George Zimmerman Lawyers Seek Sanctions Against Prosecutor

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There are lots of new developments in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case. Before I get to them, some readers will remember that about 10 days ago, I wrote about the newly released ABC recording of a portion of Benjamin Crump’s March 19, 2012 interview with Witness 8 and said I would follow-up with analysis.

My analysis turned out to be more than 10 typewritten pages and difficult to convert into a blog post with accessible links. I posted it earlier today, in pdf format, since it is far too lengthy for a blog post.

Although it was written before the defense filed a 58 page motion asking Judge Nelson to reconsider her denial of its request to depose Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump, and this week's Motions for Sanctions against the State, I think it is still relevant and also provides some context, especially for those who haven't followed all the goings on with Witness 8, the woman who says she was on the phone with Trayvon minutes before the shooting.

Now on to the recent developments:

Benjamin Crump’s lawyers have filed a snippy response arguing the defense has presented nothing new in its 58 page motion to reconsider and allow it to depose Crump. Although I read it quickly, since I was put off by the needlessly deprecating tone, I didn’t see any discussion of why Crump hasn’t at least partially waived any attorney-client or work-product privilege he might have with respect to the Witness 8 interview, since he played clips of her responses to the media on March 20 and on several later occasions, discussed the circumstances of her interview on television.

[Added: Mark O’Mara has just filed a reply to Crump’s lawyers response, pointing out their failure to address the issue of waiver.]

The star pleadings this week, with respect to revealing new information, are the Defense Motion for Sanctions over Witness 8's deposition and its motion for sanctions for discovery violations.

Witness 8 was deposed on March 13. It was set to begin at 9:00 am, but reports later that day said it would be completed another day, which struck me as odd. I figured she didn't show up until late in the day. But, according to Mark O'Mara, the prosecutor delayed her deposition, because he didn't want it videotaped. (O'Mara writes the rules in Florida clearly allow depositions to be videotaped without prior approval of the court.) So the bulk of the day was spent trying to get an audience with the judge to resolve the video tape issue. In other words, Witness 8 wasn't deposed all day, and another date had to be set to complete it.

On the discovery violations, O'Mara writes that prosecutor De La Rionda knew on April 2 when he interviewed Witness 8 that she wasn't a minor as she had been portrayed by Crump and the media. Despite O'Mara's repeated request for information on her address and age, he refused to provide it. He played coy on the issue in court in October, and withheld the information, saying the defense could ask her. More importantly, De La Rionda knew on August 2 when Witness 8 flew to Jacksonville for an interview that she had lied to him (on April 2), lied to Crump (on March 19) and lied to Sybrina Martin (sometime in March) about missing Trayvon's wake because she was in the hospital. He found out because she told him on August 2. And, despite repeated defense requests for information about her hospital stay, he didn't tell the defense she made up the hospital story until the night before the March 5, 2013 hearing.

As to why she lied to the prosecutor on April 2 (he not only asked her about the hospital stay but asked her if she had told Crump the truth when he interviewed her) Witness 8 told the defense in her deposition it was because Sybrina Fulton was sitting next to her. If there's a poorer practice than a prosecutor conducting his first interview of a witness discovered by the victim's family in the presence of the victim's family, I can't think of it right now.

It seems to me that knowledge that a witness lied to the prosecutor during a sworn interview, and admitted an earlier interview was influenced by the victim's family, is classic Giglio (impeachment) material. It directly bears on her credibility, which is of substantial import in this case since Witness 8 is the only state witness who claims to have heard the words spoken by Zimmerman and Martin at the beginning of their verbal encounter. The state is under a continuing duty to disclose both Brady and Giglio material. The timing of the state's disclosure should be early enough for the defense to make effective use of it. While there may not be a specific time limit for disclosure of Giglio, when the state purposefully chooses to delay notification despite repeated defense requests for such information, resulting in major investigative costs to the defense, I think the state should be liable for such defense costs, which is what O'Mara is requesting. Will the judge agree? Probably not. She seems to routinely favor the state and Crump.

The defense has also filed a supplemental witness list with more than 100 people whom it says have information about the case and may be called at trial. Diwataman has a comprehensive list of the witnesses with descriptive information about their connection to the case. He's redone his site and has the best resource page for the case I’ve seen yet.

I'll have more to say after I've gone through the witness list.