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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jurors followed the evidence, and that's how it should be

So much as been written and said about this already, I shouldn’t even bother.

But, I feel like I owe it to myself because of how much time I’ve spent obsessing over it during the past year and a half.

Yes, I’m one of those people who has been riveted by the George Zimmerman case.

At first, it was because I couldn’t understand why the cops hadn’t arrested him.

The way I saw it, you kill someone, you should at least be in custody during the investigation.

It never made sense that he seemingly got special treatment because he was a pseudo-neighborhood watchman.

I say pseudo, because they really didn’t have a watch program, and the guy was on his way to Super Target when the incident happened. You’re not watching if you’re out shopping.

Then, my obsession changed once he was charged with second-degree murder.

Overcharged, I should add.

I never understood where they saw intent to kill when two guys get into a fight on a sidewalk after one of the guys punches the other in the face.

Not long after that, my fascination with the case grew into one that was sort of work-related. The lead defense attorney became prolific on social media, posting not only pleas for donations to help with his client’s defense, but also links to evidence in the case and all the court filings made by the defense and prosecution.

On his website you could listen to the 911 calls, see the evidence photos, and enjoy a nasty exchange between the attorneys in motions for a gag order and the subsequent responses.

In the world of media, we put the news in the places you want to receive it. Zimmerman’s lead attorney, Mark O’Mara, saw the value in that, too.

He was roundly criticized for taking the case outside the courts and putting it in the hands of the public.

I’d argue that while it was unusual, where was the harm?

The information he shared was presented without comment. It was the plain facts of the case — the information that the jury would see during the trial.

But, if you saw any of the coverage of jury selection, you know that just about everyone in the jury pool claimed they didn’t read newspapers, didn’t watch television news and didn’t use their computers for basically anything other than paying bills. They said they didn’t follow the news on their cell phones, either.

A few claimed they used Facebook, but said they never or very rarely saw anything relating to the case in their feeds.

I’ve never been to Sanford, Fla., but it must be one of the most peaceful places in the world.

No beeping from text alerts from news organizations. No CNN tones when there’s breaking news.
And, because there’s no checking of the Twitter feed, no one’s walking into a pole or mailbox because they’re not paying attention to where they’re going.

As much as the early days of the case fascinated me, it was the closing arguments that left the biggest impression.

And, it’s those arguments that those who are struggling to understand the jury’s decision should pay attention to.

I’m not an attorney, and I don’t play one on TV.

No matter how many episodes of “Law and Order” I’ve watched, I know I’ll never object, cross-examine or ask for a sidebar.

But I know enough to realize that the prosecution’s focus during its three-plus hours of closing argument was on things that aren’t illegal.

Lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda was the worst offender.

In his two hours speaking to the jury, de la Rionda screamed out repeatedly that Zimmerman followed victim Trayvon Martin, called him a name that contained a profanity and said that he actually followed him because he suspected he was a criminal.

The problem is, none of those things is illegal.

It’s not illegal to follow someone. Sure, it’s creepy. Yes, it’s probably dangerous. But it’s not illegal.

It’s not illegal to call someone a name. It’s not even illegal to call them one that includes a profanity.
It’s not nice, and yes, it probably indicates he harbors some level of racism. But, that’s not illegal, either.

It’s not illegal for Zimmerman to profile someone. It’s illegal for some police agencies to do so, but not for neighborhood watches that prosecutors make up. Again, it’s not going to win you any friends or an invitation to an NAACP dinner, but it’s not illegal.

I think it’s also very important to point out some other facts:

It’s not illegal to wear a hoodie.

It’s not illegal to walk through that Sanford housing development.

It’s not illegal to walk slowly when it’s raining.

I was never clear on whether Zimmerman actually saw that Martin was black before he started following him, but, doesn’t matter — that’s not illegal either.

In the second part of the prosecution’s closing argument, delivered in hushed tones by the handsome attorney that the Florida media dubbed “McDreamy,” John Guy kept the prosecution’s theme going when he discussed how terrified Martin must have been to have been followed by this predator. I wish I had counted the number of times he called Martin “a child.”

Yes, he was a minor. But there’s a big difference between following a 5-year-old or a 11-year-old and a 17-year-old.

O’Mara made a brilliant move in his closing that was sandwiched between the two prosecution arguments.

Starting a stopwatch, he showed jurors how much time Martin had to get home between the first words were exchanged between Martin and Zimmerman and when Martin reappeared and punched Zimmerman in the face.

Four minutes of silence.

De la Rionda screamed repeatedly during his closing about inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s interviews with police, including once when Zimmerman said he didn’t recall the name of one of the streets in the development where the incident occurred.

De la Rionda pointed out there were only three streets in the development — how could Zimmerman not know the names of the streets?

O’Mara’s move pointed out that if Martin really was so afraid of the “creepy-ass cracker” who was following him, he would have had plenty of time to get home before he confronted him a second time.

When they acquitted Zimmerman, the jurors made a decision that’s incredibly unpopular with Americans and that Martin’s parents have said in interviews has devastated them.

But, the attorneys left them with no choice.

When they’re not presented with a situation that seems criminal, they’re not going to convict.

And, really, should we expect anything else?
Twitter: @Lauranh


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel he should have been convicted. But, I totally agree that with what the laws are in Florida, what the actual charges were and what the jury was presented with during the trial, they came to the correct verdict. It is just too bad that in reality, it was the wrong verdict. I hope they go forward with a civil trial and can get a better outcome!!! Either way, Zimmerman will eventually pay - be it Karma or meeting his maker.....

July 19, 2013 at 3:19 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you Zimmerman supporters use your brains?

Number 1. The dispatcher was probably assuming that Zimmerman had a legitimate reason to be calling them in the first place. Like for instance if the "suspect" was doing something wrong or suspicious like trying to break into a home. The dispatcher didn't realize they were talking to a freaking idiot with less common sense than god gave a goose. (and who should never from here on out be allowed a license to carry a concealed deadly weapon)

Number 2. The dispatcher obviously thought they were talking to a normal neighborhood watch person who ALREADY KNOWS not to follow a suspect and to let the police do their job. They didn't realize they were talking to a Charlie Bronson want to be.

Obviously, from now on, when George Zimmerman calls, they're going to need to start asking him questions from the first second. Like, okay are you carrying a loaded weapon with the a bullet chambered? Well we don't need you to do that sir. Are you following the suspect? Well, remember all those classes you took when they told you not to do that? Well, DON'T DO THAT!

July 20, 2013 at 10:55 AM 

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