July 17th, 2013
11:00 PM ET
9 months ago

Spitzer: Prosecutors ‘overreached’ in Zimmerman trial

(CNN) - Democrat Eliot Spitzer, a former state attorney general and governor of New York, said Wednesday that prosecutors went too far in seeking a second-degree murder charge of George Zimmerman, and argued as a result “justice has not been served” in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

In an interview with CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live,” the New York City comptroller candidate also said he hopes President Barack Obama will address the racial and legal tensions surrounding the recent trial.

“An innocent young man was walking where he had every right to be and ended up being shot and killed,” he said. Not pleased with the trial’s outcome, he added “something is wrong when there is no judicial response to that.”

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Martin in February 2012, was acquitted by a jury late Saturday on state criminal charges. Zimmerman said he was acting in self-defense when Martin was shot.

Large protests and petitions have since erupted around the country.

Tapping into his background as a high-profile prosecutor, Spitzer said the state should not have pursued the second-degree murder charge. Instead, Florida prosecutors should have focused solely on manslaughter, he said.

“I always worried as a prosecutor, if you overcharge, you lose credibility,” he said, adding there was not overwhelming evidence to get a conviction, especially when the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. “It was always a tough case. I think they overreached a bit and that probably hurt them.”

Spitzer also took issue with the jury selection, saying in hindsight prosecutors should have been able to detect a sense of sympathy for Zimmerman from the beginning.

In the end, Spitzer said the case is “troubling” and “frames a debate.”

“I would hope that the president would actually give us a good speech on these things. He's done great things at those moments when we need to crystallize,” he said.

Obama released a statement Sunday, but has not publicly spoken about the verdict. His administration currently faces questions over whether the Justice Department should bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, a legal matter that Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged would be difficult to take up.

In his statement, the president called for “calm reflection” following the acquittal of Zimmerman. While he nodded to the emotionally charged climate, he concluded that "we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken."

Attempting to make a political comeback, Spitzer shocked the political world when he announced a late entry this month for city comptroller race in this year’s elections. Less than two weeks into his campaign, two recent polls indicate he’s now the front-runner. Spitzer stepped down from governor in 2008 after getting caught in a prostitution scandal.


Filed under: Eliot Spitzer • New York
soundoff (195 Responses)
  1. commoncents

    The president has spent enough time addressing this case and his administration has spent enough time stepping on toes, pressuring, and trying to influence the outcome of this case. I am sure one of the reasons there was an overzealous 2nd degree charge was due to pressure from his administration getting too involved and trying to inflluence the outcome.

    July 18, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  2. a closer look

    “An innocent young man was walking where he had every right to be and ended up being shot and killed” except that he was engaged in assault at the time. Other that that he wasn't doing anything wrong.

    July 18, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  3. Balanced99

    More deplorable race bating by CNN. Notice there's no mention of any facts of the case. More left wing politics from what's supposed to be some type of 'news' source.

    Based on the facts of the case – the only crime that appears to be committed was assault – by TM. Yes folks – facts, that's what the judicial process is supposed to look at. It appears neither Spitzer, nor the racist Attorney General really care about facts – just politics.

    July 18, 2013 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  4. Andrew

    Right on the money, Elliot.

    July 18, 2013 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    Spitzer is right about the second-degree-murder charge's being excessive, but I think that manslaughter would also have been very problematic because a law, as it is written, must accurately describe a situation that a prosecutor wants to prove is a crime. A trial is not about "feelings," and it certainly shouldn't be about press releases, rallies, and votes.

    July 18, 2013 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  6. Niko the Farmer

    Doesn't he mean: An innocent young man walking home who the jury reasonably determined began an assault on another man who the jury further determined under the law was then justified in defending himself?

    July 18, 2013 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    I still haven't figured out if the prosecuters overreached or underperformed. I thought the closing arguments were terrible. They allowed Mara to ask leading questions, almost at will. Worst of all, they offered no alternative theory of events that fit the undisputed facts. For example, how could GZ have a bloody nose without TM punching him? Bumping heads.

