Trayvon Martin

George Zimmerman's Defense Opens With a Bad Joke, Then Portrays Trayvon Martin As the Aggressor


The Orlando Sentinel

Don West, one of George Zimmerman's defense attorneys, apologized for his poorly received knock-knock joke both before and after he told it. Toward the beginning of his opening statement this morning, West introduced the joke this way:

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. So let me—at considerable risk, I'd like to say—I'd like to tell you a little joke. I know how that may sound, a bit weird in this context, under these circumstances. But I think you're the perfect audience for it, as long as if you don't like it, or don't think it's funny or appropriate, that you don't hold it against Mr. Zimmerman; you can hold it against me if you want, but not Mr. Zimmerman. If I have your assurance that you won't, here's how it goes. 

When he returned to the courtroom after the lunch break this afternoon, West apologized again, blaming the stony response to the joke on his inept delivery. There may also have been a problem with the material:

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

George Zimmerman.

George Zimmerman who?

All right, good, you're on the jury.

Even the crickets were silent. "Nothing?" West said, amazed. "That's funny," he insisted, "after what you folks have been through the last two or three weeks. Let's get on to, however, the serious business of why we're here."

Just reading those words again makes me flush with sympathetic embarrassment. The problem was not just that West ill-advisedly sought to open with a joke right after saying, "This is a sad case, of course. As one of your fellow jurors commented during the jury selection process, a young man lost his life; another is fighting for his. There are no winners here." The problem was also that the joke could easily be misconstrued. I gather that West meant to be understood as commiserating with the jurors, who had just completed a rigorous selection process aimed at weeding out people who already had formed opinions about the widely and heavily publicized case. But the joke also could be interpreted as a poke at the jurors themselves, implying that they must be incurious and out of touch to have been deemed qualified to hear the case.

When he was not actively alienating the jury, West did manage to outline Zimmerman's defense. "I think the evidence will show that this is a sad case," he said, "that there are no monsters here." At the same time, by necessity, he portrayed Trayvon Martin as the aggressor. Although Zimmerman initially followed Martin, West said, he stopped after a police dispatcher told him "we don't need you to do that." West said Martin, by contrast, could have returned to his father's house but instead chose to confront Zimmerman, who "shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after being viciously attacked." To back up that claim, West cited Zimmerman's head injuries, which he said were "consistent with having his head slammed into concrete." He also described the anticipated testimony of a neighbor who says he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman. The neighbor "called it a 'ground and pound,'" West said. "That's the words he used. A 'ground and pound' is when you're mounted on someone, they are helpless, and you are basically beating them senseless."

Zimmerman's lawyers do not have to convince the jury this is what actually happened; they just have to make the account plausible enough to introduce reasonable doubt as to Zimmerman's guilt. The prosecution therefore has a hard row to hoe, especially since it is trying to prove not just that Zimmerman did not have a reasonable fear of serious injury or death but also that he acted out of "ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent." 

You can watch the trial here.

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  1. He’s just made Zimmerman the victim. Of bad counsel.

    1. Doubtful it will make any difference. Who knows, the jury may have thought it was funny. At worst they will ignore it. I can’t imagine even the worst jury letting a failed joke influence their decision. It is not like he made some racial slur or something.

      1. It would have been funnier if he’d told Judge Smails’ joke.

        1. Your favorite man in blue was on the other thread. He’s added expert juror reading skills to his list of accomplishments.

          1. And dont forget his sage advice to feel free to talk to the cops without council.

            That is a real jaw-dropper even for Dunphy.

            1. Hey, he thinks cops should be allowed to gun down homeowners in the middle of the night.

              His normative vision of man’s relationship to the state has got to be pretty dystopian.

          2. He’s added expert juror reading tampering skills to his list of accomplishments.


            At least thats the way it sounds when a cop talks to active jurors and lets them know what happened in privileged conversations.

            1. Whoa. I missed that bit.

              I just glanced over it and told myself he was talking to ex-jurors after trials were over.


              1. Maybe dunphy isn’t a real cop, but is a poseur.

                1. Then he’s been doing it awhile. I remember him from around 05(?) at Volokh, posting as ‘whit’. Or at least it was someone with the same antipathy to capitalization, claiming to be a cop.

