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25 Things I Think About the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case

Posted in July, 2013

I’ve been watching (actually listening) to most of George Zimmerman’s trial in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and am offering here for your dissection and response a numbered series of thoughts/conclusions about the story so far.

1. I think Zimmerman’s lack of regret is utterly bizarre.

Tuesday, jurors in the case saw this exchange from an interview Fox News host Sean Hannity conducted with Zimmerman last year:

HANNITY: Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?

ZIMMERMAN : No, sir.

HANNITY: Do you regret that you had a gun that night?

ZIMMERMAN: No, sir…. I feel it was all God’s plan, and for me to second guess it or judge it —

HANNITY: Is there anything you might do differently in retrospect now that time has passed a little bit?


He comes off as serene and earnest rather than defiant, but still! No regrets? Pinning the entire tragedy on God? What’s the best adjective for this? Obtuse? Insensitive? Offensive? He’d better hope the jurors don’t see it as sociopathic, because, truly, it’s almost the best evidence the state has been able to introduce so far. it undercuts my second credo…

2. I think Zimmerman is more a doofus than he is a predatory racist

In all the interviews and accounts from neighbors and friends, he lacks the air of menace and rage that would lead you to conclude that he was in a depraved state of mind when he kllled Trayvon Martin. His tone of voice in the non-emergency call to police was exasperated, not infuriated.

What about his arrests for domestic violence and striking a police officer? Well, here’s the MSNBC rundown, the most complete I could find:

  • In 2005, Zimmerman, then 20, was arrested and charged with “resisting officer with violence” and “battery of law enforcement officer,” both which are third-degree felonies. The charge was reduced to “resisting officer without violence” and then waived when he entered an alcohol education program. Contemporaneous accounts indicate he shoved an officer who was questioning a friend for alleged underage drinking at an Orange County bar.
  • In August 2005, Zimmerman’s ex-fiancee, Veronica Zuazo, filed a civil motion for a restraining order alleging domestic violence. Zimmerman counterfiled for a restraining order against Zuazo. The competing claims were resolved with both restraining orders being granted.

Domestic violence accusations are very hard to sort out and I’m guessing that if either incident or others reflected a serious temper issue with Zimmerman, the jury would have heard about them by now.

3. I think Zimmerman profiled Martin

Can there be any doubt?We all profile people all the time, particularly when assessing whether a situation is dangerous or suspicious. Sometimes our conclusions or inclincations are unfair, but making assumptions based on experience is not only human nature, it’s an innate survival skill.

Common sense tells me that Zimmerman probably profiled Martin

By age. Had Martin been, say 12 (as he appeared in some of the early photos we saw) or younger or, say, 65 or older instead of 17, a prime age for criminality, Zimmerman probably wouldn’t have considered him suspicious.

By gender. Had Martin been a lone female, Zimmerman probably would simply have kept on driving to the Target.

By physical attributes. Had Martin been on crutches or been three feet tall, Zimmerman probably would not have pegged him as a burglar.

By attire. If, instead of a hoodie, had Martin been wearing a shirt and tie –like a door to door missionary — or a Boy Scout uniform, a clerical collar or utility-company safety vest, Zimmerman probably woudln’t have called police on him.

By how and where he was walking. Had Martin been striding directly and purposefully down the sidewalk instead of allegedly meandering and circling,  Zimmerman might not have even given him a second look.

By race. Since I have already presumed to read Zimmerman’s mind above, I’ll touch on the obvious, incendiary element of profiling here and add the presumption that, yes, race was an element in Zimmerman’s thinking and that Martin being African American added to his suspicions.

How much?  without a historical pattern of Zimmerman making unfair assumptions about people based on their race, it’s very hard to know. Would a white 17-year-old dressed in a hoodie walking about aimlessly through the subdivision have prompted Zimmerman to call police?

That’s hard to know.

4. I think it was fine that Zimmerman called police and even left his vehicle to try to keep an eye on Martin (which is what I think he was doing)

In Zimmerman’s experience it was unusual to see a young man he didn’t recognize walking slowly through the subdivision and, allegedly, giving him strange looks, at night in the rain.  We want citizens to be vigilant and involved. We want them to err on the side of caution and to aid law enforcement.