    July 18, 2013 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  8. tired

    once again, we fight amongst ourselves while over zealous prosecutors, over charge, over plan and then get to walk away after beating the hornets nest. add to that immunity on every prosecution win or lose..start holding prosecutors more accountable in a civil legal way and youll have more effective convictions and less railroading. lets not forget, there are a lot more of those than these.....

    July 18, 2013 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  9. EveT

    Spitzer makes excellent points, and I especially share his concern about jury selection. The intellect displayed by the juror who has spoken publicly is, shall we say, underwhelming. The root problem is Florida's "stand your ground" law, and thanks to ALEC there are some 20 states that have enacted these kinds of laws. I do hope the federal government will find the "stand your ground" doctrine to be a violation of basic human rights.

    July 18, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  10. Henry CA

    CNN, you go a bit too far, stop this line of story. have you ever questioned yourself why your rating dropped? Tasteless

    July 18, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  11. TJEFF1776

    Spit is talking politics here. BUT if he keeps on, being elected dogcatcher will not even be within hjis reach.

    July 18, 2013 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  12. ST

    The whole case was a total shumble. How could they grill the girlfriend of TM and not the killer GM. The poor girl sat on the hot seat for more than 5 hours and questions being thrown to her as if she was around or caused all these. Why didn't the murder (some hate this title, BUT the man claimed the life of someone), be questioned as long and as much as it could had taken in order to get the facts how it happened. Claiming justice done in this way, doesn't make any sense. Am sorry to say, it looked like a Mafia style of doing things.

    July 18, 2013 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  13. dana

    spritzer is the only criminal here, and he got off scotch free, he is the last one to be throwing stones

    July 18, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  14. maddoser

    @EveT Stand your ground law had absolutely no impact on this case. It was self defense from the beginning GZ's lawyers never used SYG as a defence in the trial.

    July 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  15. william

    Yes the out come was shocking, bt please give me a moment to maake my point, why is it so bad when any other race kills a black, and then we want to protest and march an take it to the streets. Everyday, in every city and town blacks are killing each other and we dont rally against that, my point is until we respect ourselves, no one will respect us. Respect is earned not given. We want equallity within the jjustice system, equallity within the financial system, but we dont carry ourselve as such. Until we pull up our pants, and cover our breasts, and stop degrading each other. Stop the use of the "N" word, an cursing or women, selling drugs in our neighborhoods, an the overall genocide of our people. No one will take us serious. Rally for the daily senseless killings, rally for the families of the dead, rally for the self respect we need. Then an only then will the rest of the world take us seriously.

    July 18, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  16. Davis

    I would not care what Spitzer says about anything, he is a disgrace to his family and to the political office he held. Why would anyone care what this sorry pathetic man thinks? I haven't the foggist.....

    July 18, 2013 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  17. Balanced99

    The prosecutors overreached when they decided to prosecute this case – PERIOD.

    All the facts show one crime – assault committed by TM. Remember – TM's 'history/character' were inadmissible at trial. However, they tried to make GZ out to be a wannabe law enforcement agent and racist.

    The character facts – clear – you can politely say TM was a very troubled youth, or, you can factually say, he was a drug abusing thief repeatedly suspended from school who was sent to live with his father. A person clearly infatuated with guns and fighting who had a real problem with the white a55 Cracker he thought was following him.

    TM could have easily walked home. Instead, he pounced on ZM (remember, the guy with the broken nose, bruises and clear lacerations that firmly support his story.

    July 18, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  18. ????

    The "Stand Your Ground" law was never an issue in the Zimmerman case. Eric Holder has tried to make it an issue to deflect attention away from the fact that the federal government no chance whatsoever of successfully prosecuting (or persecuting) George Zimmerman any further in this matter.

