Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zimmerman's acquittal

The jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Between the Stand Your Ground law (which the judge specifically included in the jury instructions), the lack of any eyewitnesses to the fatal physical encounter, and seeming errors by the prosecution, I'm not surprised the jury couldn't get past "reasonable doubt."

But I'm glad to see that the State of Florida charged him. Because as Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano puts it (Zimmerman verdict does not mask greater truths Tampa Bay Times 07/13/2013):

... even if you believe the verdict itself had nothing to do with race, this whole tragic episode began because Trayvon Martin had the misfortune of being a black teenager in the wrong neighborhood on the wrong night. That reality seems inescapable.

Zimmerman called 911 and eventually crossed paths with Martin not because the teenager had done anything wrong, but because he vaguely matched the profile of suspects in recent neighborhood burglaries.
Plus Zimmerman went following him with a loaded gun with a bullet in the chamber ready to fire and the "creepy-ass cracker" found a chance to use it. Trayvon Martin wound up dead.

Jones: Zimmerman Case Implications CNN 07/14/2013:

David Ovalle in a longish article evaluating the legal case writes (State never proved its case, legal analysts say Miami Herald 07/13/2013):

Jude M. Faccidomo, the former president of Miami'’s Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the jury clearly believed in the right to self-defense: "Especially when cases are so gray, like this one was, self-defense really resonates because people can associate with being afraid."

And while some also have questioned the state attorney’s office acceptance of a mostly white jury, a more diverse panel would have returned the same verdict, lawyers who have watched the case believe.

"After seeing the quality of the evidence presented by the state, the diversity of the jury really didn’t matter in the end," said Larry Handfield, a prominent African American Miami criminal defense lawyer. "But it would have helped the community in giving more credibility to the decision to acquit Zimmerman."
Ovalle also notes that the Stand Your Ground law was part of the legal mix; the judge specifically included it in her instructions to the jury. "Zimmerman's prosecution was made tougher under Florida's 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen's 'duty to retreat' before using lethal force in the face of a deadly threat - an instruction given to jurors on Friday."

I know everyone's a criminal trial expert on this one. But the prosecution probably did make a big mistake showing the video that let Zimmerman avoid testifying. If he had testified, the jury would presumably have been watching him closely to see if he came off as remorseful about taking a life:

Prosecutors also called the lead Sanford police investigators, using them to introduce each of Zimmerman's videotaped statements and a walk-through of the crime scene Zimmerman did with police a day after Trayvon’s death.

During one of the statements, lead Detective Chris Serino seemed skeptical when Zimmerman insisted he never “followed” Trayvon. While there were some inconsistencies between his accounts of what happened, they seemed fairly small, court observers said. And defense attorneys got Serino to agree during testimony that it’s normal for stories to vary slightly with each re-telling.

Legal observers noted that playing the videos in court eliminated the need for Zimmerman himself to take the stand — a tactic that may have helped the defense by allowing Zimmerman’s voice to be heard in court without risk of cross-examination.

"I think it was a strategic error [for the state] to allow him to testify without getting cross examined," Faccidomo said. "I don’t think the inconsistencies carried as a great a weight with the jury as they thought it would."

Serino, on defense questioning, also suggested he believed Zimmerman’s account, a statement later stricken from the record by the judge — but nevertheless heard by jurors.

The racial aspect became a driver for the case's symbolism because it stood as an example of the white racism that is still pervasive in the justice system in many places in the US. John Romano (link above) interviewed a bystander outside the courtroom :

Standing in the middle of all this was a 38-year-old Tampa man with his arms crossed and his expression blank.

"I'm not mad. I'm not upset. I've been expecting this for months and months," said Life Malcolm. "There's a long history, a long pattern, of white people killing black men and then coming to some court of law and being found not guilty.

"It's always our fault. We shouldn't have reached for our wallet. We shouldn't have gotten out of the car. We shouldn't have been where we didn't belong.

"Maybe this was justice. They had a trial, and a jury made a decision. (Defense attorney) Mark O'Mara even said this should help us believe in the system. But why doesn't the system ever work for the black man? It may work for you, but it's killing us."
Should this have become such a symbol? Hard to say. But it did.

Eric Deggans, What the George Zimmerman verdict means -- and doesn't mean -- for race and media in America Tampa Bay Times 07/14/2013

But all the verdict really may prove, as I have been saying for some time, is that this crime was missing a key piece of evidence; no objective witness saw how the fight between Martin and Zimmerman started, which is a key component to judging the outcome.

Without someone besides Zimmerman saying definitively who was the aggressor – the watch captain says Martin attacked him – how do you get past reasonable doubt?

Other questions also beg an answer. Did Florida's Stand Your Ground laws, which were included as part of the jury instruction, make a difference? Did the many prosecution witnesses who seemed to score points for the defense – including a medical examiner who said many times on the stand he couldn’t remember details from the autopsy – make a difference, either?
The Tampa Bay Times has a special page on Florida's Stand Your Ground Law.

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