5. I don’t think Zimmerman left his vehicle in order to try to effect a citizen’s arrest or simply shoot Martin.

If he simply wanted to shoot or arrest himself a black person and/or a person he thought was a burglar, he wouldn’t have first called the police.

6. I don’t think Zimmerman wanted to get close to Martin

He strikes me as officious but cowardly. Not a fit man. Not a fighter. If he thought Martin was close to him or advancing on him, I think he would have had his gun drawn.

7. I don’t think Zimmerman was pursuing, hunting, stalking, chasing or  searching for Martin at any point.

He answered yes when the police dispatcher asked if he were following the person we now know to be Trayvon Martin. The police dispatcher said “we don’t you to do that,” and the only evidence we have that he did continue to follow Martin comes from Rachel Jeantel, the friend who was on the phone with Martin at the time. This from the Orlando Sentinel story:

Jeantel said she told Trayvon to run, but he said he was near his father’s girlfriend’s house.

Trayvon then told her he was going “to run from the back, then I started hearing wind then the phone just shut off,” she testified.

She said she called Trayvon back, and he answered.

She was able to start talking to him on the phone. “I asked him where he at, and he told me he at the back of his daddy fiancee house.”

Jeantel said she told him to keep running. “He said, nah,” he’d just walk faster. Then a second later, Trayvon said, “Oh sh–.”

De la Rionda asked, he said that to you? “Yes,” she said, and then Trayvon said, “the ni—- behind me.”…

Jeantel puts the final, fatal altercation “at the back of (Martin’s) daddy’s fiancee’s house” or just seconds away. Which is nowhere near where it actually occurred.

Where it actually occurred is very close to where Zimmerman hung up the phone with the police minutes earlier and is consistent with his story that he had stopped “following.”

8.  I think Martin was angered and provoked by the attention he perceived Zimmerman was giving him,

It may have been Martin’s feeling that Zimmerman was a racist or a potential rapist (as his friend Rachel Jeantel suggested), or it may have been one of those generic, stupid male-to-male things.

Any man will tell you that if you pull up next to a stoplight and simply stare hard at a man in the car next to you, you’re likely to get the finger or provoke some other sort of bristling, alpha-dominant response.

9. I think Martin may have been creeped out by Zimmerman, but he wasn’t afraid of him. And that he made a deliberate decision not to walk home, as he easily could have given the timeline, but to turn about and confront  Zimmerman.

This is at the nub of the case and gets to the “who started the fight?” question that will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Ultimately you have to look at this:

 7:12:08: Zimmerman tells the police dispatcher, “he ran.” Shortly after which any aural implication that he’s running or moving quickly ceases and his  voice evens out.

7:13:14: Zimmerman reports that he’s lost sight of the person.

  7:13:41: Zimmerman’s phone call with the police  ends almost exactly two minutes from the time he got out of his vehicle

Approx. 7:15:30 to 45, roughly two minutes later,  Zimmerman and Martin encounter each other for the final time, about 80 yards from his vehicle, 100 yards from his father’s fiancee’s house (those figures vary by source)

This may help:

It’s possible that Martin was hiding in fear, though no evidence supports that idea and Rachael Jeantel, a prosecution witness, gainsays it. And far more likely, to my mind, that Martin came back to at the very least confront the man whose actions he’d perceived as threatening or challenging.

10. I don’t think Zimmerman’s act of getting out of his truck and trying to keep Martin in his sight was provocation to violence.

A lot of irresponsible argle-bargle has it that it was an unwise, aggressive act by Zimmerman that started the chain of events that led to Martin’s death, therefore all the other quibbles (below) are irrelevant. Zimmerman is responsible for the Martin’s death.

“If George Zimmerman had stayed in this truck, then Trayvon Martin would be alive today.”

Of course. But Zimmerman was acting legally on the public way when he got out of his truck. And, as I argued above, he was acting reasonably and even potentially responsibly.

I’ve pointed this out in many threads: If Zimmerman has successfully kept his eye on Martin and police had then apprehended Martin and found on his person a crowbar and a bagful of wallets and wristwatches that had been stolen from nearby townhomes, the local media would have hailed him as a hero.

I’ve also pointed out that even if Martin had been a burglar in possession of his loot, Zimmerman would not have been justified in accosting and shooting him.

It’s as irrelevant to say “Zimmerman should have stayed in his truck” as it is to say “Martin should have just jogged on home when he saw Zimmerman get out of his truck.”

