Guests: Savannah Guthrie, Ed Rendell, Kerry Sanders, Zachary Carter, Willie Brown, Joy-Ann Reid, David Wilson, Ron
Reagan, David Weinstein
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Law and order.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. And leading off
tonight, the Trayvon Martin case. In about one hour, we will hear from the
special prosecutor in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. NBC News has
learned that the prosecutor, Angela Corey, will file charges against George
Zimmerman, but it is not clear what those charges will be.
Corey is expected to speak, the prosecutor, at 6:00 PM tonight Eastern
time, and shortly after that, the parents of Trayvon Martin will hold a
news conference that we`ll carry here live, of course, on MSNBC. And that
will be followed here by an interview with the parents by the Reverend Al
Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network, and of course, also our
fellow anchor here on MSNBC.
For the next hour here on HARDBALL, we`re going to cover this story
from all angles. What charges might the prosecutor bring tonight at 6:00
Eastern, the difficulty of empaneling an objective jury in a case that has
polarized the country along racial lines, and what role the protests played
in bringing the prosecution we`re going to expect to hear tonight, within
the hour, in fact.
We begin with Sanford, Florida -- in Sanford, Florida, with NBC`s
Kerry Sanders. Kerry, what`s new? Anything new more about what we`re
going to hear at 6:00?
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, let`s just bring folks up to
date that are just tuning in. Earlier today, Angela Corey announced that
she would be having a news conference at 6:00 o`clock. And then Pete
Williams, our colleague in Washington, said that his federal law
enforcement services had confirmed that she was going to announce that
there will be charges against 28-year-old George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman, of course, is the gunman who shot and killed 17-
year-old Trayvon Martin February 26th here in Sanford. It was a rainy
night. And the incident developed into what we have seen today.
But the initial part of this story is why it`s become what it is
today. Initially, in the first seven hours and 50 minutes of shooting (ph)
through (ph) investigation, the Sanford Police Department concluded, along
with the state attorney here in Seminole County, that there would not be
And so the community was outraged, specifically, Trayvon Martin`s
family. His father, who lived in the apartment there with his girlfriend,
his -- Trayvon`s mother, who lived in South Florida, could not believe that
the police had wrapped up an investigation so quickly and that they allowed
the -- what they felt was a suspect to leave the police department that
Twenty-eight-year-old George Zimmerman, who has maintained his right
to silence -- the only time we believe that he`s spoken to the police is
the night that he was at the police department as he was being interviewed
by the authorities, maintained through his attorneys, who are now no longer
his attorneys, that he was simply defending himself and relied on Florida`s
"stand your ground" law, which allows those who feel that they may be in
serious bodily harm or may find themselves likely to die...
SANDERS: ... that they can defend themselves, including using a
weapon. So that takes us from the background to where we are now, Chris,
which is we`re waiting to hear from Angela Corey on what she has concluded.
She examined or reexamined the evidence that was gathered by the
Sanford Police Department, and then along with state agents from the
Florida Department of Law Enforcement, for about 20 days now, has
investigated this case, reinterviewed witnesses, perhaps found new
witnesses, found new evidence, perhaps, and we now know is going to make an
announcement on those charges.
We don`t know what they are, but we do know it won`t be first degree
murder. That`s off the table because she chose not to go to a grand jury.
And in Florida, when you get a first degree indictment, you go to the grand
jury, so it will be something less than that.
MATTHEWS: Kerry Sanders, thanks for that report from Florida. We`ll
be hearing more from you as the evening progresses.
Let`s go now to David Weinstein. He`s former assistant U.S. attorney
in the southern district of Florida. We`ll be getting to him in just a
Let`s go right now to Willie Brown. He`s the former mayor of San
Francisco. Mr. Brown, I`ve got a great respect for your keen intelligence.
And this is one of those trials -- as it comes up before us, it looks like
it`s going to be a trial, for something -- well, not first degree murder,
perhaps for manslaughter. We`re going to hear at 6:00 o`clock what exactly
what it is.
So much of race and culture and attitude -- every American citizen,
practically, has been involved in watching this case now. It`s going to
have to go before a jury. What are the chances we get true justice here?
WILLIE BROWN (D), FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Well it`s going to be
very difficult, Chris, the fact that over the last 45 days, America has
been focused on this happening in Florida. There have been all kinds of
words uttered by everybody from every perch, literally, including yesterday
the United States attorney general saying very clearly, that if there was
evidence of any violation of the law, violation of anybody`s civil rights,
there would be federal prosecution.
And so the attitudes are probably already out there. I don`t exactly
know how anyone at this stage of the game would think that there would be
totally objective people who have never heard anything about this case.
On the other hand, it was so outrageous in terms of the seven-hour or
so process that the authorities went through in Florida, that prompted all
of the rallies and all of the kinds of things that have occurred in
different cities, including that location, as well. And so Chris, this is
going to be very, very difficult.
And now, finally, the lawyers for Mr. Zimmerman have fired Mr.
BROWN: That`s uncharacteristic, for lawyers to fire their clients,
but they have done so. That also sends a message that can be interpreted
by people who are observing this and who could possibly on the jury that
there`s something seriously wrong with this fellow.
