This commentary is shortly after the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Our agency has reserved any opinion of the incident until the trial.
When the prosecution filed the charges, the assertion as that they would demonstrate facts that showed George Zimmerman was on top and assaulting Trayvon Martin, then shooting him, as an overzealous neighborhood watchman.
During the trial a several things were revealed:
- It was proven that George Zimmerman was on the ground and had received severe injuries (any head injury, possibly resulting in a concussion and/or hematoma, can be dangerous and life threatening);
- It was presented that George Zimmerman did not follow Trayvon Martin and was attacked by Trayvon Martin. This is from six consistent and voluntary statements of George Zimmerman. These centered around his call to the non-emergency police, reporting suspicious activity and losing sight of Trayvon Martin;
- George Zimmerman could not retreat - Florida's troubling and poorly written 'Stand Your Ground' law was actually not applicable;
- The background of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman are mostly irrelevant and, rightfully, were not permitted. They were not relevant to the incident and would only prejudice the jury. (see below)
Regarding when the jury was given the case for deliberations
-- For anyone that would take this personally, regardless of the verdict or thoughts on the verdict - the only people that this personally involves are the Martin and Zimmerman families. Any ...other reaction is (let's just call it rioting or protesting) is as wrong after the verdict as before.
-- The verdict is to be based on innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (not until).
-- The right to this standard is based on proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not innocence beyond a reasonable doubt (that is essentially a civil standard - such as a wrongful death suit).
-- Zimmerman was charged based on the prosecution (not police) theory that he was on top of Martin. They opened with that argument and it was disproved. That was their theory of prosecution.
-- When the prosecution theory was disproved, in the proposed jury instructions they asked for, and got, manslaughter and also asked for, but denied, child abuse resulting in death.
-- The question is NOT what Zimmerman's or Martin's actions were prior to the incident, but if Zimmerman was defending himself and had a right to defend himself. These two questions will answer the jury verdict of the 2nd degree, manslaughter or acquittal.
Concerning the comments about Zimmerman following Martin. There was no actual evidence supporting this - actually the evidence had a break in the timeline from being told he did not need to follow, to when Zimmerman was attacked - and there was evidence of that. But let's say he did, and let's say its bad judgment.
Can we not conclude one thing and ask another:
1. Was it not also bad judgment for Martin to attack Zimmerman; and
2. Why hasn't any one asked why Martin attacked Zimmerman?
Regarding the verdict and what is applicable
The issue of a jury verdict is guilty or not guilty – and more accurate, guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Essentially, did the prosecution prove their case, or not? This case was actually not about whether or not the prosecution proved their case. It was more accurately of if the defense proved self-defense.
When did the self-defense happen? Zimmerman was on his way to the grocery store when he saw a suspicious person and called the non-emergency police number. He reported this and was asked where he was.
Zimmerman told the police officer that he lost track of Martin and got out of his truck to look for a street name he could relay to police dispatcher. When the dispatcher suggested Zimmerman didn’t need to follow Martin, Zimmerman started to head back to his vehicle. At that point, Zimmerman said Martin “jumped out” of some bushes and said, “What the f— is your problem, homey?”
Zimmerman claims Martin then punched him and he fell to the ground. Zimmerman said that Martin then began hitting his head against the sidewalk as Zimmerman yelled for help and that Martin told him, “You’re going to die tonight.”
To determine what the jury had to consider, it is important to know the jury instructions. Here is the link - www.flcourts18.org/PDF/Press_Releases/Zimmerman_Final_Jury_Instructions.pdf
Below is a summary of those instructions, as they relate to manslaughter (italics).
To prove the crime of Manslaughter, the State must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. Trayvon Martin is dead.
2. George Zimmerman intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide:
The killing of a human being is excusable, and therefore lawful, under any one of thethree following circumstances:
1. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent, or
2. When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, uponany sudden and sufficient provocation, or
3. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from a sudden combat, if a dangerous weapon is not used and the attempted killing is not done in a cruel and unusual manner.
In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
If in your consideration of the issue of self-defense you have a reasonable doubt on the question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty.
In reviewing these instructions, essentially the defense had the unusual burden of proving self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury instructions are specific. Self-defense was the only defense of manslaughter. We believe this is what the jury needed clarification on in their question to the judge.
Post verdict thoughts
Sadly, there is a lot of commentary on this case - not unusual. However, they are racially charged and biased. They serve no purpose and only inflame further divisiveness. Here are two examples, and even if there is part of the commentary to agree with, additional irrelevant and inflammatory comments are strongly disagreed with -- and detract from the message:
Trayvon Martin - "...17-year-old dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe...always taking the violent route."
George Zimmerman - "I would love to Split his back open and cut out sections of his spine then close him up."
Jury - "All them jurors should go home tonight and kill themselves for letting a grown man get away with killing a kid."
Had Trayvon Martin survived, this incident would be different. If he were charged, perhaps assault, or had he killed George Zimmerman and survived, he would be entitled to the same judicial process; but, not including the politicized and racial atmosphere Zimmerman has experienced - no person deserves such an emotional beating.
In rendering a complete not guilty verdict – of the original charge of Second Degree Murder and the lesser included Manslaughter – the jury found that George Zimmerman was justified in defending himself against the imminent danger in the attack by Trayvon Martin. I truly feel for the Martin family - this does not bring closure to them. I hope they are able to, in some way.
With the exception a wrongful death suit, the choice of only Trayvon Martin's family, it is time to let this rest. No agendas and no profiteering. To continue seeking justice in federal courts - in any case - when there is not satisfaction in the state courts - is wrong. It is time to let Trayvon Martin rest in peace and George Zimmerman to live and contemplate his actions. Their families must also live with both the actions and outcomes. We cannot know or understand what this really is to each of them.