I hear America fuming, again, over a court verdict.
It happened with O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony and now once more with George Zimmerman. Just how wise is it to read to so much societal importance into a single court verdict? The country does that repeatedly at great risk.
Race has dominated the discussion since Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday of second-degree murder in Trayvon Martin’s death.
But Juror B-37, the first Zimmerman juror to speak out, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that race was never part of the jury deliberations.
“I think he [Zimmerman] just profiled him [Trayvon] because he was the Neighborhood Watch, and he profiled anyone who came in acting strange,” the juror told CNN. “I think it was just circumstances happened that he saw Trayvon at the exact time that he thought he was suspicious.”
Zimmerman would have reacted the exact same way if he had spotted a Spanish, Asian or white person, Juror B-37 said Monday night on “AC360.”
NBC legal analyst Lisa Bloom on “Today” noted that before and after the trial, the case had been all about race in the demonstrations. But in the courtroom, the state said the case wasn’t about race.
In the courtroom, the case had to be about evidence and facts, not emotions. The jury wasn't working through sweeping societal issues. Society will have to make societal changes; one jury can't.
For the jury, the murder case was about self-defense and whether Zimmerman felt his life was in danger. The jury bought the defense’s theory of the case that Trayvon started the fight by attacking Zimmerman.
To do that, jurors didn’t buy the prosecution’s case. In interviews Monday, prosecutors said they had been confident about the outcome. That confidence was misplaced, because the case was weak.
Three of the six jurors initially saw Zimmerman as not guilty of all charges, and the other three came around. CBS legal analyst Jack Ford called that revelation “part of the genius of the jury system, that deliberative process.”
The jury took its job very seriously. Jurors had to contend with “very confusing” jury instructions, Bloom said, and maybe the trial would be a call for clearer jury instructions.
That the trial was televised allowed millions to follow the proceedings, and the main revelation may have been that the prosecution did an appalling job. Prosecutors may have been working for Trayvon’s family, but they came up woefully short and tried to recover by playing on emotions in John Guy’s fiery rebuttal.
Sadly, the state wasn’t done with its inept performance after the verdict. In an HLN interview with Vinnie Politan, special prosecutor Angela Corey called Zimmerman a “murderer.”
That drew a rebuke from defense attorney Mark O’Mara, who said if anyone is hurt because of Corey’s “incendiary” remark, she should be held responsible.
The state continued to play up the emotion, and the media continued to relay the outrage. But to understand the verdict, people have to put aside their emotions and see how jurors dispassionately arrived at the decision.
If you want to understand the legal system better, look at the HBO film “Gideon’s Army,” about the public defender system. The film didn’t generate the headlines that the Zimmerman trial did, but “Gideon’s Army” reveals more about the legal system than any single verdict could. And you should feel outraged by what you see there.
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