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s an interesting matter. Let`s go right now to
David Weinstein. As I said, he`s the former assistant U.S. attorney for
the southern district of Florida. Mr. Weinstein, welcome to HARDBALL.
We need some almost clinical information right now. What`s the array
of possible charges that might be brought tonight?
DAVID WEINSTEIN, FMR. ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, Chris -- Chris, she
could charge him with anything ranging from second-degree murder all the
way down to culpable negligence. And they all fall within a degree of each
Second-degree murder would be the highest charge. That`s what we
refer to as a depraved mind (ph) murder. Your next charge down from that
would be a culpable negligence-based murder, which is manslaughter. And
that would be an action that was taken with reckless disregard to human
From there, it follows (INAUDIBLE) other lesser felonies, aggravated
battery, which is when you attack and cause injury to somebody, assault
with a deadly weapon, being the firearm that he had in his hand. Could be
simple assault, simple battery and then all the way down to culpable
MATTHEWS: What seems to be -- without judging the case here, let me
just try something here with you, David. And I really appreciate you
You know, there`s so much debate about what happened, but it`s not
really wide-ranging. Most people come into this sort of the notion of
probably what happened here was he was following this young man, this 17-
year-old, for whatever suspicion, possibly racial reasons he followed him.
He was told not to, but he continued to follow him. And there`s some
kind of confrontation occurred, a struggle. Blows were thrown. Perhaps
the man was suffering from injuries because of that. At some point, he
says he felt threatened for his life.
If that`s the situation, and there was some kind of fight going on, in
the midst of the fight, he pulled a gun and shot the guy, what would be the
appropriate charge in a case like that? Two guys are fighting, one guy
pulls a gun and shoots the other guy. What`s the right charge then?
WEINSTEIN: The right charge in there is manslaughter, which is...
WEINSTEIN: ... which is he`s using a reckless disregard for human
life. But you know, Chris, what`s important here...
MATTHEWS: But when you shoot at a guy`s chest, you know you`re
probably going to kill the guy, right? I mean, that`s...
WEINSTEIN: Well, right, but you don`t have...
MATTHEWS: Reckless -- go ahead.
WEINSTEIN: You don`t have a depraved mind when you`re going into
this. You`re using reckless disregard for what`s going to happen as a
result of your action.
WEINSTEIN: But keep in mind, is that if he`s in a place that he`s
allowed to be in and he believes that he is in fear for his life, he has a
right to use deadly force. So although we keep talking about this going to
a jury, this may never get to a jury.
Under the "stand your ground" statue here in Florida, the first thing
that his lawyer is going to do is file an immunity motion and get this
matter in front of the judge.
The judge is then going to have to hold a hearing where he or she,
whoever this judge is, is going to have to decide whether or not he was
justified in using this deadly force, whether he believed that serious
bodily injury was going to come to him, and whether or not, based on a
preponderance of the evidence -- not just proof beyond a reasonable doubt,
but a preponderance of the evidence, he was justified in using that deadly
And in which case, under the law as it stands currently in the state
of Florida, he`s immunized. It may never get to a jury.
MATTHEWS: So a judge -- one judge, man or woman, could decide on this
man`s guilt or innocence under the statute called "stand your ground."
WEINSTEIN: That`s correct. And then it`d go up to another panel of
judges at court of appeals, who would have to review the decision and find
out whether or not there was an abuse of discretion in finding whether or
not the preponderance of evidence standard was made.
MATTHEWS: Is there any way that this wouldn`t be the normal course?
Is there any way that the prosecution could say he doesn`t get that "stand
your ground" immunity option, they can deny it to him? Or is every citizen
of Florida guaranteed that -- that day in preliminary court, where you can
make your case for "stand your ground"?
WEINSTEIN: There -- he`s entitled -- based on the facts as we know
them -- and Chris, keep in mind, there`s only two people that know what
really happened there. One of them is Trayvon, and he`s never going to be
able to tell us what happened. And the other is George Zimmerman.
And then you have to couple that with the other evidence that`s been
collected, whether it`s forensic information that they`ve collected by way
of the autopsy, whether it`s by going back to the crime scene and see who
was there, by analyzing the tapes that they have of when George Zimmerman
was brought in, by listening to those 9/11 calls, talking to witnesses.
So there`s not going to be a way for the prosecution to deny him his
day to come in and assert his immunity claim if he believed at the time he
was in a place he had a lawful right to be and that he feared that he was
going to suffer from imminent bodily injury, and as a result of that, he
used this deadly force.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s -- let`s look -- we know the evidence -- we
know that guy had some kind of injury to the back of his head. He didn`t
appear to have a broken nose. He may have had a bloody nose that was
cleaned up, but he certainly wasn`t bleeding at the time we saw him.
We`re looking at the tapes, by the way, David, as he was brought into
the police station. So we don`t have any (ph) evidence, really -- suppose
there was some bleeding at the time of the nose and there was some bleeding
on the back of the head. And he said, This guy jumped me, or whatever,
This guy attacked me, I felt in fear of my life. I pulled the gun and shot
him. The police -- the prosecutor then came in later that night and said,
OK, free him.
