Jul 15 2013

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George Zimmerman and American Justice

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Not Guilty, But Not Innocent...
Not Guilty, But Not Innocent…

Trials are better understood as forums for the proper assignment of blame. In that context, the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case is frustrating and profoundly unsatisfying.

Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman killed him. Those facts are not, nor have they ever been, in dispute. Yet Zimmerman is acquitted.

Where did we fail?

And what are we to say to Trayvon Martin’s family in the aftermath?

The loss of a child entails unbearable grief. A loss under these circumstances is simply unspeakable in its depths. Now, after such a loss, Trayvon Martin’s family must cope with the fact that his killer is free. It is faith crushing and soul-destroying.

But as deeply painful and unsatisfying as the final verdict may be, it was the correct legal verdict given the facts of the case and the charges against Zimmerman.

The jury fulfilled its obligation to the court, and did honor to US jurisprudence by focusing on the evidence and steadfastly refusing to buy into the reckless and provocative narrative, ceaselessly promoted by the media, that has surrounded the Zimmerman case from the beginning. It was this narrative that animated the prosecution from the start, and sparked an unrecoverable cascade of procedural mistakes that ultimately guaranteed failure and heartbreak for the Martin family.

The narrative was race; that Martin had been targeted and killed because he was black, and that the local authorities mustered, at best, institutional indifference to the case because of Martin’s race. As in all narratives, there is a grain of truth.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Sanford, Florida PD conducted an internal investigation and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman, who claimed to act in self-defense. He was set free. The facts as they have since come to be known simply don’t support that conclusion. But the apparent, cavalier handling of the case by the Sanford PD never justified what came next.

Well beyond the legitimate concerns of the Martin family, an army of race-mongers and race-hucksters swarmed to the streets and airwaves to make the shooting their own, firmly planting a rigid racial lens on Martin’s shooting that could never ultimately be reconciled with the facts of the case. This joins active media duplicity as one of many tragedies in the trial.

To begin with, the obvious racial component was missing.

George Zimmerman isn’t white.

Zimmerman’s father was of German descent, while his mother was Peruvian. Indeed, for the race-obsessed, Zimmerman’s paternal grandfather was considered “Afro-Peruvian.” Further muddying the waters, Zimmerman and his wife volunteered on weekends to mentor African-American kids. Zimmerman was a registered Democrat who had voted for President Obama. And in his earlier years, Zimmerman himself had had problems with the police, including felony assault on an officer. This is hardly the profile of a racist vigilante bent on law and order.

Indeed, so strained was the racial connection that the media were forced to refer to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” If that is how the parsing is going to go down from now on, then we could logically assume that President Obama will now be referred to as “white black.”

But these facts meant little to the race hucksters who only saw in the shooting, confirmation of institutional American racism at work; insidious, widespread and durable. They agitated on, improbably making a mixed race US citizen/Obama supporter the poster child of institutional white racism.

But the Martin case also had a ready audience beyond the race extremists. How could you not feel for the grieving family or, at first blush, question how it was possible, in this day and age, for an unarmed teenager to be shot and killed without so much as a judicial hearing for his assailant, who had improbably walked away, free.

That nexus was the catalyst that brought the case instant, national attention.

But it was also at this point where public opinion overwhelmed the judicial process; where the case ceased being about the facts and became about a de facto form of retribution. For the extremists,”racist America” had been caught red-handed, and now someone was going to have to pay. Zimmerman was the guy. The rest was just process.

It was profoundly suspect judicial conduct that fairly screams to be revisited.

After the huge public outcry at Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s release, Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed Angela Corey, an elected state attorney in Florida’s Fourth Circuit, as Special Prosecutor. One of Corey’s first acts in her new role was to dispense with a grand jury that had been authorized by her predecessor, and was to be impaneled to consider evidence witnesses and testimony in the Martin shooting in April. Instead, Corey’s office said that she would decide on the charges. “I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this, I foresee us being able to make a decision, and move on it on our own.”

Less than three weeks later, on her own accord, Corey charged Zimmerman with murder in the 2nd degree.

