As the details of Trayvon Martin’s murder continue to emerge, it is increasingly clear that this case involves both crime in the streets as well as crime in the suites. Much of the latter appears to be linked to the office of the State Attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida headed by Prosecutor Norman R. Wolfinger, an official with a troublesome track record.
On February 26, the night Trayvon was shot and killed by the son of a retired state Supreme Court magistrate, Wolfinger drove some 50 miles to the crime scene and personally intervene in the case, which as a result remained effectively secluded from scrutiny for weeks.
The assigned local investigator, Detective Chris Serino, was reported ready to file an affidavit charging him with manslaughter when Wolfinger intervened to stop any proceedings.
Nearly a month after the murder and in the wake of massive national protests as well as an announcement by the US Justice Department of its intent to investigate this case, Wolfinger has recused himself.
An Attorney’s Troubled Record
Wolfinger’s track record as a Florida State Attorney reveals a pattern of behavior that shows signs of despotism. Early on in his position as State Attorney Wolfinger refused to heed demands from Mothers Against Drunk Driving which demanded that he fire an Assistant State Attorney, Clarence Counts, who pleaded guilty to drunk driving in 1986.
In the same year, Wolfinger claimed no crime was committed when a man blinded a youth by shooting him in the eye after mistaking him for a burglar. The teenager was at the home meeting a girl for a date.
Later in 1988, Wolfinger declined to investigate the case of three local candidates accused of breaking state election laws by contributing to each other’s political campaigns. In 1990, Wolfinger declined to file charges against a record store which had sold obscene, sexually explicit albums to an undercover investigator.
More bothersome was Wolfinger’s refusal in 1991 to charge a City Commissioner, Lon Howell, with a felony for buying $20 worth of crack cocaine, allegedly because there was “no criminal intent” behind the crack purchase.
Complaints of brutality by drug agents in Seminole County in the early 1990s led Wolfinger to head a state investigation. Two county sheriff’s sergeants complained to the Florida Governor in 1992 that Wolfinger had an “indifferent and lackadaisical attitude” toward the investigation, which ultimately ended in no prosecutions.
In 2010, Wolfinger failed to file criminal charges against a local deputy chief for fixing traffic tickets saying, “there was no evidence that Deputy Chief Small received any financial benefit for his actions in having several tickets voided”.
“Inaction” Toward Non-White Victims
In a case strikingly similar to the murder of Trayvon Martin, Wolfinger was accused by the Black community of inaction in the killing of a 16-year old Black boy in 2005.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the victim was a teenaged black male named Travares McGill, who was shot and killed while driving away from a Sanford apartment complex. The officers who shot McGill said they believed that the victim was about to run them over.
Seminole County’s NAACP chapter held a town-hall meeting where they accused “Sanford’s police chief and State Attorney Norm Wolfinger of inaction after the fatal shooting of a 16-year old boy.”
A revealing Orlando Sentinel report hints that Wolfinger’s prosecution of murders in his district may be based strongly on the race of the victim. In the article, “Prosecutor Tougher If Victim’s White”, Sentinel journalists write:
“Norm Wolfinger, state attorney for Seminole and Brevard counties, is hard on killers, especially those who kill whites. He has sought the death penalty about three times more often for killing whites than for killing blacks, Hispanics and members of other minority groups, the Orlando Sentinel found in a survey of murder cases since 1986.”
The 1992 Sentinel article continues, “His office seeks and wins more capital cases than any other prosecutor’s office in Central Florida. And although state attorneys in Orange, Osceola, Volusia and Lake counties also sought death more often for killers of whites, Wolfinger was about 50 percent more likely to do so. Some leaders in the minority community say the research confirms what they have asserted for a long time”.
According to the official website of Wolfinger’s office, his mission as a state attorney is “pursuing truth and justice, treating victims compassionately, and protecting the public”. The Trayvon Martin case may just be the icing on a very thick cake of corruption stemming from a state attorney’s office that has historically shown a lack of compassion for victims and consideration for the protection of the Florida public.