11. I think ZImmerman is telling the truth when he says that Martin struck the first blow in the fight/attack that preceded the fatal shot being fired.

Why would Zimmerman strike him with his fists or try to grapple him to the ground? The fact that there is no physical evidence to support this idea, remember that Zimmerman knew police were on the way and he had a gun if he wanted to attempt a citizen’s arrest.  He’s coming face to face with a taller, lean young man whom he suspects of being a burglar and who may, for all he knows, be armed.

Why would Martin attack Zimmerman not knowing if Zimmerman were armed? Because he had the drop on him, if you believe ZImmerman’s account, and could strike him before he knew what hit him.

12. I think Martin was getting the better of ZImmerman in that fight, by far.

The physical and eyewitness evidence so far strongly supports the idea that Martin was on top of Zimmerman raining blows on him.

13. I think Zimmerman has exaggerated certain elements of the attack in order to bolster the claim that he was justified in using deadly force.

This is simply intuition, but I’m skeptical of Zimmerman’s claims that Martin literally threatened him with death and was reaching for his gun. I’m also skeptical about the claim that Martin was trying to suffocate Zimmerman and had his hand over his mouth for enough time to make him fear that. The evidence suggests that, though he was struck several times, he wasn’t hit as many times as he told police he was hit.

14. I don’t think the inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s various accounts undermine his basic narrative.

In places, I believe, he tweaked his tale  to bolster his claims of self-defense (see immediately above). But I also think “star” prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel concocted memories of her own to reinforce a story that the Martin family wanted to hear.

It appears to me at this point in the trial that the state is relying heavily on an extended closing argument that puts the worst possible spin on every actual and potential inconsistency in everything Zimmerman said about the case to police, to his friend, to Sean Hannity and so on.

They will go second by second through the police telephone recordings and blow by blow through the forensic recordings to suggest that Zimmerman wasn’t just gilding the lily a bit to make sure his claim of self-defense stuck, but lying grandly to cover up what actually happened.

But if so, what did actually happen?  Constructing an alternate, plausible — nay, near certain — narrative will be their burden. Where was Zimmerman and where was Martin, moment by moment from the time Zimmerman’s call to police began until the time the fatal shot was fired?

It’s really not enough to say “Zimmerman was lying about some things, therefore he must be lying about everything, therefore you must believe basically the opposite of what he says.”

The defense will remind jurors of that at closing, of course, and do their best to explain away glitches and apparent tweaks in Zimmerman’s accounts as memory lapses or memory failures induced by stress.

The defense, too, will have its own timelines and maps, and, if they’re smart, will use the graphic device of big red question marks on the map at various times during the PowerPoint demonstration.

If, in the end, there is so much you don’t know about this story, there is no way you can come to any conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.

15. I think Zimmerman was, nevertheless, genuinely afraid that Martin was going to do him great bodily harm if the attack continued.

This is the second major nub of the case: He may have been genuinely afraid, but  was he   reasonably in fear of great bodily harm or death, which is required for the use of deadly force in self defense?

This may be the close call for the jurors because of the word “reasonably.”

Much has been made at the trial so far of the severity or lack thereof the injuries Zimmerman suffered. A broken nose but no stitches or horrible gashes, no concussion, no serious loss of blood.

But I’m sure it was terrifying for Zimmerman, if what he says is basically true, to be being whaled on by an angry assailant in the dark in the rain. And that with all that adrenaline flowing, shooting Martin to make the attack stop was as much a reflex as it was  a considered act.

And the law does not require life-threatening injuries or actual great bodily harm to have occurred before the right to self-defense kicks in. It only required the reasonable fear of same, and it’s reasonable to ask if Zimmerman was supposed to wait until he actually heard his skull crack before shooting.

That may or may not be enough to avoid a manslaugher conviction.

Allow me to quote here at some length from the pre-trial analysis of attorney Andrew Branca, author of The Law of Self-Defense a book for gun-owners:

 The principle of Innocence refers to the notion that a person who initiates a conflict should not later be permitted to justify his use of force as self defense.  It is this principle that is captured in Florida statute 776.041.  It is, however, possible for the initial aggressor of a conflict to regain his “innocence” under certain circumstances., and thereby regain his right to justifiably use force in self defense

What I expect we will see at trial with regard to the principle of Innocence is the State arguing that Zimmerman engaged in conduct of a nature sufficient to qualify as “aggression”.  The defense will respond that nothing Zimmerman did could reasonably qualify as an act of “aggression,” and at the same time that even if he did engage in such conduct he nevertheless “regained his innocence” afterwards….