Now, let me ask you about some questions. The police at the time felt
there was some reason to think this guy was criminally involved because,
look, there he is walking past us in handcuffs. They didn`t pat him on the
back and say, Good, you saved your life from a dangerous situation. They
put him in handcuffs.
What does that tell you right off the bat?
WEINSTEIN: Well, Chris, when you approach a scene and you weren`t
there and you don`t know what`s going on, the first reaction of law
enforcement, based on my 20-plus years of working with officer both in the
state and the federal system -- they get on the scene. They don`t know
what they have there. They don`t know who the victim is. They don`t know
who the defendant is. So for their safety, they put them in handcuffs.
Keep in mind that they put him in handcuffs, they brought him to the
station, he`s in custody, technically not free to leave for purposes of a 4
Amendment analysis of his -- of his -- of certain -- and 5th Amendment of
certain rights that are going on.
But he wasn`t actually physically taken into custody, which is
something else that comes into play. You have a right to a speedy trial in
the state of Florida from the minute you`re taken into custody. By
bringing him in, interviewing him, and then releasing him, they didn`t
trigger that 180 days and start the clock running. That gave them ample
time to investigate...
WEINSTEIN: ... what was going on and see what the situation was and
not have the clock ticking.
MATTHEWS: Last question. If the way the "stand your ground" law
works, and in fact, you get a right to a preliminary hearing by a judge,
not a -- not a jury, why do you think the prosecutor has chosen to go ahead
WEINSTEIN: Because it`s the defendant`s obligation to assert this
MATTHEWS: I see.
WEINSTEIN: And then becomes judged on a reasonable person`s standard.
It`s not for the prosecutor to determine whether he`s going to assert this
claim or not. Based on the evidence she`s collected, she believes that
there was a violation of the law, whether it`s second-degree murder,
manslaughter, all the way down to culpable negligence. That was her job to
do and determine whether probable cause exists and whether she can prove it
beyond a reasonable doubt.
She`s made that decision. Now it becomes up to George Zimmerman to
determine if he`s going to assert this affirmative defense.
MATTHEWS: She can`t do it the way the earlier prosecutor did, then.
The earlier prosecutor just said, Release the guy under the grounds that he
will probably be able to win his freedom under the argument of "stand your
ground," so we`re not even going to arrest him and we`re not going to
She said, No -- what? What was her determination, as opposed to the
original prosecutor? How did it differ?
WEINSTEIN: Without knowing exactly what was in the mind of the
original prosecutor, and if his statement was, in fact, what you just said
it was, we don`t know if that`s what he decided. He may have decided there
may be some question here whether or not George Zimmerman could assert his
rights under the "stand your ground." But right now, I`m not comfortable
in bringing the charges. I`m going to conduct some additional
investigation. I`m going to gather additional evidence. I`m going to give
myself some more time. I don`t want that clock running from the minute...
WEINSTEIN: ... I take him into custody.
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back, and we`ll get some reaction from not
just David, further delineation of the law, but also some sound reaction
from Willie Brown. Willie`s going to be joining us again as await the
prosecutor`s announced of the charges coming against George Zimmerman, and
they are coming within the hour now. We`re going to find out what the
indictment is. Is it going to be second-degree murder? Is it going to be
manslaughter? What? And does it look he`ll be able to beat the rap if he
goes for this defense of "stand your ground"?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re going to have much more on the Trayvon Martin case
and the prosecutor`s announcement, which is coming up at 6:00 o`clock.
But we`ve also got new poll numbers on the general election match-up
for president between President Obama and Mitt Romney. And for that, we go
to the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."
We start in Colorado, a state Obama won in 2008. He`s doing well
there again. The president has a 13-point lead over Mitt Romney in that
new PPP automated poll.
Next to North Carolina, another red state Obama flipped four years
ago. He`s up by 5 over Romney right now in a new PPP poll, 49-44. But
that`s pretty good there for him.
Now to Virginia and a new Roanoke College poll which has Mitt Romney
up 5 in a state Obama won last time, and I believe plans to win this time.
Recent polling out of Virginia has had Obama on top. So this one may be an
outlier. We`ll see.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We`re awaiting the announcement
right now from the special prosecutor in Florida. NBC News has learned
that she will bring charges against George Zimmerman.
Well, the "stand your ground" law in Florida, which allows a person to
use deadly force if they fear their life is in danger, is what protected
Zimmerman from being charged, apparently, with Trayvon Martin`s death the
night of the shooting itself. But similar laws are in effect right now in
two dozen states nationwide, and they`re under scrutiny right now following
Back with me now is former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein,
former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and also with us now in Sanford,
Florida, tonight is Joy-Ann Reid, the managing editor for Grio.com. Joy-
Ann, hang on there.
Right now, back to David again. Explain the "stand your ground"
rules, as opposed to the normal notion we`ve had in common law for perhaps
thousands of years of self-defense.
