Monday, September 24, 2012

Missed Opportunities In Robert Zimmerman's Apology




He had a message and he chose to come to Fox 11's Good Day LA to give it.   The message was an apology written months ago, tweaked over the course of time, but delivered succinctly today.  “Less is more,” laser focus, and cause no damage were apparent tenants to the PR strategy.  His written apology and even his interview seemed to echo the philosophy that less said, less damage. But in his efforts to do no harm did he miss opportunities to influence the court of public opinion?

The George Zimmerman case (or Trayvon Martin case depending on your vantage point) has become the quintessential race case of the century.  The divisiveness of race is not just amongst the public but the players as well.   Prosecutor Angela Corey articulated from the beginning that this was a killing that was motivated by race.  On the flip side, others believe that it’s the media that made this case of race—a theory seemingly supported by the news organization that edited the tapes of the 911 call. 

The Zimmerman family has their view as expressed by RobertZimmerman on Good Day LA -- George Zimmerman is not a racist, not a murderer and acted in self defense.  Robert Zimmerman says he believes in the “system” and no wonder why—his brother is enjoying freedom out of on bail, the defense was able to get a judge recused, and he has a legal team working around the clock both virtually and in realtime. But if you really believe that the justice system is about exposing the truth does today’s apology illuminate what actually happened on Feb 27, 2011?  Are we any closer to the truth? Or have we just witnessed the Zimmerman family attempting to gauge the temperature of the public with a little toe dip in the LA Court of public opinion?   Here is the missed opportunity: when the facts are hot and you deliver cool you miss an opportunity to change the temperature. 


What today did do was offer us a glimpse of what may be yet to come.  Robert, who is a near double of George, was as poised as George was during bail hearing number one.  He was mild mannered, spoke in a low tone, and didn’t so much as flinch, blink, or utter one “ummm.”  If I was a betting woman, I’d put money that the Robert Zimmerman we say today on Good Day LA will be a very similar George Zimmerman come the Stand Your Ground hearing in 2013.  While a little bizarre, he will be tough to move, difficult to hate, and will remain as calm, cool and collected as his older bro.  But remember, there are no read statements and controlling parameters of an interview in the court of law.  There is cross examination, impeachment, and bad acts that will come to play. 

But did Robert Zimmerman seem truthful?  Will George?  Truth matters.  It’s what this case will rise and fall on.  And ultimately decisions will be based on the version of the truth presented by GeorgeZimmerman and whether his rendition is deemed credible.  There is no other he to the “he said” as he Trayvon is dead.  So in order to reach conclusions we are looking to things far outside of the case to determine credibility.  We look at what is said in court, representations made to lawyers about funds from a website, and now we can include his brother Robert’s apology. This interview, though may seem unmoving, says well scripted, well poised answers don’t enhance credibility. Blunt honesty, admissions of error, and humanness do. Another missed opportunity.


And finally I felt like something was missing? How can you be calm, cool, and collected if you believe you were acting in self defense and are accused of murder?  Wouldn’t you be a little irate?  You heard Robert Zimmerman say that George had the crap beaten out of him to the point where his ears were bleeding for a day after the alleged attack yet his brother still can offer an apology.  On the flip side, if the Zimmermans are truly apologizing where was the telltale sign of remorse--empathy?  Where was the acknowledgement of the one undisputed reality—that Trayvon Martin died at the hands of George Zimmerman .  This was not a case of “passing away” like Robert stated.   Either way got neither adamant self defense nor heartfelt apology.  For a case that is all about emotion, it was the one ingredient that was absent here today.  Robert Zimmerman missed the opportunity to show us the behind the curtain, give us the real deal, and make us want to accept his apology.


I have not heard one person say that they were swayed or moved by Robert Zimmerman and his apology.  I supposed if “cause no harm” was the only goal (which I doubt it was) maybe just that and only that was accomplished. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Monster in Our Midst: Missed Opportunities



Like many of you, I am blown away by the Mark Berndt case, a story broken by Gigi Graciette, which occurred right here in my hometown of Los Angeles.  Mark Berndt, is the Miramonte school teacher who is accused of 23 counts of sex abuse against children.  The case stems from a hero (and law abiding) film processor who reported suspected child abuse to law enforcement.  The facts are as heinous as any I have ever seen.  Some 23 students (that we know of) were allegedly victimized in the grossest of gross ways.  The abuse was done under the auspices of a game where many of his 8-year old third-grade students thought they were drinking some sweet treat from a spoon which later turned out to be semen matching Berndt’s DNA.  The students were photographed with their mouths bound and many had Madagascar cockroaches on their faces.  Yesterday we found out that there was an investigation of him for sex crimes some 20 years ago, and nothing was done by way of prosecution.