The principle of proportionality refers to the notion that the degree of force you may use in self-defense must be proportional to the degree of force with which you are threatened. ….Usually, the use of deadly force against an unarmed attacker is fatal to a claim of self defense. ….however, if the unarmed attack is of such ferocity that it nevertheless raises a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily harm, the use of deadly force in self defense would be justified….

The principle of reasonableness is really an umbrella principle… The issue here is whether your perceptions and conduct in self-defense were those of a reasonable and prudent person under the same or similar circumstances.  If they were not, any claim to self-defense fails.

Again, jurors don’t have to believe everything exculpatory Zimmerman said to police in order to conclude that he was nevertheless reasonably in fear of death or great bodily injury.

16. I don’t think the charge of second-degree murder applies here

I will allow liberal attorney Jeralyn Merritt of the Talk Left blog to explain why:

To prove second-degree murder, the state must prove Zimmerman acted with “a depraved mind regardless of human life.” A depraved mind requires evidence of “ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent.” Case law is clear that “an impulsive overreaction to an attack or injury,is insufficient to prove ill will, hatred, spite, or evil intent.”

See Dorsey v. StatePoole v. State, holding that defendant’s act of stabbing victim once after the victim lunged at him in closed quarters was not sufficient to support second-degree murder verdict but was “an impulsive overreaction” to the victim’s attack; Williams v. State, holding that defendant’s act of stabbing the victim to end his attack was excessive but insufficient to support a second-degree murder conviction; Stinson v. State and the other cases I cite and link to here. Also check out Legal Insurrection.

17. I think everyone who presumes to comment on this case needs to take better care to separate fact from opinion and relevancies from irrelevancies.

Every time I write on this case I’m deluged with comments from the Presumed Guilty Caucus about how Zimmerman “pursued” and then “confronted” Martin, how Zimmerman “ignored orders from the police,” how Zimmerman “started it” by getting out of his truck and therefore he’s 100 percent responsible for what happened after that.

I hear from people who accuse me of being insensitive to the everyday nastiness experience by African Americans who are routinely profiled — even though racial profiling hasn’t been established and isn’t at issue in the trial — and who blame Florida’s “stand your ground” law even though it hasn’t been invoked.

I hear from people who so desperately want this to be a simple case of good and evil, of brutality casually snuffing out sweet innocence; who cant understand why I don’t join the Al Sharpton chorus — good lord, his amen panel of “experts” are humiliating themselves nightly on MSNBC — and consign the white guy with the gun to prison.

It would all be an interesting sociological study if the stakes weren’t so high — if Martin weren’t dead and Zimmerman weren’t facing decades in prison; if the hucksters and members of the indignati hadn’t fanned the flames of tribalism so high with their tendentious to mendacious presentation of the evidence that at this point any verdict is going to be greeted with fury by one side or the other.

18. I think it would be great — indeed a public service-  if Zimmerman took the stand

I know he doesn’t have to, by law, and that the way the prosecution has gone — with the introduction of numerous taped statements from Zimmerman giving his version of events (statements that the defense would not have been allowed to introduce) there will be little need to.

But hearing him on the stand — for days, no doubt — explaining himself and attempting to reconcile the inconsistencies in his accounts (as well as apologizing for that dread “no regrets” interview) would likely go some distance in enhancing public understanding of the case.

19. I think Zimmerman will be acquitted

The standard of proof here remains proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Proof — not just the inclination or spidey sense–  that he was not justified in using lethal force during that final altercation.

Jurors, especially in high profile cases, tend to hold the prosecution to this burden, a burden they so far haven’t met. And the defense — that ghastly knock-knock joke in opening statements notwithstanding — has been sowing doubt all over the case in chief.

20. I think I’ll be writing about this case again.

21. I think Trayvon Martin’s past — his “character” if you will — is quite relevant to the key questions at the trial and should be admitted.