WEINSTEIN: Well, this is a recent -- the common law self-defense was
a "defend your own castle" type of law. Recently, the state of Florida,
they`ve expanded that to allow to you exert protection of yourself in a
place where you had a lawful right to be and not just inside your home.
As long as you had a lawful right to be there and you feared that you
were going to be injured by someone or that deadly force was being used
against you or you were in imminent fear of serious bodily injury, you
could use that force against somebody else. That`s what`s caused this
MATTHEWS: But in this case -- just before we move on to the other
people joining us right now -- in this case, if he was in this situation he
initially explained himself or claimed to have been in -- that`s Zimmerman
-- if he was down on the ground and the other fellow, the young man,
Trayvon Martin, was, in fact, doing what he said he was doing -- if that`s
believed by the jury, that he was having his head -- or by the judge, he
was having his head pounded into a sidewalk, if you will -- if that`s the
case, as it turns out -- would that be a defense under common notions of
self-defense or only under the notion protected under "stand your ground"?
WEINSTEIN: They`re based -- it`s based on that common law principle,
but because it`s being applied now in a place outside of your castle, where
you would normally have no duty to retreat...
MATTHEWS: But suppose we didn`t have that. Suppose we didn`t have
this new law and it was just a standard self-defense plea, would it work
WEINSTEIN: Wouldn`t necessarily work here. You`d have the same issue
now being presented to the jury, not to a judge.
Let me go right -- let me go right now to Joy-Ann Reid.
Joy-Ann, your sense of this imminent reality we`re going to face,
which -- if there are charges brought tonight, then we`re going to have
reality here. And that is the question of whether this is going to meet
the concerns of all the good people out there who have demanded some kind
of justice here.
Will the holding of a trial, the prosecution of this man meet that
need, meet that demand?
JOY-ANN REID, THEGRIO.COM: Well, Chris, you know, I think the
community here in Sanford is holding its collective breath, particularly in
the African-American community, where you have got to understand they see
themselves of having dozens of Trayvon Martins, of having cases with black
men who were shot and killed whether it was by police, by another civilian
or whether it was by another black person, and the police not investigating
and feeling the police don`t respect them and just feeling really sort of
put upon by the police department here.
They see this as an opportunity to show the world what they have been
dealing with, with the department. So vindication for them is actually
having the department looked at. You have got a lost calls here that yes,
they want to see a trial of George Zimmerman but they also want to see this
police department and their tactics and their investigations reviewed as
MATTHEWS: Is there a perception there that the treatment of him --
the thing that disturbed me, just as a non-lawyer, again, I always like to
remind people I`m not a lawyer -- what I was think was a real problem for
the police department was here they are. A young man was killed. His body
kept there for several days. I don`t know whether they really made an
effort to identify him or not.
There was a sense almost like this guy was a felon, this guy was a
criminal and deserved to be treated than an average, innocent citizen.
That was my perception of the way he was treated. Was that the community`s
REID: That`s absolutely the perception, Chris.
What people in the African-American community here in Sanford will
tell you is that they feel that Trayvon Martin was treated in a way that is
typical for black victims of crime and that he was immediately presumed to
have been the bad guy, that George Zimmerman wasn`t given the presumption
of innocence by the police that initially questioned him, and that it
wasn`t thorough, that a thorough investigation wasn`t done to make sure
that the person who the police were initially saying was the victim, George
Zimmerman, who even some witnesses said they were told by officers no, it
was Zimmerman who was screaming, not the boy who was killed.
There was just a feeling in the black community that the police didn`t
bother because they just assumed that Trayvon Martin was the bad guy in the
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mayor Brown in this.
Mayor Brown, this issue of this stand your ground, I`m not so sure I`m
ready to believe yet this a law like this we might not like, and obviously
it`s an NRA-pushed law, the people guys that just like guns generally in
the hands of civilians -- is this seen as a racially distorting or unfair
law by its nature or is it just in this case?
WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: I think it is by its
In fact, in the states where you see this law being placed, it is
usually in the states where there is a problem from the African-American
community`s perspective and there has been a problem for a long time. In
addition there too, Chris, you see it always in the states where there is
some liberal interpretation of whether or not you can carry a concealed
This is an additional issue involved in the concealed weapon process.
That always has been used in a manner inconsistent with justice for
African-Americans. And that`s how it is perceived by the African-American
community all over the nation.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to David Weinstein.
There`s three things in this case that obviously added up to hell, to
put it lightly here, in terms of the loss of this young man`s life, which
is the permanent reality here that everyone is dealing with. One is you
have a neighborhood watch guy. That is a good thing to be a neighborhood
Everybody believes it`s a way to help the police do the job protecting
communities, white people, black people, Hispanic people. Anybody can be a
neighborhood watch person. And they are. The second problem is to add to
the neighborhood watch man or woman`s position, put a gun on their belt.
Put a gun on this person.
Then the person is not a person looking out for the police, helping
the police do their job. It is what? What is that person if they have a
gun on them while they`re doing neighborhood watch work? And then that
person confronts perhaps, begins an encounter with someone who may be
immediately feeling that they`re being threatened or humiliated or whatever
and there is a scuffle of some kind.
