Zimmerman Defense Changes Story About Homeless Fight-Video

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 3 2013 10:53 AM

No, Trayvon Martin Didn't Film His Friends Beating Up a Homeless Man

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George Zimmerman is sworn in as a witness in Seminole circuit court April 30, 2013 in Sanford, Florida

Photo by Joe Burbank - Pool/Getty Images

During a pre-trial hearing last week, George Zimmerman's defense lawyer told the court that it had in its possession cellphone footage taken by Trayvon Martin that shows two of his friends "beating up a homeless guy." In reality, Zimmerman's team now concedes, the video is of two homeless men fighting each other over a bike. Here's the full statement released by the defense on Sunday:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

During the Tuesday, May 28th hearing, Mr. O'Mara misstated the nature of video from Trayvon Martin's cell phone which was included in the Defendant's 3rd Supplemental Discovery. He stated that the video showed "two buddies of his beating up a homeless guy," when what happened was Trayvon Martin, along with a buddy, was videotaping two homeless guys fighting each other over a bike. Though it was unintentional, it is a particular concern to us because we are and have been committed to disputing misinformation in every aspect of this case, not causing it. For that, Mr. O’Mara apologizes.
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The revelation is unlikely to have a direct impact on the proceedings themselves given Judge Debra S. Nelson had already placed strict restrictions on what the defense is allowed to tell the jury about Martin, barring Zimmerman's team from mentioning the teen's drug use, suspension from school and past fighting during opening statements. (She did, however, leave the door open somewhat for the possibility that the defense could try again later during the trial if it could prove particular pieces of evidence were directly relevant to the proceedings.) In reality, the homeless video was unlikely to have been played for jurors even if it showed what the defense originally wrongly claimed it did.

Still, Sunday's admission will provide the latest fuel to the ongoing public debate that has been raging for months about Zimmerman's innocence or guilt, and is yet another example of how both sides have been trying their case in the court of public opinion. It also raises several questions, chief among them: how the lawyers managed to make the mistake in the first place, and why it took so long for them to correct the misinformation.

The video in question was among texts, photos, and other cellphone footage that the defense informed prosecutors two weeks ago that it hoped to use during Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial once it kicks off next week in Sanford, Fla. The release of that evidence to the public also came only days before Zimmerman's defense announced that it was nearly out of cash and that it would need to raise at least $75,000 "to give George a fighting chance."

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This post has been updated with additional information and for clarity.