Criminals, most often, are not caught until after the crime has been committed.  Law enforcement is reactive -- not proactive.   So when we hear about a crime, and find out that the criminal was earlier in police grasp, we get sad and we get angry.  These are what I call “missed opportunities,” like Lily Burke, a beautiful 17-year old girl, murdered by a three-striker out of custody on a “clerical error”; Jaycee Duggard, living under the thumb of a registered sex-offender parolee for years and years; and Anthony Sowell, who murdered 11 women in Cleveland seemingly at will, while on parole for rape.

I am a former prosecutor.  I am a staunch victim rights advocate, mostly for women, who are often ignored, neglected or worse by the very people sworn to protect them.  I am writing this column to save a girl, save potential future victims, and to call to your attention to a monster in our midst, known to law enforcement, but thus far a missed opportunity.

You have never heard of him, but Ronny Whitter is a registered sex offender convicted of rape, child abuse and kidnapping.  Paulani Hockenhull fled from this man 16 years ago, when their daughter, Nohea, was two years old.  She left Hawaii and came to California, then Phoenix, for a safer life for Nohea.  For 16 years, she was away from this monster, but he found her through that newly minted 100 billion-dollar company, Facebook.

Ronny Whitter found Nohea by using his 14-year-old daughter’s Facebook page.  He made Nohea feel that she had found the long lost father she never had.  On her 18th birthday, Whitter flew out from Hawaii to Phoenix.  He took her out, bought her gifts and promised her he would be the father she never had.  He convinced her that she should move to Hawaii with him.  Mesmerized by the idea of living in Hawaii with a father who truly loved her, she agreed to move to Hawaii.

In January of 2011, he picked her up.  Before their departure he took her to a hotel room for 7 days where he groomed and eventually had sex with her for most of the nights.  During the day be became her doting father.  Nohea told police she first resisted, but then put up with the sex because he was so loving during the day.  Once in Hawaii, he moved her in with his family (a wife and three minor children) where his horrible behavior continued.   He had sex with her behind his wife’s back, and when he and Nohea argued, he assaulted her, threw her on the ground, and broke her foot.  She was hospitalized.   Nohea called her mother and left Hawaii.

She made a police report to the Phoenix Police Department on April 1, 2011.  She told her story through her tears, maintained eye contact, and was credible.  She called Whitter as the police listened in.  When she told her father she may be pregnant, he replied that her pregnancy test came back negative.  He did not deny having sex with her.  In another call, he admitted he fractured her foot. 

It is almost 1 year later –NO CHARGES HAVE BEEN FILED.  Putting aside how disgusting it is for a father to stalk, find, contact, mislead, and have sex with his 18 year-old daughter (he was smart enough to wait until she was no longer a minor under the eyes of the law), where are the felony assault charges for the broken foot?  How about felony incest?  What about rape charges, and believing the victim when the father is an abusive, conniving rapist criminal who lives with other minor children and is a constant threat to them?

The questions are endless and the answers are none.  I have personally contacted the Phoenix police Department with the hopes of holding Whitter accountable.  And what do I get? A big fat nothing.  No response to my letters, no answers to the victim, and certainly no justice. 

While the media is not where we should seek justice, if law enforcement fails, it is the media who puts a glare on that failure, and gets the word out, if only to give law enforcement a second chance at a missed opportunity.  Today, Nohea and I did just that.  Nohea came on Good Day Los Angeles to discuss her story, her case, and tonight we will discuss it more in depth in a special on MYfoxla.com, where we will discuss the missed opportunities in both the Marc Berndt as well as the Ronny Whitter case. 


Please do not let this be another missed opportunity and watch MYFOXLA PRESENTS Tonight at 10:30 PM PST, Channel 11; more details at myfoxla.com


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