George Zimmerman verdict: Former neighborhood watch leader not guilty in death of Fla. teen Trayvon Martin. In America, being Black can be hazardous to your health. Just being Black often makes one a suspicious character in his own neighborhood to anyone raised on stereotypes about African Americans.
Following nearly three weeks of testimony, a jury of six women, one of whom was Black, in the George Zimmerman trial has found the former neighborhood watch volunteer not guilty of second-degree murder. He was also found not guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter, which the jury also weighed. (CBS) SANFORD, Fla. July 13, 2013 10:06 PM
I felt the case was in trouble from the beginning. There is a law professor at my law school, The National Law Center at George Washington University, named Jonathan Turley. (Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.) He has analysed the case for USA Today.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin was not minutes old when an outcry was heard over racial injustice and demands for yet another prosecution by the Obama administration.
With the verdict, the Zimmerman case entered the realm of legal mythology -- a tale told by different groups in radically different ways for different purposes. Fax machines were activated with solicitations and sound bites programmed for this moment.
Criminal cases often make for easy and dangerous vehicles for social expression. They allow longstanding social and racial issues to be personified in villains and victims. We simplify facts and characters -- discarding those facts that do not fit our narrative. Zimmerman and Martin became proxies in our unresolved national debate over race.
Many have condemned this jury and some even called for the six jurors to be killed or demanded that they “kill themselves.” The fact is that this jury had little choice given the case presented by the prosecutors. This is why I predicted full acquittal before the case even went to the jury.
Before the case is lost forever to the artistic license of social commentary, it is worth considering what the jurors were given, or not given.
The problem began at the start. Many of us criticized State Attorney Angela Corey for overcharging the case as second-degree murder. While Corey publicly proclaimed that she was above public pressure, her prosecution decisions suggested otherwise. Investigators interviewed a key witness at the Martin home in the presence of the family -- a highly irregular practice.
The decision to push the second-degree murder charge (while satisfying many in the public) was legally and tactically unwise. The facts simply did not support a claim beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted with intent and a “depraved mind, hatred, malice, evil intent or ill will.” Had Corey charged manslaughter, the case might have turned out differently.
The prosecutors then made that bad decision of charges worse by overplaying their evidence to overcome the testimony of their own witnesses.
For example, the prosecution inexplicably decided to lead the case with testimony of Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel. Jeantel was a disaster, admitting to lying previously under oath and giving conflicted testimony. She also stated that just as Zimmerman was accused of calling Martin a derogatory name, Martin called Zimmerman a “cracker.”
The prosecution’s zeal for conviction seemed to blind it to the actual strengths and weakness of the case. It also led to allegations of withholding key evidence from the defense to deny its use at trial, though Judge Debra Nelson seemed to struggle to ignore the alleged misconduct.
Ultimately, we had no better an idea of what happened that night at the end of this trial than we had at the end of that fateful night. Jurors don’t make social judgment or guesses on verdicts.
While many have criticized Zimmerman for following Martin, citizens are allowed to follow people in their neighborhood. It was also lawful for Zimmerman to be armed. The question comes down to who started the fight and whether Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.
Various witnesses said Martin was on top of Zimmerman and said they believed that he was the man calling for help. Zimmerman had injuries. Not serious injuries but injuries from the struggle. Does that mean that he was clearly the victim? No. It does create added doubt on the use of lethal force.
A juror could not simply assume Zimmerman was the aggressor. After 38 prosecution witnesses, there was nothing more than a call for the jury to assume the worst facts against Zimmerman without any objective piece of evidence. That is the opposite of the standard of a presumption of innocence in a criminal trial.
Even for manslaughter, the jury was told that Zimmerman was justified in the use of force if he feared “great bodily harm.” That brought the jury back to the question of how the fight unfolded.
The acquittal does not even mean that the jurors liked Zimmerman or his actions. It does not even mean they believed Zimmerman. It means that they could not convict a man based on a presumption of guilt.
Of course, little of this matters in the wake of a high-profile case. The case and its characters long ago took on the qualities of legend. A legend is defined as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.”
People will make what they will of the murder trial of Zimmerman. However, this jury proved that the justice system remains a matter not of legend but law.
Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says the prosecutors in the George Zimmerman murder trial should be charged with "prosecutorial misconduct" for suggesting the defendant planned the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.
"That is something no prosecutor should be allowed to get away with … to make up a story from whole cloth," Dershowitz told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
"These prosecutors should be disbarred. They have acted absolutely irresponsibly in an utterly un-American fashion."
Dershowitz is calling for a federal investigation into civil rights violations stemming from the George Zimmerman case — but he says the probe should focus on prosecutorial misconduct rather than on allegations of racial profiling and bias.
Speaking Sunday in an exclusive Newsmax interview, Dershowitz said the jury’s finding that Zimmerman was not guilty of either second-degree murder or manslaughter was “the right verdict.”
He added, “There was reasonable doubt all over the place.”
Special prosecutor Angela Corey said continues to defend her decision to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder. "We charge what we believe we can prove,” she told the media. “That’s why we charged second-degree murder. We truly believe that the mindset of George Zimmerman and the words that he used and the reason he was out doing what he was doing fit the bill for second-degree murder.”
Corey said the case “has never been about race,” but also said there was “no doubt” young Trayvon Martin had been “profiled to be a criminal.”