You put all three together, race, a gun, neighborhood watch, a who
seems to be incredibly aggressive in the neighborhood watch role, trouble,
in this case, tragedy.
WEINSTEIN: Well, it clearly did develop into trouble.
And I think if you look at all of this individually, Chris, and you
look at individual pieces, none of them by themselves have created this
firestorm. It is the individual pieces put together that created the
In the state of Florida if you are not a convicted felon, and you are
qualify, you can apply for and obtain a concealed weapons permit. That
allows you to carry a concealed weapon. You can also volunteer to
participate in a crime watch. It doesn`t matter what shape, color or size
you are. If you want to help your community and you want to go out and
help your neighbors, and assist, whether it`s by looking out your window,
walking down the street, keeping your eyes open, that is all fine.
And if you`re a young man on the way back from the store because you
walk down the street to get some Skittles and some ice tea, you have a
right to be walking in that community. What happened was, is that all
three of these elements got themselves bottled up together and it created
Individually, none of them were a problem and individually each one of
them is one of the great reasons we all love to live here.
MATTHEWS: And what we don`t know yet is what that man, Zimmerman,
said, who is still alive, what he said to the other guy who was younger
than him that may have stirred a dispute there to add to all of this, that
ended up being part of this terrible, terrible congestion of hell here.
Anyway, thank you, everybody. We have to have short notice for
Joy-Ann Reid, thank you for joining us from Grio, as always.
Mayor Brown, as always, sir.
David Weinstein, welcome to the program. You have been a real
WEINSTEIN: Thank you very much for having me, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: how the Trayvon Martin case has polarized the
country along racial lines. Everybody I think figured this out -- was
happening. Wait until you see some of these numbers. It is disturbing the
way different people look at the same event, if you will.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re now about a half-hour away from the announcement by a Florida
prosecutor about the Trayvon Martin case. NBC News has learned that she
will bring charges against George Zimmerman.
Well, attitudes about this case vary widely by race according to a New
York -- actually a new "Washington Post"/ABC poll. Here are the numbers.
Among whites, 5 percent say the shooting was justified. By the way, these
are judgments people are making about what happened; 38 percent say the
shooting was unjustified. That`s 38 percent among whites -- 56 percent of
the whites people in this country surveyed in this poll say they don`t know
enough about the case to make a judgment.
Among blacks, just 1 percent say the shooting was justified, 1 percent
opposed to the 5 percent of whites, vs. 80 percent who say the shooting was
unjustified. And 19 percent said they don`t know enough to say. Just 19
percent are holding back judgment.
And how is this case viewed differently through a racial prism? Well,
we`re seeing right now.
So David Wilson is joining us right now. He`s managing editor and
actually the founder of TheGrio.com. We`re also joined by political
commentator Ron Reagan.
David, let me talk to you about this. Does this result by "The
Washington Post" polling unit surprise you? Does it square with your sense
of the way people have talked about this case?
DAVID WILSON, FOUNDER, THEGRIO.COM: It doesn`t surprise me at all.
I think what is driving the passion behind this case for African-
Americans are the personal experiences. You have to consider that about 50
percent of all homicides in the United States, the victims are black men.
And many of these homicides, there are no arrests made and go
unsolved. And so Trayvon Martin for many African-Americans represent a
family member or someone that -- someone else`s family member who died
because of a shooting.
And the Sanford Police Department stands in a place of many other law
enforcements, local law enforcements across the United States that fail to
solve the murder of black men.
MATTHEWS: Well, that doesn`t quite answer the question of the
polling, though, David, because the question -- the polling says, 80
percent of African-Americans polled by "The Washington Post" polling unit
say the shooting was unjustified. There is a judgment made, a verdict in
It isn`t that they don`t think it was properly investigated or it was
treated coldly, as this guy wasn`t worthy of a proper investigation. It`s
80 percent saying they know what happened, basically. And that to me is a
rush to judgment, isn`t it?
WILSON: Well, I think it is based off of past and it`s based off of
And I think that -- I think that it`s because they are also following
the case, and I think when you look at the polling on the white side, a lot
of folks said they don`t believe that they have enough information.
WILSON: With African-Americans, I think you also see a disparity in
how African-Americans are following this story, as opposed to how white
Americans are following this story.
A lot of African-Americans -- any story that we put up on TheGrio
surrounding the Trayvon Martin case gets a lot of views and gets a lot of
comments. So I think that a lot of African-Americans...
MATTHEWS: You believe as an observer and as a commentator here, as a
journalist, that you believe coming out of Grio, working on this case so
many weeks in a row now, you believe it is a reasonable judgment that the
shooting was unjustified, and to make that judgment now?
WILSON: I don`t -- I`m not saying me personally that I believe it`s a
I`m just saying that, based off a lot of our readers, they have a lot
of experience and they`re very passionate about this particular story. And
I think that`s where their judgment is coming from, personal experiences.
And so I think that`s where it is coming from, not so much that I
personally believe it.
MATTHEWS: So it is based upon a pattern they see it, not just -- not
knowing any more about this particular case, but life experience.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ron Reagan.
