Ever since a car crash that left him a quadriplegic 12 years ago, 50-year-old Ronald Fulton has been making the best of bad situations.
His experience as a patient led him to found a healthcare advocacy organization called You Are Knot Alone. Life in a wheelchair turned him into a campaigner for disability rights who also advises Miami-Dade County commissioners. But for one thing in his life, there is no upside: the loss of his nephew, Trayvon Martin.
"When this came to be with Trayvon," Fulton said, "it was harder than me dealing with my limitations. I can find ways around my limitations. But..he's gone."
Jury selection is about to begin in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon after an encounter under disputed circumstances 15 months ago. The case has raised questions about racism, the state's self-defense law...and the character of Trayvon himself.
Like almost everybody, Fulton has strong opinions about the case. But unlike most everybody, he has experienced the real Trayvon.
"He would stand up for himself. But he's not an aggressive person," said Fulton, 50, a former Navy aviation mechanic now studying at Miami Dade College to enter law school. "You know what I'm saying? He'd rather walk away. He'd rather separate himself from whatever."
The brother of Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, he goes on to tell how young Trayvon fed and cared for him during his post-accident recovery at the Martin family home in Miami Gardens.
Defendant George Zimmerman, although he admits firing the shot that killed Martin during a scuffle, is pleading not guilty to a second-degree murder charge. His defense is based on Florida's well-known Stand Your Ground law that permits anyone to draw and fire to defend his or her own life.
Perceiving Trayvon Martin as dangerous would be a component of that defense, since Zimmerman allegedly initiated the confrontation. After Zimmerman's arrest, there appeared stories and photos that offered a view of Martin as a violence-prone troublemaker. Much of that has been debunked and Zimmerman's defense team even apologized recently for its accusing characterization of a video found on Martin's cell phone.
Fulton thinks the trial should be a teachable moment for judges, trial lawyers and, especially, the news media.
"Instead of vetting this information they’re given, they just run it," Fulton said. "That's doing a disservice. Actually" -- and, here, he's talking about the release of the information to reporters -- "it was done to try to sway the jurors up there. That should be against the law."
Fulton is expecting to spend some time in Sanford during the lengthy trial, though he's not sure how he'd get there or where he would stay.