Jurors are going to be presented at closing arguments with several basic scenarios: Zimmerman chased down Martin; Martin came back to get a piece of Zimmerman. Zimmerman was getting the better of the fight with Martin, who was shrieking for help; Martin was getting the better of Zimmerman, who was in reasonable fear of suffering great bodily harm or death.

What did each man bring to the events of that evening? What state of mind were they likely in? The answers to those questions are key to sorting out the scenarios.

Jurors have already heard a great deal about Zimmerman’s past — his aspriations to be a police officer, his calls to report suspicious activity, his lessons in mixed martial arts, his coursework in criminal justice.  It seems only fair and reasonable for jurors to consider who Martin was  — his interest in fighting, to wit, and the fact that he had a small amount marijuana in his system that night which the state’s own medical examiner testified may have impaired his judgment.

ZImmerman has two prior scrapes with the law that are arguably relevant — an accusation of domestic violence and a charge that he shoved a police officer — and have been excluded from the state’s case. In the interest of completeness I’d let the jury hear about them, too, let the lawyers argue the relevance and trust the common sense of the jurors.

Meanwhile, irrelevant issues are clouding the conversations.

Martin could have been carrying a stolen TV set and walking away from a house where the burglar alarm was blaring and that wouldn’t have given Zimmerman the right to shoot him.

Zimmerman could have been wearing Klan robes and that wouldn’t have given Martin the right to attack and thrash him.

If someone is following or seeming to follow you at a distance for any reason,  that may be a reason to call 911 but it’s not justification for punching that person out.  Similarly if someone demands “what are you doing here?” that’s not an assault that justifies a physical response, even on a dark and rainy night.

22. I think everyone who continues to want to paint Zimmerman as some kind of reckless idiot for getting out of his car to follow or keep an eye on someone he thought was a criminal is making unfair use of the advantage of hindsight.

How many times have media outlets portrayed as heroes citizens who have intervened or taken action to apprehend evildoers? Thousands?

Look at the top of the Tribune website Sunday evening: “Man chased Gold Coast robber because ‘I was sick of it’

and note this passage:

After identifying the man for officers on the scene, (Gary) Dailey said one officer spoke to him: “I have someone I want you to meet.”

That someone, the 41-year-old woman with the child whose phone had been taken, was very appreciative, Dailey said, and hugged him and shook his hand.

“She said: ‘Oh my gosh you’re so nice, thanks so much for chasing him,’ ” Dailey said.

I’m guessing Zimmerman had no intention to gun anyone down that night, and that rather than rage wasn’t in his mind but rather a fantasy of a story in the local paper that began something like this.

  Police are crediting a quick-witted citizen with breaking up a local burglary ring Sunday night when he spotted something amiss in the way a stranger was walking through the Twin Lakes subdivision.

“I did what anyone would do,” said area resident George Zimmerman, who called in to report a young man walking “strangely” among the townhomes and was later able to point police to where the suspect was hiding.

“We can’t be everywhere, so we rely on solid citizens like Mr. Zimmerman to help be our eyes and ears,” said a police spokesman, who said the suspect led them to a warehouse of stolen goods and has now been charged with 44 counts of residential burglary.

Zimmerman will be honored at the next meeting of the Sanford City Council…

Yes, obviously it didn’t turn out that way and was unlikely to have. Had Martin been up to no good he would have had several minutes to run away in the dark and avoid apprehension.But the idea that it was easily foreseeable that his effort at playing police helper would end in tragedy even though he was carrying a gun is simply to take great liberties with the benefit of hindsight.

23. I think “vigilante” is the wrong word to use to describe Zimmerman

I’ve casually used it myself in writing about this case, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not accurate.

A “vigilante” takes the law into his or her own hands. A “vigilante” doesn’t call police or even want the help of police.

There’s nothing in Zimmerman’s history that suggests he ever tried to make a citizen’s arrest, attacked a person he thought was up to no good or even drew his concealed gun to enforce what he thought was the law. If anything, the record suggests he avoided getting close to people he thought were criminals and prior to this awful incident was an officious busybody, at worst, more Gladys Kravitz (right) than Charles Bronson.

24. I don’t think the prosecutors are blundering through the trial.

Daniel J. Flynn at the American Spectator writes:

What happened to Trayvon Martin in Sanford may not have been criminal. What’s happening to him in court in Sanford might be. No matter which side ones takes a rooting interest in — and this case appears more as a racial sporting event than a trial — it’s difficult not to see the prosecutors as a bunch of Mike Nifong wannabes, sacrificing the interests of justice or even of a conviction in favor of satiating a loud mob.

