Late in the evening of July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted of both charges he faced in the February 26, 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
In the end, the jury did what juries are supposed to do. The six women on the jury applied the law to the facts and concluded Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
From the prosecution’s presentation of the evidence and the verdict, it appears former Sandford, Florida police chief, Bill Lee had been right; Zimmerman should not have been charged.
Zimmerman Trial: The Case for the Defense
Many doubted the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense called evidence in an attempt to create or cement the doubt that was already present in the case, including a forensic expert to show the shooting was consistent with Zimmerman’s version of events. This evidence was called not to “prove” it happened this way but to create further doubt as to Zimmerman’s guilt.
The defense also called relatives of Zimmerman to testify that the screams heard on the tape were his. This was to counter evidence from Martin’s family that the screams were Martin’s. There’s little doubt that all these witnesses were telling the truth, and believe what they wanted to believe, however, all Zimmerman’s lawyers had to do was pound away at reasonable doubt.
Zimmerman Not Guilty: What the Jury Had to Decide
In the end, despite all the talk about race and racial profiling, the jury was obligated to decide if the state had proved Zimmerman was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of second-degree murder or manslaughter. The evidence fell short of proving either of those charges.
In order to prove Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder, the prosecution had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, Zimmerman acted intentionally out of ill will or spite when he shot Martin. Since the two men were unknown to each other, the only ill will or spite that could be found was that Martin was a young black male.
According to Zimmerman’s account of what happened, he did not pull out his gun until after Martin approached him; although this occurred after Zimmerman followed the teen, an altercation developed, and Martin ended up on top of Zimmerman, slamming Zimmerman’s head into the ground after punching him in the face.
In order to convict, the jury did not have to believe Zimmerman’s account. Instead, they had decide beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting did not happen in that manner. The injuries Zimmerman sustained, although not serious, corroborated his version of events that Martin was slamming his head on the ground and that he genuinely feared for his life.
In order to convict Zimmerman, the jury had to believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Martin, who was returning from a store, did not confront Zimmerman – even though Zimmerman was following Martin, and he did nothing wrong. In the absence of more specific evidence, it was impossible for a jury acting properly to reach a conclusion other than that there was a reasonable doubt as to Zimmerman’s guilt.
Charges of Manslaughter and Child Abuse Against Zimmerman
Zimmerman was not originally charged with manslaughter, but the charge was added and left with the jury after prosecutors successfully applied to the judge on the matter. The prosecution also wanted the judge to add a charge of third-degree murder that resulted from an act of child abuse, but the judge denied this application.
The request for these two additional charges appeared to many to be an admission by the prosecution that they had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and wanted additional charges added in the hopes that the jury would believe Zimmerman should be punished for his behavior that night, thereby convicting him of a lesser charge.
This view became apparent when the issue of child abuse was raised by prosecutors. A child in Florida is someone who is under the age of 18 years and unmarried. Martin was 17. Had this charge been added, the prosecution would have had to prove among other things, Zimmerman knew or ought to have known Martin was 17 and not 18, which strains credulity.
The charge of manslaughter was also a stretch. Under Florida law, as in other jurisdictions, manslaughter is committed where a killing results from negligence rather than an intention to kill. The negligence must be sufficient that the act, although not intentional, becomes criminal.
Negligence, and therefore manslaughter, would have been open to the jury had there been some evidence of negligence on Zimmerman’s part; there wasn’t any. Negligence would have occurred if, for example, Zimmerman’s gun accidentally went off, killing Martin. But the evidence of Zimmerman was that he intentionally shot Martin because Martin was beating him. What Zimmerman did was intentional. He intentionally shot Martin once in the chest at close range. Either he was justified in shooting or he wasn’t; it was second-degree murder or nothing.