In what was likely the most controversial verdict in recent years (even more controversial than Casey Anthony), a jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty after 16 hours of deliberation.
People immediately took to Twitter and other social media outlets to vent their frustrations. Celebrities - most of whom did not watch the trial nor have the slightest understanding of Florida law - voiced their outrage and disgust with the jury’s decision.
Here’s the thing, folks. If you watched the trial and paid attention to the evidence - not the public sentiment, the media influence, the vapid celebrity commentary, or the race-baiters - you would have realized that an acquittal was not a surprise.
Rule number one of the criminal justice system is that it is the prosecution’s burden and solely the prosecution’s burden to prove an accused person guilty beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.
In this case, the State of Florida had charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder. The law is defined by statute and conveyed to the jury through a jury instruction. That means that the State of Florida, by and through the three assistant state attorneys handling the case, had to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1.The death was caused by the criminal act of (defendant).
2.There was an unlawful killing of (victim) by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.
Under the way that George Zimmerman was charged, his alleged “act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” was based on a series of acts that were done “from ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent.”
The prosecution claimed that Zimmerman was a wannabe police officer who profiled Trayvon Martin as a criminal and followed him.
Some things to remember. Simply following someone, without harassing them, threatening them, or impeding their movement, is not a crime. The state completely failed to prove that Zimmerman initiated any type of confrontation.
The defense’s claim of self-defense was predicated on the assertion that Zimmerman followed Martin from a distance and then disengaged. On his walk back to his car, Zimmerman was approached by Martin who punched Zimmerman in the nose and then climbed on top of him. Martin straddled Zimmerman and threw down a barrage of punches, including blows that slammed Zimmerman’s head into a concrete sidewalk. Fearing that he would be killed or seriously injured, Zimmerman reached for his concealed firearm and shot Martin in the chest.
At no point in the trial did the state provide any evidence to dispute those facts. Had Zimmerman confronted Martin in a physical manner or threatening manner, Martin would have had the right of self-defense that Zimmerman, as the aggressor, could not escalate to deadly force. He wouldn’t have that legal right.
However, Florida’s justifiable use of deadly force jury instruction states the following:
If the defendant [was not engaged in an unlawful activity and] was attacked in any place where [he] [she] had a right to be, [he] [she] had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand [his] [her] ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if [he] [she] reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to [himself]...
Since the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was the aggressor, the facts and the evidence strongly supported the contention that Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
I was wrong about the verdict because I thought that a jury of six women (five of whom were mothers) would settle on manslaughter.
There was no way that second-degree murder could ever have been proven on these facts and it is an outrage that the State Attorney’s Office assigned to handle this case even filed it. Manslaughter would have been a more appropriate charge to have filed.
So please understand that this verdict does not mean that the killing of unarmed black teenagers will go unpunished in Florida. If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of the Sun Sentinel or Miami Herald and read about the senseless acts of violence that occur every single day in our community. Those who commit the crimes - black, white, Hispanic, whatever - pay serious penalties.
This case was not about emotion. It was about the law. And the law in Florida is the law in Florida. And juries are instructed and expected to follow the law.
Laws are not made nor are they changed in our trial courts. If you don’t like the verdict, your complaints should be directed to the legislature.
But as Zimmerman defense attorney Don West said last night in his press conference, the incident was a tragedy but to have convicted on that evidence it would have been a travesty.
Whether you support the verdict or oppose it, understand that the system did work. The jury took a lot of time to review all of the evidence and they reached a verdict based solely on that evidence.
If you were charged with a crime carrying a maximum of life in prison, you would pray for the same diligence and wisdom from your jury.