Toward the end of his closing statement on Thursday, Florida Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda posted a slide on a screen in a fifth-floor Seminole County courtroom.
“Which Owner would be more inclined to yell for help?” read the banner on the top of the slide. The slide was divided in two. On the left was a photo of George Zimmerman’s Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm handgun, and on the right was a can of Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail. Beneath the photo of the gun was the question, “Who followed?” Under the can was the question, “Who ran?”
So absurd was de la Rionda’s presentation, and the whole case for that matter, that the can was turned sideways so the label could not be read. Throughout the trial, prosecutors have called the drink “iced tea” lest the word “watermelon” be said in court. ”F***ing” was okay. De la Rionda said it more times than the average rapper, but “watermelon,” apparently because of its racial connotations, was not.
Hiding the word “watermelon” was the least of de la Rionda’s dishonesties. This one slide had several built in. As to who ran, Martin had four minutes to run the 100 or so yards to the house he was visiting. When he attacked Zimmerman, he was still 70 or so yards from that townhouse. Do the math.
Then, too, from the day the State took over the case, prosecutors knew that Zimmerman was the one screaming for help. All evidence supported that save for the dubious identification by Martin’s mother. If the State’s jobs were to sow the seeds of reasonable doubt, one could forgive them this deception, but that’s not the State’s job. That’s the defense’s.
The State’s job is to make the case for the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Fifty years ago, in Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court established that a prosecutor’s responsibility was “to seek justice fairly, not merely win convictions by any means.” In the case at hand, this meant that the State of Florida had the responsibility to share promptly all exculpatory evidence with the defense. It did not.
One substantial block of evidence that it kept to itself until a whistleblower alerted the defense was the content of Martin’s cell phone. On Tuesday night of this week, phone expert Richard Connor made a detailed presentation. Although the jury was not present, the respective attorneys were, as were the media.
For dubious and probably reversible reasons, Judge Debra Nelson disallowed Connor’s testimony, but prosecutors have known for many months about the downward spiral of Martin’s life. In the course of his close, de la Rionda called Martin an “innocent young boy” and made several other allusions to that effect. He was intentionally deceiving the jury. Martin was neither little nor innocent.
Consider the following exchange from November 2011, three months before the shooting. After Martin told a female friend he was “tired and sore” from a fight, she asked him why he fought. ”Bae” is shorthand for “babe.”