Although Zimmerman was cleared of all charges, Corey told the media: “This case was about boundaries and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries.
Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, is charged with gunning down Martin, 17, as the two fought following a confrontation in the gated Sanford, Fla., community where Zimmerman lives — an act the defendant said was in self-defense.
In the prosecution's final argument on Friday, lawyer John Guy said Zimmerman deliberately followed Martin and "shot him because he wanted to."
Dershowitz called Guy's statement "such speculation. How does he get into the mind of Zimmerman? He hasn't cross-examined him, he hasn't met him.
"To ask the jury to believe that is to ask the jury to convict based on complete and utter speculation and that's not the way the law operates."
A day earlier, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said Zimmerman — whom he labeled a "wannabe cop" — "followed" and "tracked" Martin after profiling him as a criminal.
Dershowitz said not only should Zimmerman have not been charged with second-degree murder, but prosecutors should not have pushed to have manslaughter and child abuse added to the list of possible jury verdicts.
"[It's] utterly irresponsible. … The idea that the prosecution can try the case on a murder theory and then, at the last minute, substitute manslaughter, even though it seems to be permitted generally under Florida law — it's a big mistake to allow it in a case like this,” he said.
"And then the very idea of even suggesting child abuse in a case like this is so irresponsible."
Dershowitz praised the closing argument of defense lawyer Mark O'Mara.
"He did the right thing by being methodical and factual because this is a case where the prosecution's case is all emotion and the defense case is all factual," the famed civil-rights lawyer said.
"Emotionally, obviously everybody can identify with a young, unarmed 17-year-old who ends up dead, and emotionally, as President [Barack] Obama said, he's all of our children."
Dershowitz — whose clients have included Claus von Bulow, Mike Tyson, Patricia Hearst, and former televangelist Jim Bakker — said the case has "reasonable doubt" written all over it.
"Nobody knows who started the initial physical encounter, who threw the first blow — and if you don't know that you have to have a reasonable doubt," he said.
"Nobody knows for sure who screamed, 'Help me, help me.' You have to have a reasonable doubt about that. Nobody knows for sure who was on top and who was on bottom, though the overwhelming forensic evidence suggests that Zimmerman was on the bottom having his head banged by a younger, stronger man. You have to have reasonable doubt there."
Dershowitz added that he expects there will probably be a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Zimmerman for civil damages. He said civil-damage cases require a lower standard of proof that a wrong has been committed, and Zimmerman would not be able to avoid testifying.
He believes the Stand Your Ground law should be changed because it "elevates macho over the need to preserve life."
He also stated that racial profiling “has to be addressed.”
“I think these vigilante community groups have to be disarmed,” he said. “I don’t think Zimmerman should have been allowed to have a gun.
“He should have been walking around with a walkie-talkie and calling the police,” he said. “It’s the job of the police to investigate and apprehend suspects based on their professional training.”
Now let us hear the conclusion of the matter. The bottom line is that Trayvon Martin was killed because he was Black. He was followed because he looked suspicious; he looked suspicious because he was Black; he was profiled because he was Black and looked suspicious; He was confronted because he was presumed to be harboring a criminal intent; He was shot by a man with a concealed weapon who wanted to prove to himself that he was not afraid of young Black men; he was killed because he was young, Black, and defenseless. In America being Black can be hazardous to your health.
The Following Is An Open Letter From A Retired African American Military Officer.
This from the President of the Southern Poverty Law Center on the verdict yesterday:
"They always get away." These were the words George Zimmerman uttered as he followed and later shot Trayvon Martin -- words that reflected his belief that Trayvon was one of "them," the kind of person about to get away with something. How ironic these words sound now in light of the jury verdict acquitting Zimmerman.
Trayvon is dead, and Zimmerman is free. Who was the one who got away?
Can we respect the jury verdict and still conclude that Zimmerman got away with killing Trayvon? I think so, even if we buy Zimmerman's story that Trayvon attacked him at some point. After all, who was responsible for initiating the tragic chain of events? Who was following whom? Who was carrying a gun? Who ignored the police urging that he stay in his car? Who thought that the other was one of "them," someone about to get a away with something?
The jury has spoken, and we can respect its conclusion that the state did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But we cannot fail to speak out about the tragedy that occurred in Sanford, Florida, on the night of February 26, 2012.
Was race at the heart of it? Ask yourself this question: If Zimmerman had seen a white youth walking in the rain that evening, would he have seen him as one of "them," someone about to get away with something?
We'll never really know, of course. But we can seriously doubt it without assuming that Zimmerman is a racist in the conventional sense of the word.
Racial bias reverberates in our society like the primordial Big Bang. Jesse Jackson made the point in a dramatic way when he acknowledged that he feels a sense of relief when the footsteps he hears behind him in the dead of night turn out to belong to white feet. Social scientists who study our hidden biases make the same point in a more sober way with statistics that demonstrate that we are more likely to associate black people with negative words and imagery than we are white people. It's an association that devalues the humanity of black people, particularly black youth like Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman probably saw race the night of February 26, 2012, just like so many of us probably would have. Had he not, Trayvon probably would be alive today.
The jury has spoken. Now, we must speak out against the racial bias that still infects our society and distorts our perception of the world. And we must do something about it.
President, Southern Poverty Law Center