 Mike Nifong, in case you’ve forgotten, was the prosecutor in the Duke LaCrosse team rape case whose conduct was so egregious in that bogus and botched prosecution that he was removed and disbarred.

Flynn’s piece argues that the state has bumbled along in the George Zimmerman trial, with witness after witness ending up helping the defense.

The prosecution playing video of Zimmerman providing his version of events without having to endure cross-examination demonstrates the level of incompetence. Instead of the cold, emotionless, blank stares of a killer, the jurors saw a likable, nonthreatening, mild-mannered, pudgy man. After demonizing Zimmerman outside of the courtroom, the prosecution strangely humanized him inside of it.

 Much of the TV punditry has made this point, but I’m not sure the state really had much choice in the matter. Their case –as they revealed during the pro-forma argument Friday over whether the judge should order a directed verdict of not-guilty now that the state has rested — will boil down to this:

Zimmerman has repeatedly told the story that he broke off following Martin and was headed back to his truck when Martin sucker punched him, started whaling on him and put him in fear of his life or of suffering great bodily harm.  But because there are holes, inconsistencies and exaggerations in his various and self-serving accounts,  you should give no weight to anything he says and believe the opposite.

To paraphrase what one of the prosecutors said (I wasn’t taking notes, alas), only two people really know what happened on that dark, raining evening. One of them is dead, the other’s a liar.

And the only way to be sure they would be able to use that line of argument was to introduce all the videotaped interviews with Zimmerman. Had they not done so, the defense (which couldn’t have introduced them for legal reasons I wont’ try to explain here) probably would not have called Zimmerman to the witness stand, figuring the circumstantial case for self defense — his wounds, the testimony of the witness who saw Martin straddling Zimmerman and raining blows on him — was sufficient.

I am close to alone in thinking that Zimmerman and his defense team may decide to put Zimmerman on the stand to try to iron out those inconsistencies, though I concede that chance is small.

Certainly one problem with the state’s “don’t believe the liar!” approach is that their only witness who supports the theory that Zimmerman actually chased Martin and provoked the final, fatal altercation is herself a spouter of inconsistencies.  Rachel Jeantel, the friend of Martin’s who was on the phone with him prior to the shooting, has not only admitted her willingness to tell lies or alter her story to please the Martin family, but her account places the fatal altercation at least half a football field away from where it actually happened.

Another is that the consistent elements of Zimmerman’s account — he’d stopped following Martin, Martin came back to attack him, he was terrified, losing the fight badly and screamed for help — are a much better fit with the physical evidence, the timeline, the map and the disinterested witness accounts, and so have a common-sense appeal that the “believe the opposite of whatever he said!” argument will have.

25. I think prosecutors deliberately overcharged by going for second-degree murder.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.04(2). Second degree murder.—

The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual, is murder in the second degree and constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life.

The jury will be told that to find depravity they need to find “ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent,” which can’t be formed on the spot. I’m guessing that, all along, the state has been hoping for a guilty finding on the lesser included offense of manslaughter:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.07(1). Manslaughter.—

The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification according to the provisions of chapter 776 and in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder, according to the provisions of this chapter, is manslaughter.

The Orlando Sentinel wrote about this latter charge:

“Manslaughter generally is a crime that’s committed in the heat of passion, meaning there’s no premeditation,” said Isadore Hyde Jr., a Lake Mary criminal defense lawyer. “It’s something that happens in the moment. It’s quick, and you’ve got a dead body.”…

What is culpable negligence?

“You’ve got to do something really stupid,” said William Orth, a Longwood lawyer and former Seminole County prosecutor, “…something that you and I as intelligent humans — adults — know, ‘Don’t do that. Somebody could get hurt.’ “

It requires a suspect to be much more than negligent, lawyers say. It requires him to show a gross disregard for the safety of others.

But the penalty for such a conviction stands to be severe:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.07 (3)  A person who causes the death of any person under the age of 18 by culpable negligence …commits aggravated manslaughter of a child, a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082  [which specifies “a term of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years].

So the stakes really are high and “just” a manslaughter conviction would be a huge win for the state.