Saturday, July 13, 2013

Zimmerman Prosecutor Fires Whistle Blower

State Attorney Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to handle the George Zimmerman case, fired the IT director in her office the very same day that jurors began deliberating Zimmerman's fate in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Ben Kruidbos provided damning evidence against Corey's prosecutors last month in a discovery violation hearing for failing to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence in the form of text messages and images found on Trayvon Martin's cell phone to Zimmerman's attorneys. Judge Debra Nelson denied defense attorneys' efforts to offer evidence discovered in January by Kruidbos after he was able to use a computer software program to extract text messages and photos from a source file taken from Martin's cell phone, which the prosecutors didn't provide Zimmerman's defense team until early June right before the start of the trial.

Judge Nelson blocked the admission of the evidence, which included damning text messages in which Martin discussed fighting with other persons using mixed martial arts-style fighting to which Zimmerman claimed he was subjected by Martin moments before Zimmerman shot and killed him. The American Thinker's Jack Cashill described one of those e-mail exchanges that defense lawyers sought to admit:
MARTIN: Cause man dat nigga snitched on me
FRIEND: Bae y you always fightinqq man, you got suspended?
MARTIN: Naw we thumped afta skool in a duckd off spot
FRIEND: Ohh, Well Damee
MARTIN: I lost da 1st round :( but won da 2nd nd 3rd . . . .
FRIEND:  Ohhh So It Wass 3 Rounds? Damn well at least yu wonn lol but yuu needa stop fighting bae Forreal
MARTIN: Nay im not done with fool..... he gone hav 2 see me again
FRIEND: Nooo... Stop, yuu waint gonn bee satisified till yuh suspended again, huh?
MARTIN: Naw but he aint breed nuff 4 me, only his nose
The basis for Judge Nelson's ruling was that defense lawyers could not authenticate the text messages to prove they had been authored by Martin. During a heated exchange, Zimmerman's attorneys accused the prosecution team of deliberately withholding the evidence from them until the last possible moment, making it impossible for them to undertake efforts to authenticate them. She turned down their request to delay the start of the trial so they could have time to authenticate the text messages. Judge Nelson opined that a 7-year old could have figured out how to access the text messages and images that were password-protected, even though Florida law enforcement officials spent months trying to crack the file and were unsuccessful.

Kruidbos, who had prepared a report documenting the discovery of the evidence in January, became concerned in April that the prosecutors had not turned over the evidence to Zimmerman's attorneys. He consulted a private attorney, who had formerly worked in Corey's office before he resigned last December, to discuss the matter. Kruidbos' attorney, Wesley White, contacted Zimmerman's attorneys and asked if they had received the evidence, alerting them to its existence. They had received the source file but not Kruidbos' report detailing the files he had extracted from it. Both Kruidbos and White were subpoenaed to testify at a sanctions hearing requested by Zimmerman's attorneys last month. Judge Nelson has yet to rule on the defense motion to impose sanctions against the prosecutors.

In a lengthy letter firing Kruidbos as reported by the Florida Times-Union, he was accused of doing "a poor job overseeing the information technology department, violated public records law for retaining documents, and noted he was questioned in March when the office was trying to determine who had leaked personnel information obtained through a computer breach." “Your egregious lack of regard for the sensitive nature of the information handled by this office is completely abhorrent,” Peek wrote. “You have proven to be completely untrustworthy. Because of your deliberate, wilful and unscrupulous actions, you can never again be trusted to step foot in this office.” The letter said Kruidbos “apparently questioned the ethics” of de la Rionda, who has been an assistant state attorney since 1983. “His record as an honorable and respected attorney is unblemished and beyond reproach,” Peek wrote.

Kruidbos told the Times-Union that he didn't feel comfortable discussing the issue with Corley because of her very close relationship with the lead prosecutor in the case, Bernie de la Rionda. He described an environment of paranoia within the office as Corley sought to identify who had been responsible for leaking information damaging to her. She and de la Rionda had been accused of using $342,000 in taxpayer funds to pad their pensions according to news reports in February. She had also conducted investigations of alleged computer hacking to learn personnel health matters and disciplinary information. Kruidbos' job assignment has been changed in April, removing a number of employees from his supervision. Corey placed Kruidbos on paid leave the same day that defense lawyers subpoenaed him to testify at the discovery hearing called by Zimmerman's defense lawyers.

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