This is obviously tricky, because anything to do with race in this
country -- I always call it the San Andreas Fault. It explodes at any
moment. You don`t when it`s going to explode. It just sits there below
the surface in many cases.
RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
And when it explodes, it rarely does any good for anybody, I have
found. We have a hard time having a conversation about race in this
country, and the Trayvon Martin case is just revealing that once again, I
MATTHEWS: Well, personally, I don`t know about this. I think that`s
an interesting point David raised. Do you think it`s binding here, that
the reason so many whites have said they don`t really have a judgment about
the case, that they`re holding back is they`re not following it enough to
pick up on the usual ingredients, the little clues that give you a sense of
what you think happened?
MATTHEWS: ... in this case.
REAGAN: Yes, that may be a good point.
I think a lot of white people too are probably reacting somewhat
legalistically to this, whereas -- and I can`t speak obviously for the
African-American community, but they are probably looking at it, I would
guess, a little more holistically.
They`re looking at the entire situation.
REAGAN: When they are asked, was the shooting justified, the question
is really, was justice done here? And the answer to that is a resounding
MATTHEWS: It takes me back to my Jesuit training, guys.
David, there is a difference between social justice, which I think you
and everyone I care about cares about, the inequality of this country for
like 500 years since the first slave arrived and trying to reconcile that
to history and try to fix it. And then there is a sense of what actually
happened between these two people that night. And we`re trying to apply
that grand concern about social justice to this particular case.
And obviously we leap.
Let`s go right now to Kerry Sanders down in Florida. He`s got some
news right now.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, I have got some
breaking news here.
I can now say that law enforcement is confirming to me, I have several
sources on this now, that 28-year-old George Zimmerman has been taken into
custody. I don`t know specifically where and we`re not going to find out
where this happened, just out of concern for his safety.
But the headline is that 28-year-old George Zimmerman has been taken
into custody now, which is about 28, 25 minutes before we hear from the
special prosecutor who will announce charges against Zimmerman, who was
involved in the shooting 46 days ago...
MATTHEWS: Will we hear the specific charge tonight? Do we know that
yet? Will we hear at 6:00 Eastern?
SANDERS: Yes. We will, yes.
MATTHEWS: We will know what the charge is. Thank you.
SANDERS: Yes, we will hear it. We will hear it. And I`m not sure we
will get an opportunity really to have questions and answers because the
prosecutor here, Angela Corey, will have to prosecute a case.
And she is hard-nosed kind of person who doesn`t necessarily want to
engage in a media back and forth. She wants to try her case in the
courtroom, but she will lay out the charges and likely the rationale and
perhaps some of the evidence of why she reached those charges.
And then in Florida ultimately we will get a chance to see the
evidence that they gathered because of discovery which makes it all
available for everybody to examine the evidence that is presented before
the trial even begins.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a hot report from Kerry Sanders.
George Zimmerman has been taken into custody. We don`t know in what
jurisdiction or in what state.
I thank you.
I want to thank you again, David Wilson, from TheGrio for joining us,
as always, and the great Ronald Reagan -- Ron Reagan, who I love having on
Up next: the heat that led to the light. And I mean it. There was a
lot of heat behind this case, some of it from Reverend Al Sharpton, a lot
of it, in fact. Did that heat -- and it looks like it has -- brought some
light on the case. Will it bring more light on the case?
And how the protests day after day really forced the prosecutor to
reconsider the case. Well, we have seen it happen.
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As I just said, NBC News has just learned moments ago, in fact, that
George Zimmerman has in fact been already taken into custody.
We don`t know where, the charge -- we don`t know where he was taken
into custody, in what jurisdiction or in what state. But the charges he
will be facing are going to be brought to public attention at 6:00 tonight.
Those announcements are going to be made at the top of the coming hour
right now, just 21 minutes away, actually than 20 minutes right now. The
announcement will occur.
Over the past weeks, of course, we have seen protests in cities around
the country, with people calling for Zimmerman`s arrest. No doubt the case
has gained widespread attention and has stoked the passions of many.
What role did all those protests and the media attention, especially
that on this network and networks like it, play in bringing this case to
the point it`s at now? If Trayvon Martin never became a national headline,
would we now be seeing what we`re going to see tonight, a special
prosecutor`s announcement of a prosecution? Would there even be a special
In other words, did heat lead to light?
Savannah Guthrie is NBC News legal correspondent. Zachary Carter is
a former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York.
Savannah, thank you. I want it start with you.
As a general assignment reporter who specializes occasionally on
these kinds of cases -- what role does protest play in bringing action?
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: It has played a role
here. I mean, you only have to look at the initial hours of this
investigation, the fact that initially the police in Sanford determined
that they did not feel they had the evidence to arrest George Zimmerman
with the special prosecutor coming in and NBC now reporting that she will
I think you see the difference right there. The fact as you point
out that special prosecutor was brought in at all. But once the process
starts, this prosecutor will do her level best to put forward a case that
she believes in, that she believes she can prove beyond a reasonable doubt
without regard to what`s happening on the courthouse steps. That will be
her goal. It`ll be difficult to do.