                  I normally filter the guy, but did he really admit that he talked to jurors ex parte while they were still in panel pre-verdict? That’s a serious WTF. How in the hell is it not jury tampering on its face?

                  RCW 9A.72.140
                  Jury tampering.

                  (1) A person is guilty of jury tampering if with intent to influence a juror’s vote, opinion, decision, or other official action in a case, he or she attempts to communicate directly or indirectly with a juror other than as part of the proceedings in the trial of the case.

                  (2) Jury tampering is a gross misdemeanor.

                  I’ve got to be missing something.

          3. I swear, I don’t know why you people even respond to him.


            1. I didn’t I just read his blathering idiocy and shook my head. Gotta hand it to John for browbeating him into going away, though.

    2. I doubt they’ll even think about it after the pounding their poor brains are about to take.

    3. They’ll forget this as their heads are spinning with mounds of evidence that makes no sense. From both sides.

      1. Not if the defense is smart. The defense is about two simple facts.

        Martin was a bad guy who was liable to attack Zimmerman,

        Zimmerman was attacked and has the injuries to prove it.

        Just keep pounding those two points over and over again.

        1. Pound ’em like you’re pounding some doughy Latino guy’s head into the sidewalk!

  2. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Trial lawyers can do everything perfectly and lose, and they can be walking disasters and win.

    1. ^^THIS^^ Johnny Cochran gave what can only be described as the worst closing argument in the history of criminal trials. It went on for three hours. Even OJ’s defenders fell asleep. Hell, OJ himself probably nodding off. And none of it mattered.

      1. If the joke is shit,
        you must acquit!

        1. If the joke falls on deaf ears, give the suspect 20 years!

          1. Henry Payne better stay out of trouble.

      2. “If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must aquit!”

    2. I second this comment. Although the best usually do bring home the bacon more often than not.

      1. Yeah, on average it’s not a total crapshoot. Plus the kinds of clients you get can make a huge difference.

  3. This trial is already boring if there is no hot, crazy chick charged with something.

    I can’t be the only one who doesn’t care about it.

    1. I don’t care about you.

      Is that close enough?

  4. Is this the opening round of a Chewbaca defense? Get the jury so confused by what they just saw that they have to acquit because they don’t understand the case?

    1. It’s an all-woman jury – no way they’ll admit to not understanding the case.

  5. Unless he stripped naked and went off on a racist tirade, I don’t think this is going to hurt Zimmerman’s case. Cases are not won or lost in opening statements.

  6. OT: I seem to recall a certain Jacket-wearing libertarian claiming that Senator Ted Cruz supported getting involved in Syria.

    Doesn’t seem to support that charge, does it?

    1. Nope! Sure doesn’t.

  7. Worse was what he followed it with.

    “Why did my client cross the road? To stand his ground on the other side. Thanks, try the waitress, don’t forget to tip the veal.”

    1. High Annnnnnng-ZIE-ity … yooooo WIN!

  8. “Also, and I can’t say this enough, I AM NOT Rick Scott.”

    1. He’s too bulky for Scott.

  9. Hardly a disaster.

    The prosecution is going for Murder 2 which even Dershowitz said was utterly ridiculous – for good reasons.

    The prosecution is going to end up screaming racist vigilante!1111!!!.

    If the defense is worth a damn, they’ll take Corey’s little follie apart piece by piece.

    Then hopefully the race baiters (paging: Al and Jesse and Louis) will ensure Corrie is roundly defeated in the next election and goes on to be a human toilet brush at Gitmo.

    1. You can’t prove murder in this case. Even if they manage to get the jury to buy it, it will never survive on appeal. There has to be some evidence in the record for the jury to base its finding on. Unless the Prosecution has evidence they haven’t revealed, they have no evidence Zimmerman ever had the requisite intent for murder.

    2. what is it about FL prosecutors and going for the gold in charges? They did the same with the Casey Anthony case.

      1. Political ambition.

        And as crazy as FL is, that exists in every state. Most DA’s want that big win so that they can become LG or even Gov.

