Forget murder. The prosecution has failed to prove the elements of the crime.
So it comes down to manslaughter–and a specific kind of manslaughter, one that lawyers call “imperfect self-defense.”
If George Zimmerman over-reacted to the danger he was in–if, in short, he was unreasonable in his belief that he was in mortal danger–then he is guilty. But if there is a decent chance his belief was reasonable, he must go free.
That is the only question the jury must answer.
And, in truth, they should probably not have had the opportunity, because the case for self-defense is so strong that, arguably, no reasonable jury could convict him.
The only reason Zimmerman is still on trial is because of political pressure–from the street to the White House–and because the judge, a former prosecutor, seems to have it in for the hotshot defense lawyers.
Regardless, the overwhelming weight of the evidence and testimony favors Zimmerman.
Trayvon Martin’s mother may believe that he cried out for help, but an array of defense witnesses said the cries came from Zimmerman. One witness may have believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin, but all of the others said otherwise. The prosecution’s experts downplayed Zimmerman’s injuries, but the defense’s experts built them back up again.
So the only argument the prosecution can make is that Zimmerman had exaggerated the danger.
But even if he had, the question is not whether the minor details of his story were accurate, but whether a reasonable person in Zimmerman’s position–being beaten severely, with little room for escape–could have believed themselves to be in danger of death or grievous bodily injury.
If the jury thinks that is a real possibility, they must acquit.
That is why the prosecution has tried to create confusion by arguing that Zimmerman had instigated the confrontation by following Martin and carrying a gun for self-defense. None of that is relevant.
Also, the prosecution’s argument that Zimmerman focused on Martin because he was too eager to stop crime in his neighborhood could ultimately backfire. The jurors, like most of us, are grateful for vigilant neighbors.
So the likeliest reason that the jury could convict Zimmerman is out of a sense that they are expected to do so.
Hence the gratuitous reference, in the prosecution’s closing argument, to Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. Set aside the conflicting, unreliable and disrespectful testimony of star witness Rachel Jeantel, he effectively told them: you must give her words weight because of the drama of race in America writ large.
A young man is dead, another young man is alive, therefore the living man must be guilty, the prosecution added–because surely the dead man is not. Someone must pay for the inherent unfairness of the situation.
But as faulty as such arguments are in the field of economics, they are absolutely immoral in a court of law. Life cannot be redistributed to the deceased. And no one’s freedom can be ransomed to the angry mob.
The death of Trayvon Martin was tragic–not just in that it was deeply unfortunate, but in that it was likely the result of two men believing they were both in the right, both evidently burdened by a bit of machismo, one aggressive and one armed–which settled the fight, but not the case.
Yes, Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that he had no regrets. But he also told Martin’s parents in court: “I am sorry for the loss of your son.”
As the trial has wound to a close, Zimmerman’s adversaries in the media have seemed eager to insist, as the prosecution did in its closing argument, that Martin was “innocent”–as if he were on trial, as if justice were a zero-sum game, as if Zimmerman’s acquittal would mean Martin’s guilt.
But Martin was never the issue. The judge–controversially–made sure of that, keeping out relevant evidence of Martin’s prior fights.
The media, sensing the prosecution’s weakness, began speculating early on that there will be riots if Zimmerman–a man falsely described as “white” to put him in a different, suspect moral category–is acquitted.
They do not expect riots if he is convicted. Nor should they.
The loss of faith in our justice system would be a quiet, internal wound. But it will not heal easily, if ever. And some of the blame will lie at Barack Obama’s feet.