And don`t forget, assuming these charges are coming, we`re going to
have to pick a jury -- a jury of this defendant`s peers, a jury potentially
in Sanford, Florida, although I wouldn`t be surprised if the defense
attorney tries to move it to a different jurisdiction.
So there is no question that what happens outside of the court of
public opinion does bleed in and can affect the process.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me bring in Zachary Carter.
Now, it looks like based upon the information we got from David
Weinstein, the former prosecutor down in Florida, that this may not get a
jury. That there`s a preliminary stage hearing in which a judge can decide
that "Stand Your Ground" applies here and that this person will not be
ZACHARY CARTER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, it seems unlikely to me
a judge would find that the "Stand Your Ground" provisions of the self-
defense statute in Florida will apply. I mean, this is concededly a bad
law and probably not good public policy. But there is a savings provision
in that law which is entitled use of force by aggressor. What it says
specifically is that justification described in the law, that`s otherwise
available on the law, is unavailable to a person who initially provokes use
of force against him or herself.
And indeed, if you`re at aggressor in a situation, in which you
provoked the use of force, then you are actually required under this
statute, to flee, if you can.
MATTHEWS: What is the aggressor in the case --
GUTHRIE: I guess that`s the point you were getting to.
MATTHEWS: It`s still a question. Even if he came up and approached
the young man and said, "What you are doing here," is that provocation for
a fight? That`s the question there, isn`t it?
GUTHRIE: It is legal provocation if he had a right to be there, if
he was carrying a gun he was licensed to carry. But these are the issues
of fact that will be determined at this early stage. I mean, that`s what
is interesting about this "Stand Your Ground" law that provides, it`s not
just defense at trial, it`s actually an immunity from prosecution. So,
that means there will be this preliminary hearing where the defendant
George Zimmerman would have to prove by a preponderance of evidence a much
lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt that he was justified.
So, it is a beneficial statute to criminal defendants. But I think
there`s a significant question of fact as the professor alluded about
whether it`s applicable here and whether or not Zimmerman actually was the
aggressor and provoked this.
MATTHEWS: Do you want to comment on that, Zachary? The whole
question of what is -- how are we going to find out who the aggressor was?
I mean, it could be a person who says something to someone else or is the
person who threw the first blow?
CARTER: I think what`s going to be critical is an analysis of the
sequence of events that`s really supported and explained by the 911 tapes,
because when you listen to the interchange between Zimmerman and the 911
dispatcher, particularly at a point where the dispatcher who seems to be
very smart and sensitive and had a sense of who he was dealing with, at a
point where it was clear to the dispatcher that Zimmerman was pursuing
Trayvon Martin, he says, are you following him? And he said, yes. And he
said he doesn`t need to do that.
To the extent that he does not break off his pursuit, that he ignored
that sound advice, that is critical relevant evidence that could be taken
into account in determining whether or not he was the aggressor or not, and
whether or not he forfeited protections under the so-called "Stand Your
Ground" law as a result of having provoked a use of force from someone who
is entitled to defend himself.
MATTHEW: Yes. OK, there`s a little leap there between pursuing and
provoking. We`re going to have to find out at trial. Thank you so much,
Zachary Carter, for joining us and helping here.
And, of course, Savannah, thank you for joining us, my colleague from
We are now just 15 minutes away from the prosecutor`s decision in the
Trayvon Martin case. NBC News has learned, as I said, George Zimmerman is
already in custody. What charges will he face?
Stay tuned for that in a few minutes. This is HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: There`s a live picture we are watching right now. Special
prosecutor Angela Corey will make an announcement, as I`ve been saying for
the hour, in the Trayvon Martin case at the 6:00 hour, a few minutes from
NBC News has learned that she will bring charges at 6:00 p.m., the
neighborhood volunteer watch shot who shot and killed the unarmed teenager.
Well, he is in custody. We just learned a few minutes ago, from Kerry
We`re going to find out what charges he`s facing in just a couple of
minutes now. Believe it or not, after all this heat, we`re going to get
some light. We`re going to bring you what the announcement says when it
happens live from down there in Florida at 6:00.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Just moments away, in fact, just about 10 minutes away from the
special prosecutor`s announcement in the Trayvon Martin case. We have a
little time right now. NBC News has learned, as I`ve said before, that the
charges against him are coming now. Also, he`s been put into custody
already. George Zimmerman is under arrest right now. We have more now on
that charges coming from the special prosecutor.
We`re going to go right now Ed Rendell. He`s the former Philadelphia
district attorney. That`s how I know him for all those years, a great
And also, Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, another
Gentlemen, I was talking to you this afternoon, Governor. And I was
trying to find out what do you see as a former prosecutor coming here? The
options on the table for Angela Corey?
ED RENDELL, FORMER PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, first of
all, Chris, "A.P." is reporting that he`s going to be charged with second-
degree murder which, of course, would include all of the manslaughter
charges, by manslaughter as well. But not first degree murder, second
MATTHEWS: What does that mean common parlance, second degree
RENDELL: In common parlance, I think that carries not a life
sentence, but a fairly significant sentence -- probably somewhere in the
range of 10 to 20 years would be the maximum sentence. Voluntary
manslaughter, there`s provocation, it reduces the degree, and that would
carry a lesser sentence. So, it depends.
