In the last installment, I said that it was the coach who sent the prosecution team in to try to win a game that never should have been played. The police had determined they didn’t have probable cause. The highly respected state’s attorney who had responsibility for the case, Norman Wolfinger, apparently agreed. When the plaintiff-orchestrated cause celebre created public outcry, Wolfinger scheduled the matter for the grand jury. But Florida Governor Rick Scott turned it over to Angela Corey, the state’s attorney for the Jacksonville area, to act as special prosecutor.
Some have blamed Scott for this. I can’t, at least not at this time. “The perception is the reality,” it’s said, and when the people who elected them cry out for a deeper investigation, those in charge have a duty to act. This is, in part, what the grand jury is for. While I think it should have been left in Wolfinger’s capable hands, I can understand Scott’s decision. His choice of Ms. Corey, however, is open to question in hindsight.
I gave Ms. Corey the benefit of the doubt as I watched this case unfold. I had hoped she would simply present the evidence to the grand jury. When she didn’t, instead indicting on her own, it was inescapably obvious why: she had to have known that the grand jury would refuse to indict, once they had seen the evidence.
The job of the defense is to be a zealous advocate for the defendant. The prosecutor’s role is different. She is supposed to be the minister of justice, every bit as responsible for exonerating the innocent as for aggressively prosecuting the guilty. It is an egregious breach of prosecutorial ethics to, for example, prosecute for Murder a man who the evidence shows is telling the truth about acting in self-defense. And of course, there is the very serious breach of both rules and ethics encompassed in withholding evidence from the defense, a matter which in this case is still hanging in the air.
The right is unhappy with the special prosecutor. National Review had this to say about Ms. Corey: http://nationalreview.com/article/353633/angela-coreys-checkered-past-ian-tuttle/page/0/1. The left apparently isn’t too thrilled with her either, as seen in the Daily Beast, here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/19/angela-corey-s-overzealous-prosecution-of-marissa-alexander.html . Her fellow attorneys seem, for the most part, to be aghast at how she has handled the Zimmerman case, as seen here in law professor Jonathan Turley’s blog: http://jonathanturley.org/2013/07/18/zimmerman-prosecutors-angela-corey-under-fire-for-public-comments-and-allegedly-threatening-action-against-harvard-law-professor/ .
The most damning moment for Ms. Corey in this case was her commentary to the press after the acquittal. A prosecutor should respect the system, and the jury’s verdict. The man she assigned to spearhead the state’s case, Bernie de la Rionda, obviously understood that. One journalist asked both of them to describe the defendant and the deceased in a single word.
De la Rionda chose the words “lucky” for defendant George Zimmerman, and “victim” for the deceased Trayvon Martin. He knew how to straddle the line. Despite Zimmerman’s ordeal, a lot of people think anyone who is facing life in prison and gets set free is “lucky.” And “victim” is the term that is generally and automatically used for someone who is killed.
But Corey described the young man who was shown by the evidence as the one who started the fatal battle as “prey,” and the man the jury had just found Not Guilty of Murder as “murderer.”
The difference is profound. It doesn’t just show her to be a bad loser, it shows her to be utterly contemptuous of the jury, and the system she is sworn to serve. Her answer was simply egregious.
There are those who believe that Ms. Corey took the case and tried to destroy Zimmerman’s life because, in the cases mentioned in the links above, she had lost voter support in the African-American community and thought that prosecuting Zimmerman would be a good political move. If one accepts that, it begs the question, “How did that work for ya, Ms. Corey?”
What some call “the next Trayvon Martin case” – a white guy who wound up shooting a black teen in Jacksonville after an argument that began with the latter and his friends playing loud music in an adjacent vehicle – falls into Ms. Corey’s jurisdiction. The Florida Civil Rights Association has called for the case to be taken out of Angela Corey’s hands, because they think after the Zimmerman case, she doesn’t have enough credibility to prosecute this one.