Jury selection for the George Zimmerman 2nd Degree Murder trial is scheduled to begin on Monday. Zimmerman, of course, is the off-duty volunteer watch guard who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida on February 26th of 2012. It’s going to be an interesting and frustrating trial to follow.
I’ve written about this case before — about the importance of the presumption of innocence, about some of the reactions to the case, about the Stand Your Ground laws, and about some of the things the jury will have to consider. On the surface, this case is pretty clear.
Here’s what we know. We know Zimmerman saw a black kid he didn’t recognize in the housing development and became suspicious. We know he notified the police, who told him NOT to follow the kid. We also know Martin was aware he was being watched and followed by a white guy he didn’t know. We know Martin ran to get away from the guy, and Zimmerman chased after him. We know there was some sort of confrontation, and that Zimmerman suffered a broken nose, two black eyes, and a small laceration on the back of his head. We know that Zimmerman fired a single shot at close range (less than 18 inches, possibly as close as one inch) which struck Martin in the chest and killed him.
There are really only two critical things in dispute, only one of which is legally important. First, what took place in the few moments before Zimmerman pulled the trigger — who initiated the confrontation? Second, what did Zimmerman think and believe in those few moments? The answer to the first question would be enlightening, but doesn’t carry much weight. The answer to the second question will, in all likelihood, determine the outcome of the trial.
Under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, it really doesn’t matter who started the fight; it only matters if the person who survives the fight can say without contradiction that he was in fear for his life or safety. That law states:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.
As long as Zimmerman had a legal right to be where he was (and he did), the only thing that matters is whether he reasonably believed it was necessary to shoot Martin in order to prevent his own death or great bodily harm. It’s a bad law. It’s a stupid law. It’s a law that can actually encourage a person to shoot first and ask questions…no, fuck the questions. Just shoot first. It’s a horrible law. But it IS the law, and you have to work with the law as it exists.
As I see it, there are five possible outcomes: 1) Zimmerman could be convicted of 2nd Degree Murder, 2) he could be convicted of a lesser included offense, 3) he could be acquited by the jury, 4) the judge could dismiss the charge after the prosecution presents its case IF the judge feels the State failed to meet its burden, and 5) the jury might be unable to reach a verdict and the case will either be dismissed or scheduled for retrial.
There is no way this trial will end well. There is no result that will be entirely satisfactory. Some situations are so completely and utterly fucked up that they cannot possibly be unfucked.
Too bad the common-sensical lesson will be buried by both our justice system and the media: “if you don’t value your ‘stuff’ as much as a human life, don’t carry a gun.” Things happen, and not always the way you expect them too. Protecting your belongings is a good thing up to a point, but somebody’s DEAD for chrissake. If you don’t want any possibility of a death haunting your mind, don’t carry a gun. Period. There’s a good reason why the _real_ Neighborhood Watch organization forbids carrying guns – avoiding that rule is presumably why George went for a _faux_ Neighborhood Watch instead.
I haven’t any reason to believe Zimmerman was anything other than overly zealous that night. It’s possible — maybe even likely — that carrying a firearm made him feel more secure, and therefore he was more aggressive. Certainly, had he not been armed, it’s highly unlikely anybody would have died that night.
None of that has any bearing on the criminal case, however. That’s sad in itself.