        In this case, Corey’s over-reaching very badly.

  10. Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    A lawyer in a murder case making a knock-knock joke?

    A who?

    Just kidding, no lawyer would be that silly.

  11. Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Mens rea.

    Mens what?

    Oh, Lord, Zimmerman is fucked.

  12. Zimmerman is already screwed. His attorney might as well make jokes, go to sleep, doesn’t matter. The guilty verdict was in before this started.

    1. You know, that’s what I thought when they tried Michael Jackson for kiddie fondling. But the jury took their responsibility seriously.

      1. Not much danger of riots if Michael Jackson was acquitted though.

    2. I agree with Hash Brown. I believe in the jury system. They might just blow off the facts. It has happened before. But they might not. It is hardly set in stone. Plenty of other juries have done the right thing.

      1. Of course there is some chance that they will convict despite lack of evidence for the charge. But I think (or hope?) you are right and that juries will by and large do the honest thing.

        1. I think most juries are honest. I really do. Most people are not crazy hacks who don’t think putting someone in jail is a big deal to be taken seriously.

          1. There is also something to be said for the ritual and pomp of the court proceedings. It really does send the message that serious business is being conducted, and any relatively normal person will want to rise to the occasion and discharge their role seriously as well.

            1. Yeah. I have seen at least three different people change their story on the stand once they took the oath. It is easy to lie until you actually have to do it in court. Also, for all of the talk people give about giving ridiculous “if he was arrested he must be guilty” answers to get out of jury duty, I have never seen that happen. People always feel the need to do the right thing once there.

    3. He won’t be found guilty of murder.

    4. Nah, he woulda been screwed if he was the white guy the press thought he was when the story first broke. But this Zimmerman happens to be hispanic, so the “you’re guilty as a scapegoat to my own guilt” thing doesn’t quite fly.
      In fact, his lawyer should nip that whole thing in the bud by telling the joke about “a sweater is what children put on when their momma feels cold”

  13. Say, George Zimmerman, George Zimmer.

    1. See if he knows anything about baseball. If he does, we’ll no there’s no connection.

      1. You’ll like the way you’re booked.

  14. One really sad aspect of this, is that if Zimmerman escapes a guilty verdict, I doubt that he will ever be able to lead a normal life in the US. If I was him and was found not guilty, my first priority would be to find another country to live in. The psychopaths in Hollyweird will be posting his residence online and encouraging people to murder him.

    1. I figure he’ll hook up with Casey Anthony and live together in secret.

      1. He’d be better off going to prison.

        1. Only if he wants to have kids with her.

          1. Celebrity acquittals living as roomies in a big house together. I smell a reality show here. “The Other Big House.” Who could be in it…

            1. Sure, why not? And their numbers are ever-growing. I say let OJ participate via Skype.

    2. It is totally sad and pathetic that what should have been a local story was turned into a national one for the most vile of political reasons. Whatever the outcome in this case, Zimmerman deserves both a fair trial and the opportunity to rebuild his life after he is acquitted or gets out of jail if he is not. Thanks to the media, he will not have a chance to do that.

      How anyone doesn’t hold journalists in complete contempt is beyond me. Those lousy fuckers routinely lie and ignore stories because they fear making the story national will cause some kind of harm. But they gladly ruined Zimmerman’s life because doing so furthered their political cause. Journalists are pretty much the lowest form of scum on the earthy, lower than people who sleep with their mothers or rob orphans.

      1. Look at poor Amanda Knox.

        If she sets foot in England she’ll be lynched, and in Europe she’ll be extradited to Italy to face a trial that should have been laughed out of the probable cause hearing.

        In the end, it was all the work of the British Tabloid press making shit up from whole cloth that created an impression that she was engaging in wild sex games with bondage and knives.

        Which is why I don’t care how in the wrong they are, anyone who punches Piers Morgan in the nuts will get a contribution to their legal defense fund from me.

