The Attempted Impeachment of Selene Bahadoor/Witness 1: What Part of Her Testimony was Zimmerman’s Defense Truly Worried About?

The highlight of today’s round of witness testimony in the Zimmerman trial appears to have been the defense’s attempted impeachment of Selene Bahadoor — a.k.a., Witness 1, or W01. Her testimony was that, on the night Trayvon was killed, she was at home cooking when she heard screaming or yelling from the ‘dog run’ behind her townhouse. W01 was to the east and slightly south of where Trayvon’s body eventually ended up, and prior to the shooting, she could see figures in the dark outside her porch window, with arms flailing. She initially thought the shouting came from children squabbling, and heard shouts of either “no” or “yo.”

On cross, Zimmerman’s counsel attempted to impeach W01 by asking why she had not previously stated, on the record, that she thought the noises of the fight had moved from south to north. The defense also attempted to show her as biased for “liking” a Justice for Trayvon status on Facebook. Although the claims of bias were easy targets for the defense to pick up, I’m left somewhat confused about the defense’s aim in attempting to impeach W01 over inconsistent (or at least previously left unspecified) testimony.

From reports of her testimony at trial, it does not seem that she said anything inconsistent with her police interviews. And her testimony could hardly come as a surprise: W01’s sister, W02, who watched the altercation from upstairs, stated in her initial interviews with police that she saw a chase that occurred from south to north outside their townhouse. (March 9, 2012 interview: Q: “The direction in which you saw these two individuals running, was it towards your house or away from your house — towards the “T” or towards the street?” A: “Towards the T.”)

So the fact that the witnesses at 2841 Retreat View Circle describe the sounds as moving from south to north isn’t some new and previously unknown revelation. It was known within two weeks of the killing (although the Sanford PD failed to immediately interview W01 and W02 as they should have, a fact that Zimmerman’s defense will now benefit from). But it is not clear precisely why Zimmerman’s defense so stridently attacked that specific portion of her testimony. Because the fact that running noises were going from south to north is not damaging to Zimmerman’s defense, and in fact supports his claim that Trayvon ambused him. Zimmerman claims he was attacked after Trayvon headed north from outside W01’s house towards the “T.” If anything, W01’s testimony is consistent with Zimmerman’s story, in that regard.

But the part of W01’s testimony that is hugely inconsistent with Zimmerman’s story is her statement that, after hearing the start of the altercation, W01 saw flailing arms from two standing figures. W01 was consistent in that part of her story at all times, and Zimmerman’s defense did not actually challenge that part of her testimony. But perhaps the defense is hoping that, by pseudo-impeaching W01’s claims regarding the direction of the fight, the jury will also disregard the rest of her testimony.

To me, though, the biggest question regarding W01’s testimony is why on earth did no one think to ask her in depositions which direction she heard the noises going in? Sheesh. It’s hardly W01’s fault if the attorneys deposing her failed to ask such basic questions.


The Defense’s Opening Statement Fails to Address George Zimmerman’s Contradicting Claims of How the Altercation with Trayvon Martin Started

Today was the start of the George Zimmerman trial, and what I have seen so far of the recaps from the defense’s opening arguments have been painful to watch. Even ignoring Don West’s cringe-inducing “knock knock” joke, the defense appears to have done little more than offer the jury a rambling and incoherent summary of the case. West’s attempts to recount a timeline of events leading up to the shooting was, in particular, a confusing mess. He managed to both overload the jury with a torrent of disconnected facts, but also failed to provide the jury with the specific bits of information that would allow the jury to understand the narrative that the defense is trying to sell to them.

One particular item that stood out to me, however, was the defense’s failure to outline the specifics of Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. In his opening statement, West provided the jury with an aerial view of the infamous “T” junction where Trayvon died, and a timeline of various phone calls made by witnesses, the victim, and the defendant. But in describing where exactly the shooting occurred, West can only vaguely gesture to the general area, circling an approximately 1600 square foot area to indicate the location:

The reason for this vagueness is obvious: the precise location of where the altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon began is going to be a significant problem for Zimmerman’s defense, as Zimmerman’s statements concerning how the fight began are not reconcilable with the actual crime scene.

I have included full excerpts and links to the relevant transcripts below the jump, but Zimmerman’s initial police statements and interviews are all clear, direct, and consistent with one another. Zimmerman states, in three separate statements given in the days following the shooting, that after Trayvon punched him in the nose he “immediately” “fell backwards.” Those statements were Zimmerman’s 2/26 written statement, (“the suspect punched me in the face. I fell backwards onto my back. The suspect got on top of me”), the 2/26 Singleton interview (“And he punched me in the nose. At that point I fell down.”; “I fell to the ground when he punched me the first time.”; “As soon as he punched me, I fell backwards, um, into the grass”; “He punched me in the face and I fell backwards”), and the 2/27 Serino interview (Zimmerman: “… And then he punched me in the face.” Serino: “Oh, so he said, OK, you have a problem now. OK, he punched and you fell?” Zimmerman: “Yes, sir.”; “He punched me in the face and I fell backwards.”).

On the afternoon of February 27, after the interview that occurred that morning, Zimmerman then performed a walkthrough with police. During that walkthrough, Zimmerman started to describe the altercation with Trayvon in the same way as in his first three statements. Zimmerman describes that he was on the west prong of the “T” junction, walking west towards his car, having hung up with the non-emergency number approximately 1.5 minutes prior. Zimmerman then describes that Trayvon was to the south of him, and walking north along the path towards the junction, towards Zimmerman.

