The not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial shocked, stunned and saddened me on some many levels. Many people have criticized the prosecutors in how the Zimmerman case was tried. As a former prosecutor, there were tactics used that I did not agree with. But there is no one way to try a circumstantial murder case where no one witness can identify exactly what happened. But with all the conflicting different stories and lies that George Zimmerman told depending on who was the listener, there was ample evidence to find him guilty of manslaughter, beyond a reasonable doubt. Second degree murder was going to be an uphill battle due to the intent of ill will, malice or a depraved mind under the Florida statute, which was not present in manslaughter.
So everyone asks what went wrong in this case. And you would have to go back to the beginning on the night of February 26, 2012 to answer that question. The Sanford police put the case at jeopardy when they refused to charge George Zimmerman with murder for killing 17 year old Trayvon Martin. It was only due to pressure from civil rights groups that brought about a special prosecutor and charges being filed 44 days after the murder. So, that was the first thing that went wrong with the case. The failure of the police to charge Zimmerman probably caused at least one juror during deliberations to reflect on the “rioting”, as she referred to the peaceful protests during jury selection.
Judge Debra Nelson refused to allow the prosecutors to call the case what it was “racial profiling”, as if that might hurt the feelings of the citizens of Sanford. The entire theory of the State’s case was compromised when they were not allowed to discuss the pink elephant on the night of February 26, 2012. The case was all about race. Yes, it was that simple. John Guy tried to make the subtle point in his final closing argument, asking jurors to give the same verdict to George Zimmerman that they would give if Trayvon Martin were the one on trial. Obviously, they chose to ignore that comment.
Judge Nelson and one prior judge refused to order a gag order, which would have prevented the defense attorneys from trying the case in the media. The defense team went on a national media tour for no other reason that to poison the potential already conservative jurors. And then to top it all off, the defendant’s father wrote a book that was published shortly before the trial on how the true racists were the NAACP and other like groups—not his son.
And then there’s the little problem called jury selections when two jurors whom the state struck were allowed to sit on the jury, after the defense objected to the strikes. I am not privy to why the state wanted to exclude them but I will assume it was due to possible prejudicial reasons.
Then there was evidence that was excluded from the trial about Zimmerman’s prior propensity for violence. We will not know why the undercover police officer that Zimmerman assaulted in 2005 did not testify. The charges were later dropped. That may have helped the jury to see that Zimmerman could not only hurt a fly, he could assault a police officer.
Yet, in the end, none of this may have made a difference. In the final analysis, Zimmerman’s defense team was allowed to try and convict Trayvon Martin for the alleged crime of being a black teenager while walking at night. And in America, that is a dangerous crime, in the eyes of many white Americans. Perception is everything. And the perception by this jury was that apparently Trayvon Martin, a black male teenager who was on his way home with candy and ice tea, when he was followed by a “creepy ass cracker”, was the likely aggressor.
The National Bar president John E. Page says: The fact is the jury delivered a not guilty verdict. The TRUTH is justice has not been served.” And unfortunately, the sad reality is if Trayvon Martin had been white, it would have been an entirely different verdict. Zimmerman would have been convicted of one of the charges. I am still shocked and stunned that a jury of 6 women could not apply their common sense and find the defendant guilty of manslaughter. But I know these six women jurors’ reality, perception and common sense are not the same as mine—an African American woman.