As I write this, the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin is about to go to the jury. The State's lawyers just completed their closing argument. Tomorrow morning the defense will close, the state will get a brief rebuttal and then the Judge will charge the jury. The jury should have the case tomorrow afternoon.
At issue is Zimmerman's legal liability for the death of 17-year-old Trayon Martin. The mixed race Hispanic/Caucasian Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood watch group, spotted African American Martin walking through his neighborhood in the evening, during a rain storm, wearing a hoodie. At the end of the encounter, young Mr. Martin lay dead from a bullet fired by Mr. Zimmerman who claimed he was defending himself. For the last several weeks Mr. Zimmerman has been on trial in a Sanford, Florida Courtroom but the trial has hardly been confined to Florida. The case has preoccupied the nation.
There is, of course, no question that the death of a 17-year-old is always a tragedy.
The words "dead" and "17-year-old" should never appear in the same sentence. However, many feel that also at stake are important issues as to the right of self-defense. But sadly, in many ways, racial tension has provided the drama that has captivated America's attention when it should have had no place in the altercation, the tragic shooting or the trial. But the common feeling is that Mr. Zimmerman was only suspicious of Mr. Martin because he was a young black man taking a shortcut through a neighborhood that had experienced a rash of break-ins. Could that be true in the U.S.A. in 2013? I would hope not. Skin color means no more than wrapping paper color. Like gifts, good people and bad people come wrapped in every shade.
It has been fascinating to have so many people gripped by things we deal with at our law firm regularly. A day or so ago everyone was engrossed by a Daubert Motion (over expert issues). Just this morning, the entire country listened with rapt absorption as counsel and the court wrangled over jury charges and the structure of the verdict form. Most of our firm's charging conferences amount to a few minutes in the Judge's chambers, but then, most of the country isn't the least bit interested in those cases - Thank God.
The debate, discussions and engrossment with the Zimmerman trial has caused a bunch of Florida authorities to fear that there will be riots after the verdict is read - if the verdict doesn't go "the right way." What way is that? The way the particular group discussing it considers "right." I truly, deeply, hope that the authorities in Florida learn they have nothing to fear. I hope that when the jury returns a verdict, that everyone walks away glad to be living in America where we get to see that our Constitution and the rights it guarantees are alive and well.
Most of all, I hope that everyone who has been engrossed with the trial will spare a moment to be grateful to the six (6) courageous ladies who have been sequestered and apart from their friends, families and their lives. They - the jurors - are liberty in action. Their duty is to listen to and consider all of the evidence and arguments and weigh it by the legal standards that the Judge will charge tomorrow. After the charge, the ladies will go to their jury room to deliberate for what could be a short time (usually a defense verdict) or a longer time (generally a conviction as to at least one of the offenses).
However the verdict comes out, the process has worked. The jurors have worked long and hard already and they likely have longer and harder days ahead. They are charged with using their good judgment and common sense to evaluate the truth of some very diverse testimony, and to weigh the credibility of a host of witnesses. They are NOT charged with returning any particular verdict, or catering to any interests or concerns. They should vote as they decide and they have the right to expect that their decision will be respected, along with their right to privacy to the extent they choose.
The word "verdict" comes from the Latin veredictum which means "to speak the truth." Under our system of justice the jury's verdict is the truth of the case. Whatever that truth turns out to be, it should be accepted peacefully. The ladies of this jury will be strong enough to tell us the truth and we must be strong enough to take it.
Personally, I feel good about this jury and rather proud of how this trial has progressed. It has, after all, been presided over by a smart and powerful female Judge and six (6) courageous female jurors.
And Justice is a lady too, right?