Reporter's Notebook: Is Derek Medina case like George Zimmerman case?

Former federal prosecutor weighs in on Facebook-murder suspect case


MIAMI – In the bustling hallway outside the Miami-Dade County courtroom where Saam Zangenph entered a not guilty plea for his client Derek Medina, a man dubbed the "Facebook Killer," the criminal defense attorney made what appeared to be a reference to the George Zimmerman trial.

Medina is facing second-degree murder for shooting and killing his wife in their South Miami home. Prosecutors say Medina confessed to killing Jennifer Alfonso on Facebook shortly before posting a disturbing picture of her bloodied body bent backwards on their kitchen floor.

RELATED: Facebook-murder suspect enters not guilty plea

"It doesn't preclude you from asserting an affirmative defense," said Zangenph when asked how his client could claim he is not guilty. "We're from Florida. Everybody here knows the media cases that have been before us where there wasn't an issue as to who do it, but there were affirmative defenses. We have those types of defenses here in Florida, we have self-defense, Stand Your Ground, Castle Doctrine, there's a slew of them and we're going to look at what's appropriate."

The State Attorney's Office was prevented from filing first-degree murder charges at this time because Florida law requires that that charge be presented to a grand jury first. They are on break until next month. It is expected the state will amend the charges after the grand jury reconvenes and hears the case.

Local 10's Christina Vazquez asked Miami-based former federal prosecutor David Weinstein to weigh in on this case and the apparent Zimmerman trial reference:

"Whether first or second-degree murder, the defendant can avail himself of a self-defense theory. Whether he puts it forward as a traditional self defense or as a pre-trial stand your ground motion, it is his choice.

Based on previous reports, he will have to put forth a theory of self-defense based on his own testimony and the prior bad acts of the victim that he alleges occurred during their history of domestic violence.

If the defendant was attacked by the victim and he feared that serious bodily injury or death was imminent, he is entitled to defend himself with force up to and including deadly force.

Is this case like the Zimmerman case? It is to the degree that the defendant claims that he was engaged at some point in hand-to-hand combat with the victim. According to his prior statements, during the initial confrontation he disarmed the victim of the knife she had. She then subsequently attacked him with her hands and fists. Here is where his entitlement to use deadly force becomes questionable. Both his physical attributes and the victim's physical attributes factor into the equation. He will also presumably argue that their prior history of domestic violence influenced his state of mind. However, he must be able to articulate a believable/reasonable theory that he feared that he would suffer serious bodily injury or death during this hand to hand combat.

Finally, his statement that he didn't want to suffer any more physical abuse, sounds more like he is setting up a battered spouse defense most often raised by female domestic violence victims.

Were it not for the grand jury's scheduled vacation, he surely would have been indicted on first-degree murder charges. However, in Florida, a grand jury is required for a defendant to be charged with first-degree murder and for the State to seek the death penalty.

Does this situation provide an advantage to the defendant at this time? It does if his sole intent is to avoid the imposition of the death penalty. As it now stands, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If he pleads guilty to the current charges, there is little the State can do to prevent the judge from accepting the plea. He would then be presumptively sentenced to life imprisonment and avoid the imposition of the death penalty."