The family of Trayvon Martin not only lost their 17-year-old son at the hands of George Zimmerman, a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer. They could lose their money to him, too.
Imagine this bitter irony: Under Florida’s stand your ground law, according to legal experts contacted by the AFRO, if the Martin’s family files a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman for the wrongful death of their son, and they lose the case, a judge could order them to pay all Zimmerman’s attorney fees, court costs including fees for expert witness testimony and all his lost wages during preparation or participation in the trial.
“That’s double injury,” Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, (PRwatch.org) told the AFRO this week as she explained the hidden intricacies of the Florida Stand Your Ground law that “would require the victim's family to pay the killer and pay for the killer's wages.”
An angry Graves aimed most of her frustration and protest over the trial and what she deemed the “immoral” verdict toward the National Rifle Association and the conservative, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It was those groups, she said, who lobbied for the gun-friendly Stand Your Ground legislation in a dozen states not only to protect Second Amendment rights, but also “to have a deliberate chilling effect” on families, like Martin’s, to deter them from bringing civil suits in crimes involving guns and fatal shootings of loved ones.
To that end, Graves suggested that Martin’s family must take their time and seriously consider the outcome of a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman. If they win, they could collect on any profits he might receive from future media deals, but the liability becomes theirs if they lose. Graves said the Martin family might decide not to go forward unless they had a guarantee there would be a pool of money waiting and available from some sympathetic organizations or donors should they need it in the real possibility that their case might not succeed.
Meanwhile, those shocked and outraged — black, brown and white – are rightfully protesting this behemoth miscarriage of justice by demanding that Zimmerman face two subsequent civil cases — one to be brought by the Department of Justice for possible civil rights violations; the other by Martin’s survivors for possible wrongful death.
Rev. Al Sharpton is also asking protesters to lobby against ALEC and to seek the repeal of stand your ground laws.
However, law experts warn that the protesters need not set their high hopes of revenge or retaliation on those last-ditch legal options, either. A civil case is no cakewalk.
For one, it’s not cheap to fight for your day in court. Who do you think paid for that high-priced defense team, the slick reenactment video and those nationally-acclaimed experts? Not Zimmerman, noted former prosecutor and Republican Maryland lawyer James F. Shalleck.
“He surely had the best defense team,” an incensed Halleck told the AFRO. “And I’ll bet there was easily a quarter of a million dollars spent on [Zimmerman’s] defense.”
Halleck and Graves both pointed out that the shrewd attorneys didn’t actually ask for the criminal case to be thrown out on the stand your ground statute because he would not have been able to ask for it in a later civil trial. However, his attorneys had to know the law would be read to the jury during the judge’s final instructions, they said.
Halleck agrees that the trial’s outcome was grossly unfair “because Zimmerman never should have gotten out of his car.”
But the Justice Department also has a tricky decision to make, Shalleck added, because they have to prove that Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights “because [the teenager] was black; they would have to get inside [Zimmerman’s head which would be tough to do.”
Holder will be under extreme political pressure to bring a civil rights violation case, Shalleck said, which could send Zimmerman to prison, but not for murder or manslaughter.
The attorney insists that Zimmerman should be held responsible and not benefit from this tragedy. “That’s why people are so upset, including me,” said Shalleck.
For sure there will be movie and book deals for Zimmerman, and maybe even endorsement deals from the NRA or some gun manufacturer, hawking their easily concealed weapons to future vigilantes masquerading as victims in states with Stand Your Ground statutes. After all, Zimmerman’s gun will also be returned to him with the bone-chilling thought that “he needs it now more than ever,” according to his arrogant attorney.
Don’t forget he’s got a potentially lucrative lawsuit for defamation against NBC, which they deny. Though unemployed, he’s already collected millions in funding for his legal defense from those who supported him from the start.
But the most egregious pot of money Zimmerman could collect is from a dead child’s parents. The law does not allow for double jeopardy, but “double injury” is another story.
Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at [email protected].