Jurors Start Deliberating George Zimmerman Case
On Friday, George Zimmerman, the defendant in the second-degree murder trial for the killing of black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012, found his fate in the hands of seven women: a six-person all-female jury, and Judge Debra Nelson, who would sentence him should the jury convict him on either the second-degree murder charge, or the lesser included offense of manslaughter.
The jury is composed of six women, five of whom are white and one of whom is Hispanic, and whose backgrounds were sketched out during the voir dire process last month:
- B29: Hispanic female with eight children who works at a nursing home, living in Chicago when the Trayvon Martin shooting occurred. She said, “I don’t like watching the news period…I don’t read any newspapers, don’t watch the news.” She said that she knew that with regard to the Trayvon Martin case, a “little boy had passed away,” who she thought was “a kid, 12 or 13,” and termed Martin a “child who died.”
- B76: White female of middle age who knew about case from the news, says she wants a “fair trial,” and said it was a “great opportunity” to serve on the jury. She said that she knew that someone had been shot and that Zimmerman was injured. She said she didn’t “believe what I hear on TV.”
- B37: White woman in her 30s owns a variety of pets (3 dogs, 4 cats, parrot, crow with one wing, two lizards), rescues wildlife, works in a chiropractor’s office, and says she does not watch television. She said that the best use for newspapers was lining her parrot’s cage, and said she did not trust the media. She called the Trayvon Martin protests “rioting” and said she remembered that Zimmerman had been in a fight late at night and a “boy of color” had been killed.
- B51: White retired woman, unmarried, who admitted she had an opinion on the case, and admitted that she had heard Zimmerman had been told not to follow Zimmerman but that he declined to do so. She also stated it was “good to know we can consider bias.” She said that she thought the Chief of Police of Sanford had lost his job thanks to not arresting Zimmerman quickly enough.
- E6: White mid-30s female who worked in financial services; defense attempted to preemptory challenge her but the judge denied the challenge. She said she didn’t know enough facts to have an opinion on the case. She said, “I don’t put much stock to what’s in the news, it’s so speculative.” She said she’d seen a picture of Zimmerman’s face bloodied, and that she had guns in the home.
- E40: White middle-aged female who called herself a lawyer at heart, said she could help tell jurors to only consider evidence presented in court, and said that citizens have “responsibility if you bear arms.”
The defense’s closing arguments ended on Friday afternoon with attorney Mark O’Mara encouraging jurors to be thoughtful and deliberate in their decisionmaking. He stated, “If it hasn’t been proven, it’s just not there. You can’t fill in the gaps. You can’t connect the dots. You’re not allowed to.”
Meanwhile, the prosecution gave its own rebuttal to the defense, suggesting that Zimmerman was a repeat liar, and appealing to the emotions of the jurors: “Isn’t that every child’s worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger?” said prosecutor John Guy. “Isn’t that every child’s worst fear?”
Zimmerman, who did not testify in court, told police that Martin confronted him after Zimmerman stopped following Martin. Zimmerman claims that Martin punched him in the face, sending him to the ground, where the two struggled. Zimmerman said that Martin was on top of him, hitting his head against the concrete, when Zimmerman pulled out his firearm and shot Martin in the chest, killing him.
Prosecution star witness Rachel Jeantel told the court that she was on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman confronted Martin, and that she heard Martin shout “Get off! Get off!” at Zimmerman, although she did not tell police that during her initial interviews. Jeantel has admitted to lying about her whereabouts at Martin’s funeral, she changed her testimony on the stand multiple times, and her demeanor in the courtroom was deeply problematic for the state. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda invoked Martin Luther King Jr. in attempting to shore up Jeantel’s credibility, suggesting that jurors ignore the “color of her personality” in favor of the “content of her testimony.”
Various witnesses contradicted each other on whether Zimmerman or Martin was on top during the struggle, and whether Zimmerman or Martin was screaming during the struggle. Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, contradicted police witnesses who stated that Tracy Martin had denied that it was Trayvon screaming for help on a neighbor’s 911 call during the fight.
After Judge Debra Nelson, a controversial figure whom many critics have suggested is hostile to defense counsel, read the jury instructions, the jury began deliberation. Thus far, the jury has exited the jury room only to ask the judge whether it could see the full list of evidentiary exhibits. The jurors have been sequestered for the duration of the trial.
Local, state, and federal authorities are making contingency plans should civil unrest break out based on the verdict. Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith told Breitbart News that local authorities are coordinating with both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. On Friday, Smith and Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger appealed for non-violence. “We may not agree with this verdict, but as communities within this country, we respect the rule of law. While this case has brought a great deal of emotion, there’s no tension in Seminole County,” said Eslinger.
The legal standard for second-degree murder in Florida would require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman killed Martin by criminal act, demonstrating “a depraved mind without regard for human life.” That requirement would incorporate the necessity for the prosecution to prove that the killing was “done from ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent.” Manslaughter, a charge the jury will be allowed to consider, requires only that Zimmerman “intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.” Self-defense is Zimmerman’s defense to both charges.
The George Zimmerman began on February 26, 2012, when neighborhood watch member Zimmerman shot Martin under disputed circumstances. Initially, police did not arrest Zimmerman, believing there was no probable cause to dispute his claim of self-defense; the police did file a “capias request,” suggesting that charges be filed, but investigators decided that such a request was inappropriate.
The case drew national attention beginning on March 8, 2012 when the Associated Press wrote a story quoting Trayvon Martin’s family attorneys, who “said they believed Trayvon Martin was being profiled at the time of the encounter be- cause he was a young black man. The neighborhood watch leader is white. The attorneys also questioned why a neighborhood watch leader would carry a gun. ‘He was stereotyped for some reason,’ attorney Ben Crump said of the victim. ‘Why was Trayvon suspicious? There are hundreds of children in that community.’”
Zimmerman is, in fact, Hispanic. But certain media outlets including both Reuters and The New York Times referred to him as “white Hispanic.” NBC News then released an edited tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call suggesting that Zimmerman had volunteered Martin’s racial information as a form of profiling; the full tape showed that the 911 dispatcher had prompted Zimmerman for that information. CNN suggested that Zimmerman had called Martin a “f---ing c—n” on the 911 call; the tape showed that Zimmerman had said it was “f---ing cold.” ABC News released photos of Zimmerman from the night of the arrest, and claimed that he had not been injured; further photos showed that his nose had likely been broken and that his head was gashed.
MSNBC host Al Sharpton flew down to Sanford, Florida. His National Action Network released a statement calling for a “full investigation,” stating, “The fact that a young unarmed man could be killed by a neighborhood watch captain while his family was blatantly misled by local police as to the background of the shooter is disturbing.” Rallies, facilitated by staffers at the Department of Justice, began calling for both the ouster of the Sanford Police Chief, Bill Lee, and for the arrest of Zimmerman.
On March 22, 2012, Lee took a temporary “leave of absence.” On March 23, 2012, President Barack Obama stated, “I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out how this tragedy happened…You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” On April 11, 2012, Zimmerman was arrested.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).