Monday, June 24th marked the first day of opening statements in the George Zimmerman trial. Last week concluded with an all women jury. In court circles, an all women jury is quite an anomaly. And that’s not the only one so far in the case. The second anomaly occurred during the defense’s opening statements when the defense attorney tried to tell a joke to the jury. There’s no place for humor in a murder trial. One person was killed and the other person, the defendant, is in jeopardy of losing his life in prison. I am clueless as to why a joke was inserted in the beginning of West’s opening—right after he said that it was a tragic case involving two grieving families.
Everyone in legal circles is dissecting the all- female jury and wondering which side will benefit from this rarity. And there’s no way at this point to tell which side the jury will ultimately favor. At this juncture, it does appear that this jury favors the defense. And that’s primarily because the women who make up the jury appear more conservative which in this case means more leaning towards the defense. One woman juror referred to the peaceful protests to arrest George Zimmerman as “rioting”. Two women on the jury were stricken by the prosecutor only to end up on the jury when their strikes were successfully challenged by the defense. One woman who has adolescent children told her children that this case is an example of what happens if you go out at night. She seems to imply that somehow Trayvon Martin was at fault for going to the convenience store on that fateful night. The sole minority, a Hispanic woman, is one who appears favorable for the state. She has several children and rarely watches news, preferring reality shows. She will bring a different perspective than those who have lived in Seminole County for a long time.
The opening statements are an opportunity for each side to present to the jury what their evidence will show. The prosecution’s opening was a little over 30 minutes and discussed their key points. John Guy, the assistant state’s attorney, told the jury that the state will prove that George Zimmerman profiled, pursued and then killed Trayvon Martin. He started out saying the words that Zimmerman said about Trayvon when he initially made the 911 call to the police, calling Trayvon a f— punk and later an asshole. Guy ended by saying that Zimmerman killed him –not due to self- defense. He killed him because he wanted to kill him. He promised the jury would be able to convict at the conclusion of the trial based on their head, their heart and their stomach.
The defense’s prosecution scored a major point but was more than two hours long and included an intermission. Speaking that long in a monotone and technical fashion probably bored the jurors out of their minds. Even Judge Nelson had to remind West the purpose of an opening statement—to lay out the evidence. The judge inferred that defense attorney West was confusing opening statement with closing argument. The one point that West scored successfully was that Trayvon’s father denied the cries and screams were his son. Without the testimony of the audio experts, the screams heard on the 911 call are a key element of the trial, in determining if self-defense is available.
Most interesting in case is the judge’s decision to bar the words “racial profiling”. The prosecution was allowed to only say profiling. And the judge’s attempt to sterilize the racial component in the case did not deter the defense from getting in an implied racial stereotypes in their opening. West discussed the size of Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. He talked about how Zimmerman had physically worked out at a gym and lost weight but was not considered athletic. On the other hand, he spoke about the athleticism and strength of Trayvon Martin, as if it was the teenage Incredible Hulk. Those subtle nuances are how the defense is attempting to invoke the race card to their favor.
In the coming two plus weeks, there will be many twists and turns. Stay tuned here for future developments as they occur.
Washington, Dc based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor. She often appears in the media discussing issues of race and gender in the law and key legal cases.