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NEWS

Trayvon Martin case is a black eye for Sanford

As public scrutiny mounts, the city of Sanford struggles with its reputation

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Triplett is not the only one who is taking the Martin case – and the problems it has revealed to be alive and well in Sanford – personally. Over the past several weeks, civil rights powerhouses like the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King III and activist Dick Gregory have brought national attention to Martin's case with marches and rallies and fiery speeches, many of which have taken place in the usually placid and picturesque Fort Mellon Park on Sanford's Lake Monroe waterfront. As a result, the case has been tried – up until now – in a sometimes ugly public way in the media. The reputations of Martin, Zimmerman and the city of Sanford have been picked apart and assailed by pundits and local reporters alike. Recently, Orlando Sentinel reporter Rene Stutzman was lambasted by pundit Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC for portraying unattributed statements (leaked by what Sanford calls “unauthorized sources” in a recent press release) indicating that Martin had assaulted Zimmerman before he was shot as undisputed facts. In the past two weeks, Martin's school discipline record, Facebook photos and Tweets have been delivered to media outlets, greedy for titillating bits of information about the case. Zimmerman's friend Joe Oliver – a mysterious acquaintance who inserted himself in the debate by coming forward, though it's not clear how well the men know one another or even how they are friends – stepped up to defend Zimmerman and insisted that he acted in self-defense. Videos of police taking Zimmerman in for questioning surfaced last week, and the media is dissecting them to determine whether they prove that Zimmerman suffered gashes to the back of his head, a broken nose and other injuries at Trayvon Martin's hands.

Lawyer Natalie Jackson has fast become one of the faces closely associated with Trayvon Martin's family. She says Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin's parents, are not rich and don't have the money to hire high-powered attorneys. All of the lawyers and court reporters working on their case at the moment are volunteering their time, Jackson says. The Martin case drew attention because a family member, Pat Jones, is an attorney in South Florida. She contacted Tallahassee lawyer Ben Crump, who she knew handled high-profile, controversial cases. Crump, who graduated from Florida State University law school in 1995, represented the family of Martin Lee Anderson, who was restrained, beaten and suffocated at a boot-camp-style detention center for juveniles in 2006. Jackson, founder of the Women's Trial Group, which focuses on litigation to help women and families, was brought in to work as the attorney on the local level. She knows the territory, she's familiar with how the criminal-justice system works here and it probably doesn't hurt that her mother is the Goldsboro Westside Community Historical Museum's Francis Oliver.

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