Also of interest is the fact that this description directly contradicts Zimmerman’s prior claims that “[Trayvon] jumped out from the bushes.” There are no bushes Trayvon could have come out from, and Zimmerman never mentions the bushes again. But there is a bigger inconsistency with Zimmerman’s statement: as seen in the walkthrough video, Zimmerman’s claim that he “fell backwards” after Trayvon “sucker punched him” cannot be true.

This is where Zimmerman claims to have been standing when he was punched and fell backwards:

There’s a problem here. Trayvon’s body was found 40 feet south of where Zimmerman is standing in this screenshot – and in front of him, not behind him. Shown below (and please forgive the MS Paint diagramming) are two pictures of the “T” junction, demonstrating how Zimmerman claims he was punched. The blue block is where Zimmerman says Trayvon came from, and the direction he approached in. The red blocks are where Zimmerman says he was standing. In his statements, Zimmerman states that he was facing Trayvon when the punch occurred, and therefore facing south. The red arrows thus indicate the direction that Zimmerman alleges to have “fallen back,” in his prior interviews. Also marked in both photos is the location where Trayvon’s body was found, face down in the grass, several feet away from any concrete:

So in Zimmerman’s walkthrough interview on 2/27, when he started to repeat the same version of events he’d given in his earlier statements, it quickly became apparent to Zimmerman that he could not actually have fallen backwards, as he previously claimed. Zimmerman tries to compensate for this newly apparent discrepancy, and for the first time, Zimmerman changes his story of how Trayvon punched him. No longer does Zimmerman claim to have been punched, and then to have immediately fallen onto his back. Instead, confronted with the actual geographical setting of where Trayvon was killed, Zimmerman tells a new version of events: he was punched, and then he stumbled forward 40 feet, at which point he fell on his back (after having stumbled forward) and Trayvon then got on top of him. Significantly, even with this new version of events, Zimmerman’s walkthrough of the altercation still comes up 20 feet short of where Trayvon was actually shot.

Following the walkthrough interview, Zimmerman stops telling his initial version of events, given in the first three days following the shooting. Zimmerman instead switches to an amended, and much vaguer, story. In the 2/29 interview, the only interview to take place after the walkthrough, Zimmerman describes a version of events that is inconsistent with the version he gave the first three times he told the story. In describing what happened after Trayvon sucker punched him, Zimmerman states the following:

When he first punched me. I don’t know if I immediately fell down, he threw me down. I was stumbling, I ended up on my back.

The reason for the sudden change is obvious: after performing the walkthrough with the police, Zimmerman had realized it was impossible for his first version of events to be correct. He could not have “fallen backwards” after he was punched, so instead he claims that after he was punched, he fell down, was thrown down, or stumbled forward 40 feet. Zimmerman is unable to provide specifics as to how he was transported forty feet from where the first punch occurred — or whether he fell, was thrown, or stumbled to get there — but unlike his prior statements, it is vague enough to not be demonstrably impossible.


Continue reading

How to Put a Computer in a Picture Frame

My home computer died last week, as a result of what appears to have been a suicide pact between my CPU and my motherboard. That’s my excuse for the lack of recent updates, anyway.

But while I didn’t have a chance to do any blogging, I did have a good excuse to rebuild my computer. Here’s the result:

Picture Frame Build 2

Space-saving, plenty of airflow, and no more reaching down to plug or unplug USBs. Also economical — it saves you from the expense of having to buy both a computer case, and also a picture to hang over your desk.

Of course, if I tried to make another one, there are definitely a few things I would do differently. Like use something other than a box cutter to cut out an opening for the front panel:

Picture Frame Build

A box cutter can cut through wood, as it turns out. It just takes a really, really long time.

There is one small problem with having a wall-mounted computer that I didn’t consider before I put it up, though. And that’s the fact that my cat is convinced the computer fan and the wires were intended to be fascinating new toys for him to play with.

Picture Frame Cat

Maybe I’ll get some pigeon spikes for the top of my desk, that should fix the issue. Otherwise I’m pretty happy with it, as a prototype. There’s even room left over on the board for a new graphics card if I want to upgrade later.


How EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co. Invented the Modern Presumption Against Extraterritoriality

The presumption against extraterritoriality (“PAE”), like all canons of construction, is a shorthand rule of interpretation used by judges to determine how a statute should be applied. Under the PAE, where there exists ambiguity as to the geographical scope of a statute, the court is required to limit the statute’s application to acts which occur within the territorial limits of the United States. But the PAE, as originally construed in EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co. (1991) (“Aramco”), and as elaborated upon in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd. (2010) and, more recently, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (2013), is of a relatively modern vintage for a judicial canon, as it did not exist in its current form until the second half of the 20th century. Prior to the 1950s, the PAE, as it is understood today, did not exist. The modern PAE is instead a conflation of two older canons of construction, and although both those canons are often described as ‘presumptions against extraterritoriality,’ neither canon functioned in the manner that the PAE does today.

These two prior canons, although related both to each other and the modern PAE, were used by the courts two answer two separate questions of statutory construction, and did not typically overlap in their application. The first of these canons, which for purposes of this post has been dubbed the presumption against absurdities (“PAA”), was a presumption that a statute does not provide for extraterritorial application when doing so or when such an interpretation would necessarily imply that the court possesses an unflattering opinion of Congress’ competence. The second canon, which will be referred to here as the presumption against universality (“PAU”), provided that when a statute uses words such as “any,” or “all,” or “every,” those words would not be presumed to have been intended literally when the statute’s context shows that Congress used those words with a more limited definition in mind.

Continue reading