In her announcement, Corey dismissed concerns that the public outcry had influenced her decision on what charges to level. But in deciding on second degree murder, it became obvious that the Special Prosecutor was more interested in a charge that would please the crowd and media that was seeking “payback” for Martin’s murder,  than a charge that would fit the purported crime.

Indeed, no less an authority than Alan Dershowitz said that Corey’s 2nd degree murder charge against Zimmerman was “irresponsible and reckless” given the paucity of evidence submitted in the affidavit to support the charge. Corey’s motives were further sullied when it was disclosed right before Zimmerman’s trial that her office had failed to provide complete discovery of all evidence to Zimmerman’s lawyers, as required by law. Whether intentional or not, the Special Prosecutor made it appear as if the “fix” were in.

It is the saddest irony of the Zimmerman case that Corey’s actions to appease the race hucksters set in motion Zimmerman’s ultimate acquittal. Had the state been more interested in the facts of the case, it would have pursued a lesser charge against Zimmerman – one that would have necessarily meant less, but still significant jail time – but one which the facts could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The trial proceedings bear this theory out.

To convict Zimmerman of second degree murder, prosecutors had to prove that Zimmerman did something he knew was “reasonably certain” to kill or seriously injure, and to act with “ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent.”

So with this very high bar, Rachel Jeantel was the prosecution’s “star” witness?” That is the best the state had after all this time?”

Worse, time and again, the defense turned prosecution witnesses to their own advantage. The state appeared surprised and unprepared for a Zimmerman legal team that would actually mount a spirited defense, as if there was nothing left in dispute. Indeed, the prosecution all but admitted its failure when, on the last day, it sought to add lesser charges for the jury to consider against Zimmerman, including manslaughter (accepted) and, preposterously, a murder conviction for “child abuse” (rejected by the judge).

This obvious, prosecutorial overreach is the relevant nexus for the ensuing jury deliberation in this case, and for the implications of jurisprudence nationally.

It is elementary but essential to keep in mind that the jury was only allowed to evaluate the evidence presented in light of the charges brought by the state. A jury cannot go shopping on its own for charges that they believe fit the circumstances.

Their choice was to decide whether the evidence fit the charges, or not. Period.

Particularly in the aftermath of the trial, it is crucial to know that the jury did not find Zimmerman innocent. They found him not guilty of the charges that state brought against the shooter. The distinction is vital.

It is left to those who wander roads not traveled to consider what alternate ending may have ensued had the state charged Zimmerman with something more closely approximating events during the night of the shooting. For instance, under Florida statute, Chapter 784, Assault, Battery; Culpable Negligence is defined as an assault with a deadly weapon, but without the intention to kill. It is a 3rd degree felony carrying a prison sentence of up to 13 years. Such a charge would have been well below “the scalp” that the race-mongers demanded, but it would ultimately have been a better fit for the evidence that the state had collected.

Thus, if there is a failure here – and there are many pointed fingers today – it is a failure of the prosecution. The state simply did not provide the jury with a tool to punish George Zimmerman of which they could be confident of beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, it was the jury which wisely – even bravely – resisted the temptation to punish Zimmerman by whatever charges were available, even if the facts of the case did not justify it. In doing so, the jury – almost single-handedly – saved American jurisprudence from becoming a version of a kangaroo court, or “mob justice.”

But in upholding justice, we now have no one to blame. It is the heartbreaking reality that the race-mongers who immediately rushed to Martin’s defense – and their media enablers- who made his story their own, are the most culpable in Zimmerman’s acquittal. By injecting race into a crime that was not race-based, a point ceded, ironically, by the prosecution, the legal process was warped in a manner that prevented functioning justice. Indeed, by insisting on trumped-up “vanity” charges as a de facto atonement for the initial actions of the Sanford PD in dismissing the Martin case, the race militants all but handed George Zimmerman a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

The story begins and ends with Martin and his family. A life extinguished before it was lived. A family left to pick up the shattered pieces – on so many levels –  and try to move on.

The integrity of the legal system was ultimately preserved. However, the brutal scars created by the trial will endure for the nation, the center of contentious debate, far into the future.


    1. duffysoa

      Ray: thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment. This is a great question. American hero killed at home in a senseless murder? I’d put it on the front page….


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