        1. Jeremey Clarkson broke his hand punching Piers Morgan in the nose. True story.

          1. I know, and it was awesome, even though Jeremy Clarkson was utterly in the wrong.

            1. I don’t even know what the argument was about. I just keep replaying the image of Clarkson, with an angry look on his face, punching Morgan and wiping that smug look off his face real quick. And that, is all that matters to me.

        2. she was engaging in wild sex games with bondage and knives.

          go on….

    3. If he’s halfway articulate, he can get a call-in show on satellite radio.

  15. I think Sullum is missing the point – along with the few commenters I’ve read.

    The fact that the jury didn’t laugh proved that they had knowledge of the case, and also had definite opinions on the case, and therefore were unfit to be jurors.

    If you look at the case through the lens of someone who is totally unaware of the case, and who has been through the selection process, it is a funny joke. They didn’t laugh because they know what’s going on.

    The jury is effectively planted.

    1. There is no way that you could find 12 people anywhere in this country who do not know who George Zimmerman is. Maybe some scientist who never leaves the lab or a cloistered nun. But that is about it.

    2. That’s a pretty big leap. Ever been on a criminal jury? I have. It’s a huge responsibility thrust on people who don’t make life-and-death decisions. They’re all as nervous as can be, especially at the outset, and probably have their seriousness set to 11 right now. Of course, the defense counsel should’ve known that and that any joke would fall flat.

      These cases get overanalyzed to death, anyway. Just like the latest psycho bitch murder trial–a juror sneezes, and the heads are talking about it for an hour.

    3. I disagree. The jury has been through hours of very, very serious stuff. They hear a prosecutor make an opening argument. Then the defense stands up and (poorly) delivers a knock-knock joke. In order to find something funny, you have to be at least open to being in a spirit of fun. The start of a murder trial is one of the least funny situatiions imaginable, and the defense attorney is a total idiot for not understanding that. The best comedian in the world could have told the funniest joke in the world and it would have bombed then, in front of those people.

    4. Maybe the jurors are taking their roles seriously. Or they are losing pay or missing Ellen or Oprah and are in a sour mood. If the trial runs for any length of time they may all start menstruating together and then try to tell a joke!

      1. It could just be nerves knowing they will be on Nancy Grace.

        1. That would make me a mess, let me tell you.

  16. Journalists are pretty much the lowest form of scum on the earth

    Politicians could crawl under their belly, standing up.

    1. Journalists are worse. Politicians at least are honest about being dirtbags. Journalists think they are better.

      1. Politicians at least are honest about being dirtbags

        Right, Obama tells us everyday about what a lying sack of crap he is.

        1. Who is worse, Obama or the people who pretend to be objective but instead do everything they can to lie and enable him?

          1. That’s some sort of Zen koan that’s impossible to answer.

            1. What is the sound of one hand jerking off the Statist dick-suckers?

        2. Some lie, and they know you know they are lying, and you know they know you know they are lying, and you both know you won’t do anything about it. What’s the term for this anyway?

          1. Bald-face Lie?

            1. “Circle-jerk”?

          2. I think the term is “a day at the office in Washington”

  17. Tudor the Turtle ought to know to leave stand-up out of the courtroom. All woman jury is a Miss Trial.

    1. ba-dum-DUM! Now THATS punny!

    2. Twizzle twazzle twozzle tome
      Time for this one to come home

    3. I was going to say something about a miss-carriage of justice but I got kicked off Red State for that kind of thing.

      1. Around here, all you’ll get is some groans and a disapproving look from LTCJohn(ret).

  18. I watched the last 20 minutes or so of today’s proceedings where the other attorney was objecting to admitting the evidence he had just agreed to admit. Really hoped that the other guy would be better than he. Guess not, if it’s Mr. Knock-Knock. I fear that Zimmerman is sunk if this is the quality of his representation.

  19. At least he didn’t start with “Paula Dean walks into a bar….with George Zimmerman”

  20. I’ll bet Z is going down. Reason being that americans are so brainwashed and scared of the wide berth of racism’s definition, there is no way that a jury will want to be responsible for the violence that will break out if he is acquitted. The media is almost entirely on board with vilifying Z and victimizing Martin even though no one knows what happened. Stay home the night of the verdict no matter what, if you are smart.

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