that would have surely been reversed on appeal, because to impose a $1 million bond for George Zimmerman is tantamount to saying no bond at all.”
“Obviously, if this were Donald trump or Bill Gates accused of a crime, that would be grossly inadequate, but you cannot set a bond that a person could not possibly come up with. And Florida is more of a level playing field for criminal defendants than most state jurisdictions — the presumption in favor of bond is heavy in Florida.”
However, Coffey said, “from everything we saw, George Zimmerman is broke. His wife doesn’t work, they don’t own a home [they were renting the townhome in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community where Martin was killed. There’s no reason to believe that he could even bond out with $150,000,” though Coffey said presumably Zimmerman could seek the help of his parents or other family members, or there could be “third parties” that step in.
Zimmerman sought to raise money on his website, launched shortly before his former attorneys withdrew from the case. On it, he sought to raise money for his legal defense and “living expenses.” It is not known how much money, if any, was raised.
Coffey said many people are also misinformed in believing that to bond out, Zimmerman would only have to come up with 10 percent of the $150,000 in order to be released.
“Ten percent is a premium you pay a surety company,” or bail bondsman, Coffey said. “To get a bond in almost all cases you have to be able to fully collateralize that $150,000, meaning that either George Zimmerman or his parents have to come up with a $150,000 second mortgage on their house or from a bank. The bonding company is not a charity. They stand to lose the money. They have more than just fugitive hunters [to track down a defendant who flees.] They get collateral up front.”
Coffey also pushed back against criticism of prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda, who unsuccessfully contested the defense request for bond.
“The prosecutor knew exactly wheat he was doing,” said Coffey, who is currently a partner in the Miami law firm Coffey Burlington. “This prosecutor’s office is extremely victim oriented. I surmise that given the wishes of Trayvon Martin’s family to oppose the bond, they decided to do just that, even knowing that it would be uphill to get bond denied, but wanting to respond to the wishes of the alleged victims family.”
“What they did shrewdly is to not show all of their evidence,” Coffey added, noting that the prosecution “did nothing to present any kind of case” — such as calling witnesses or presenting physical evidence.
Under Florida law, if prosecutors oppose bond, they must litigate their case via a so-called Arthur hearing, at which the defense can seek to expose elements of the prosecution’s case. Coffey said De La Rionda was wise not to take the bait.
“The prosecutors went through this relying on the probable cause affidavit [which they filed with the court in charging Zimmerman.] They were prepared to accept the judge’s ruling, rather than make an all out effort to defeat bond by putting their best evidence forward. Because if they had done that, the defense would have had a preview of their case and still wouldn’t have had bond denied.”
The next phase in the trial could be a hearing on the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, at which Zimmerman’s attorneys could attempt to have the entire case dismissed.
But Coffey said such a hearing is not certain, since the defense may want to hide it’s cards, as prosecutors did on Friday, and wait for trial.
However if such a hearing does take place, Coffey said it will be ‘make or break’ for the prosecution.
“If you lose that fight your whole case is thrown out,” he said. “So rather than tell the defense all of their best evidence and strategies today, recognizing that the odds would still favor Zimmerman getting out on bail, they in effect took their lumps, kept their cards close to the vest, and are putting themselves in a better position to succeed in the ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing,” if it occurs.
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