Trayvon Martin case: Why did Florida prosecutor skip grand jury?

Florida state attorney Angela B. Corey cautioned the public against reading too much into her surprise decision to forgo a grand jury in the Trayvon Martin case. But that’s exactly what everyone is doing.

From legal experts to the armchair “CSI” experts at home, close followers of the racially charged case are trying to decipher Corey’s legal strategy -- and gauge what it might mean for neighborhood watch volunteer and admitted shooter, George Zimmerman.

A Seminole County Grand Jury had been scheduled to begin hearing evidence in the case on Tuesday. But Corney announced Monday that the grand jury’s services would not be needed, suggesting that she and she alone would make the decision about whether to seek state charges against Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, 28, says he fired on Martin in self-defense on Feb. 26 as the 17-year-old was walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. But others believe that Zimmerman was the aggressor, and targeted the unarmed teen in part because he was black. The case has riveted the nation, with many demanding Zimmerman’s arrest.

Conventional wisdom suggests that such politically sensitive cases are taken to a grand jury to insulate prosecutors and politicians from controversy by forcing the grand jurors to make the tough call.

So the online world was abuzz Monday afternoon trying to make sense of Corey’s decision. Some say it means that the facts are so cut-and-dried that Corey doesn’t need the shield of the grand jury. Others say it means that the facts are open to interpretation -- and Corey wants to be the one to determine what charges, if any, are filed. And still others seem to have a cynical-meets-political point of view: Is Corey -- an elected official -- courting the spotlight by making the tough call herself?

“I’m shocked. Just shocked,” University of Florida law professor Kenneth B. Nunn told The Times. “I can’t understand it at all, unless they are just trying to play coy and not let people know what they are doing.”

Nunn said that if Corey is not going to take the case to a grand jury, he would expect a decision on whether to file charges fairly soon. There is a relatively low threshold to prove “probable cause,” the general standard used when filing charges in far more mundane cases, he said.

As for whether the decision telegraphs that such charges will indeed be brought in the case, Nunn, who has been closely following the case, wondered aloud: “It’s quite possible that there is some information that creates a doubt or uncertainty in the case. But if that doubt is there, I haven’t seen it.”

Outside legal circles, the reaction ran the gamut.

“Let’s be clear, this does not say anything about the investigation being over or Zimmerman being off the hook,” one reader commented at Global Grind, the influential hip-hop culture site that has been closely following the case. “A grand jury pool could be biased due to media attention and it’s best to let the prosecutor decide at this point.”

At the Orlando Sentinel, which has also been closely following the case, a reader noted: “I think this means they ARE going to charge Zimmerman.....AND that she has a strong case.”

Meanwhile, a reader at the Miami Herald saw the special prosecutor’s move differently: “There isn’t enough evidence to go to a grand jury, it really has to be a sorry case for [Corey] not to be able to convince a Grand Jury.”

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