Mr. Zimmerman talked to police repeatedly and willingly, making statements that lay the groundwork for his self-defense case.
We use the article: “the police.”It didn't take long for readers to point out the mistake Corbett had missed. "You should also use 'laid,' not the intransitive 'lay,'" said one: Zimmerman's statements laid the groundwork.
Lay, of course, can be transitive too -- in the present tense: "Lay the coats on that bed." But the Zimmerman sentence is cast in the past ("He talked to police"), so the usual sequence of tenses would call for the past-tense laid. "I know you are right" becomes, in the past, "I knew you were right" -- even if you still are right.
But not always. The writer might claim he meant to use the present tense of transitive lay, since even though Zimmerman talked to police in the past, his statements are laying the groundwork for a defense. Brian Garner calls this the "ongoing-truth exception" to the standard tense shift: "When a subordinate clause states an ongoing or general truth, it should be in the present tense" whatever the main verb is. Thus "He said yesterday that he is Jewish, not ... that he was Jewish."
Garner seems to want to make this a rigid rule, so that every continuing truth would be stated in the present tense. That has not been the traditional practice, though. "The tense shift can always be disregarded when one wants to make a subordinate clause conspicuous," wrote Bergen and Cornelia Evans in A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (1957): "He told me the train leaves at three," for example, or "he taught that God is love." But usually, they caution, "the shift has nothing to do with 'real time.'" In most cases, we shift tenses naturally: "What did you say your name was?"
As far as I know, nobody before Garner suggested drawing a bright line between cases where the "ongoing-truth exception" was mandatory and those where it wasn't. Following it rigidly would create some odd sentences: "I knew you are right." "Mom thought my dress is too short." And often either version serves equally well: "She said he still believed/believes in Santa Claus." We've gotten along for centuries leaving the choice to the writer; why would we clutter up our heads with a rule now?