Sunday, July 14, 2013

If I Was on the Jury

I’ve been following the trial of George Zimmerman over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin with some interest ever since the news first broke over a year ago. The subjects of racial profiling, concealed carry, and the stand-your-ground law, all thrown together made for an interesting story.

Shortly after the shooting and while Zimmerman had yet to be arrested, there was growing outcry by the Martin family and their supporters to hold Zimmerman responsible for Martin’s death. While I could certainly see and believe a story that Zimmerman would have been overzealous in his pursuit of Martin because of racial prejudice, I had more difficulty believing that that was sufficient reason to shoot Martin dead. Follow? Yes. Confront? Okay, sure. Shoot? No.
George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin
So I had to boil it down to a self-defense issue. Who was the aggressor here? If it was Zimmerman that came barging on Martin and being a little more than threatening, then Martin had a right to self-defense. I mean, I’d be pretty fearful for my life if a man was coming at me in the middle of the night in aggressive manner. If it was as Zimmerman said, Martin attacking him, well then stand-your-ground would seem to be on his side.

It was argued that Zimmerman was the aggressor because he had followed Martin, ignoring a dispatcher’s suggestion* that he remain where he was. Well, that is not illegal. Even Zimmerman confronting Martin as he said he did, was not illegal. So that gets us to the fight.

The fight lasted at least 45 seconds as recorded by a phone recording from the time screaming began to when the shot occurred. Who was the aggressor was not clearly established based on the eye witnesses who were uncertain and whose conclusions were differing. Forensic evidence established that Martin was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot. This is in line with Zimmerman’s story claiming that he was in fear for his life and had no way to retreat even if he wanted to. (45 seconds of fighting, lying on the ground, being beaten by Trayvon who was on top.) So with this evidence, it suggests that at the point of the shooting, it was Martin who was aggressing and it was Zimmerman that was defending.

Originally, Zimmerman was charged with 2nd Degree Murder which in Florida law is when Zimmerman did not plan to kill Martin but acted with malice, ill-will, a “depraved mind,” or regard for human life. Interestingly, the law requires that this be in commission of a felony which to my understanding, Zimmerman was not committing. The prosecutors, in their case, could not establish—beyond a reasonable doubt—that Zimmerman was guilty of any of that. Most news and legal analysts openly acknowledged that. Even the prosecution knew that so they hoped that they could get him at the last minute by adding a manslaughter charge that the jury could consider if they couldn’t find him guilty of the 2nd Degree Murder charge.

Even with the manslaughter charge, I’m not sure they could have found him guilty of that either. Remember, the burden of proof—beyond a reasonable doubt is the same for manslaughter. I think we can safely say that this case is not a voluntary manslaughter otherwise the “intent” would have transferred also to a 1st Degree Murder charge. So that leaves us with involuntary manslaughter. Was it a constructive manslaughter? No again, Zimmerman did not kill Martin in the commission of a crime. Was it criminally negligent manslaughter? I think that this is the more probable but it would require proof of a high degree of recklessness. We can’t say for certain that Zimmerman’s confrontation met that kind of recklessness so again—we can’t meet the burden of proof.
If I was on the jury, I think I would have come to the same conclusions. The state could not prove its case and there is a good degree of doubt. The defense that Zimmerman defended himself is reasonable based on the evidence. That said, I don’t believe that Zimmerman is completely innocent here. I do believe that he escalated the situation unnecessarily at the point where he got out of his truck to follow Martin. He set in motion the events that led to an altercation between Martin and himself.

*Dispatcher in his own testimony said that it was not an order and that they do not give orders due to liability.

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