But I think Angela Corey made the right decision for one very clear
reason: self-defense is a defense. That`s just -- it`s very nature,
inherently. And defenses are jury questions. There is enough clear
evidence that George Zimmerman committed this crime. There`s enough
questions about whether he was provoked, whether he`s the aggressor,
whether he felt he was in danger of serious bodily injury. But those are
The prosecutor should bring its case, put its evidence in, the
defense can come put with it`s evidence to try to convince the jury that
the killing was justified by a reason of self-defense.
So, I think it was -- in the last analysis -- an easy call and the
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mayor Brown on this question. We have now a
little tickle here, a problem here. Under the law in Florida, David
Weinstein, the former prosecutor, told us tonight, I didn`t know this, you
have a preliminary hearing, you have a right to, where you can claim "Stand
Your Ground" and all you do is face a judge, you never get to the jury.
WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Well, that`s a
problem, obviously. And in Florida, that`s always an iffy. My guess is
you have an opportunity if you don`t win at that stage, whether you`re the
defendant or whether you`re the state, you`ll have the opportunity to
appeal to a higher level.
I believe there is sufficient information and evidence that causes
the prosecutor to wish to proceed. As indicated by the governor, just a
moment ago, yes, these are all questions that ought to be put to jurors.
No single judge should balk that by concluding without an exhaustive
examination of all the evidence any differently.
RENDELL: I think, Chris, Mayor Brown is absolutely right. No judge
has the right to supplant his or her judgment for the jury. These are
questions of fact. They are jury questions, only can be considered by a
jury. The case should be bound over for a jury trial.
MATTHEWS: When do you lose your claim to the right of self-defense?
You can have a battle of words with someone. You can say something to a
person that just offends them so much they do take a swing at you.
At what point are you culpable for having begun the fight? In other
words, to provoking it. In other words, not really being the victim, but
more of the aggressor, Governor.
RENDELL: Well, that`s interesting question. Under common law --
under common law, first, you have a duty to retreat at any time.
Secondly, under common law, you can only respond with deadly force
when force of that nature, serious bodily injury or deadly force is being
used against you. And query if a man without a weapon could commit be
reasonably construed to be a threat to commit serious bodily injury or
death to you. So, that`s again, that`s a jury question.
But, Chris, the point that was brought up by your last guest, under
this statute, even though it`s stand and defend, if you provoked the n you
can`t claim stand and defend. And when George Martin, in my judgment, and
again, this is a jury question, but in my judgment, when George Martin kept
-- did not follow the police`s advice --
MATTHEWS: George Zimmerman.
RENDELL: George Zimmerman did follow the police`s advice, when he
continued to pursue, he was the aggressor and he provoked it.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s going to be tough in trial for his defense.
Anyway, we`ll be right back with Ed Rendell and Mayor Brown as we
await the special prosecutor`s announcement right at the top of the hour.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Back with Ed Rendell and Willie Brown.
In just a few minutes, the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin
case will announce what charges will be filed against George Zimmerman, who
is already in custody.
Governor, do you think this will be a case where heat leads to light?
Will we actually find out what happened in this case as much as humanly
possible and get justice? After all of the protests that seem to be so
successful bringing it to this point?
RENDELL: Sure, that`s why we have juries. Protest in America can
sometimes influence the bringing of charges, but in the end, it`s the jury
decides. The jury is the last line of defense, and I think if you get
jurors who take their responsibility seriously, and I think we will, we`ll
get the right result.
MATTHEWS: Mayor Brown, will heat lead to light?
BROWN: I believe that it`s more appropriately stated by the governor
when he says once the matter gets to the jury, if you have persons who take
their job seriously, listens to all of the evidence, follows the
instructions very closely, the end result will be one that I think all of
us would be pleased with.
And in my case, I`m without a doubt, I believe something bad should
happen to this guy. I don`t think you can kill somebody even under this
crazy law in Florida, and walk away clean.
RENDELL: Particularly someone who had no weapon at all. Not a
knife, not a gun, or anything.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m still in that 56 percent, but we`ll continue to
watch this thing. My job is to be the 56 percent. I`m not supposed to
make a judgment. I`m not supposed to make a decision.
Go ahead, Governor.
RENDELL: But you made a very good point that we don`t know all of
the evidence. I follow this, not obsessively, but I follow it fairly
closely. I didn`t know the point that you told me today --
RENDELL: -- that the tape showed there was a little bit of blood on
the back of Zimmerman`s head.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Governor, for saying I`m right. I love when
you do it.
Thank you so much, Governor. And, Mayor Brown, good buddy to be on
We`ll be back with a special live edition of HARDBALL at 7:00 Eastern
Right now, the special prosecutor`s announcement coming up right now,
"POLITICS NATION" with Martin Bashir tonight starts right now.
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Guests: Savannah Guthrie, Ed Rendell, Kerry Sanders, Zachary Carter, Willie Brown, Joy-Ann Reid, David Wilson, Ron