Marcia Clark to Newsmax: Zimmerman Case Never 'Slam Dunk'

Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013 08:31 PM

By Paul Scicchitano and Kathleen Walter

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Former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark told Newsmax TV that the George Zimmerman murder trial was never going to be a “slam dunk” for Florida prosecutors.

“I came into this case thinking it was a tough case for the prosecution,” said Clark in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “I was open about that from day one. Never thought this was a slam dunk because it's difficult in all self-defense cases when there are only two witnesses — and one is dead.”

Clark said juries often have difficulty getting at the truth in cases such as Zimmerman’s.

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She believes that the Zimmerman case hinged largely on the state’s key witness — Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin in his final minutes of life.

Editor’s Note: Should Obama Use Zimmerman Verdict to Ban Guns?

“They did a good job. They had a tough uphill battle; there is no doubt about it,” she said of Florida prosecutors in the case. “They had to rely on putting together a very circumstantial case — much of it based on inconsistent statements by George Zimmerman . . . It's up to the jury to decide how important they think the inconsistency is.”

While the Zimmerman case was “very different factually” from the “trial of the century” nearly 18 years ago, both cases had at least one similarity that may have played into the not guilty verdicts.

“The jury in the Zimmerman case had their life view and the jury in the Simpson case had theirs,” she said. It's part of our jury system, that we want people to bring their life experience into the mix.

“We want them to bring their commonsense based on their life experience into the evaluation of evidence, but the problem is that all of their experiences come in — not just the ones you think are most helpful — to an objective view of the facts.”

For example, she said, some jurors may be less trusting of police, or have an opinion about neighborhood watch groups in the case of Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer.

She pointed to one apparent inconsistency in Zimmerman’s account of his encounter with the 17-year-old Martin.

“George Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin jumped out of the bushes, and then the next day was unable to find any bushes he could have jumped out of,” Clark explained. “One person looks at that and says, ‘wow evidence that he lied.’ Another person looks at that and says, ‘so, he made a mistake.’ That's always a difficult case. So they did the best they could with the case they had.”

Simpson, a former NFL star, actor, and sports commentator, was acquitted by a Los Angeles jury in October 1995 in connection with the grisly stabbing murders of his ex-wife and her friend after one of the most publicized and racially charged criminal trials in U.S. history.

Clark believes the media can have unintended consequences in such cases.

“Witnesses who are afraid of the spotlight and don’t want that kind of scrutiny, don't want to come forward, minimize their testimony, and sometimes never get found because they don’t want to be found,” she said.

“Some witnesses who want — for whatever reason — the spotlight, love it, and are not really witnesses — what I call faux-witnesses — make up stuff or exaggerate what little information they have so that they can get the spotlight,” according to Clark, who recently authored, “Killer Ambition,” about a female prosecutor, who takes on the case of a Hollywood power player that puts her in the middle of the media spotlight.

“Some judges really don’t get affected by it at all, as we've seen Judge Nelson in the Zimmerman trial as well as Judge Perry in the Casey Anthony trial did a brilliant job of just being excellent jurists not affected by the media — held everybody's feet to the fire, and enforced the rules of evidence fairly across the board,” Clark observed.

“On the other hand, not all judges can resist the allure of instant fame and then things go crazy and the courtroom is out of control,” she said, adding that she’s not sure she approves of cameras in the courtroom. “To that extent, that's a bad thing. Lawyers pander to the camera — some do. Some don’t. But the effect is not necessarily in the service of justice.”

Although Simpson was found guilty in a civil court and ordered to pay a multi-million dollar judgment to the families of his late wife and her friend, he has yet to pay up, she said.

Martin’s family has yet to say whether they will file a civil suit against the 29-year-old Zimmerman.

“They're enforceable to a point but it doesn't really take that much to avoid them,” she explained. “So while the Martin family may well sue — and may well prevail in civil court as did the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Simpson — but whether that is of any benefit, I'm just not sure about that.”

Editor’s Note: Should Obama Use Zimmerman Verdict to Ban Guns?

Unlike criminal cases, where juries must find someone guilty beyond a “reasonable doubt,” they need only find some culpable beyond a “preponderance of evidence” in a civil case.

“I don't think anybody ever really collects money on these judgments and I don't think that is ultimately really the point either,” she said. “It is possible they (Martin’s family) will prevail in civil court.”

She said the double-jeopardy rule would not apply if the U.S. Department of Justice decides to bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

“Just because you're acquitted in state court doesn't mean a federal court can't take the case,” she said. “So the U.S. attorney can certainly do it. Whether they will or not is a different matter.”






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