    This case basically boils down to two guys (who both were not very bright to begin with) somehow got into a fight. In my opinion, when Zimmerman started getting his head slammed on the sidewalk, this escalated from being in a fistfight with Martin to Martin trying to inflict great bodily harm and/or kill Zimmerman. At that point Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force. Zimmerman showed restraint when he shot Martin only once. If he had emptied his entire magazine into Martin, that may have been a different matter.

    The moral of this story is if you get into a fight with someone on the "street", do not be surprised if the other guy pulls out a knife or a gun and tries to kill you.

    July 18, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  19. Lord Toronaga

    Many people in fact like the Stand Your Ground law. I certainly do.

    July 18, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  20. dnokc

    Trayvon's story was news for all the wrong reasons. 1.Race baiters hoping to make a buck. 2. News organizations culling and spoon feeding the public half truths and incomplete facts. 3.The deplorable parenting Trayvon received. 4. The federal governments desire to keep guns in the news. 4.The state of Florida withholding defense requests for evidence.

    July 18, 2013 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  21. Truth

    Yes the prosecution did commit over reach. Perhaps a lesser charge would have been a better charge. Regardless this misses the point. There was an assualt that night and as stated that assualt based on the evidence was initiated by TM. Hypothetically, had TM not died what we would have found is TM would have ended up in prison for assualt. Furthermore, should DOJ go after the stated for stand your ground this will breach some of the foundations of our government. The federal government was not granted that right by the constitution. There is a guilty party in this case, and that party is those that have done race baiting and trying to slant the case beyond the facts (liberal media, to name one in particular NBC).

    July 18, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  22. Donna

    The first jury member to speak was never going to convict Zimmerman. During jury selection, she referred to African Americans as colored people and referred to the original peaceful demonstrations in Sanford as riots.

    This jury member was biased and never going to convict. She talked about African Americans as if they lived in another country. her husband is a lawyer who most likely followed the case from the beginning like most lawyers in Florida. he probably talked about it with her.

    She also said she considered the lead detectives statement that he believed Zimmerman was honest in his explanation of what happened. The judge said disregard that opinion, but the jury member did not

    It was obvious that she was biased toward Rachel Jeantel. I do not believe she even considered her testimony. Rachel was the most honest witness of all. Did the jury even read Rachel's testimony transcript since that juror said she did not understand her.

    I think this jury member spent 14 hours convincing the 3 jury members to switch from guilty to not guilty.
    The animation the defense presented in their closing was highly prejudicial. Should have never been allowed.

    I think the prosecution should try to get the verdict overturned and have a total do-over

    July 18, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  23. TruthSeeker

    Only If his parents have raised Martin with GOOD VALUES. Respect the Verdict and Move On CNN. Stop Exploiting the Racism.

    July 18, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  24. mark jeann

    The only reason, their was a trial, was because of pressure, from President Obama. The Seminole County State Attorney's office, Seminole County Sheriff's office and Sanford Police department had already determined that Mr. Martin was the aggressor, blindsided Mr. Zimmerman in a ambush, of heavy punches. It was a unprovoked assault, inside a private gated community. A case of self defense. Nothing more, nothing less.

    July 18, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  25. John B.

    Bad thing happened, only Zimmerman knows what really happened, police told him to stand down and he pursued anyway and a 17 year old got killed. When did that happen, like months ago?

    It was bad, but on the grand scale of things it wasn't equal to one of our soldiers getting killed in Afghanistan – why are we still there again?

    This is about how dysfunctional our media has become – that's it. People that would normally only get to rant in a bar end up on TV and won't shut up.

    Our country is a mess, our political system is a mess, our education system is a mess and we are still in a war that has no end in sight.

    Again, this is bad, but there is NO WAY it is this important. The bottom line is that Zimmerman would have shot a 17 year old white kid walking there in a hooded sweatshirt, because Zimmerman is a wanna be cop – wanna be cops are very scary.

    The country continues to decline, the world continues to struggle and we spend months freaking out about one stupid thing that happened to one person on one day in a country of 300 million and a world of billions.

    It's called PERSPECTIVE – yea, it's bad, now move on – damn.

    July 18, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
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