Our View: Jury right, but justice lacking

July 17, 2013 

Jurors did their duty

Reasonable doubt frees

Zimmerman; justice in limbo

Six jurors in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman did their job this week.

They acquitted Zimmerman of murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Their verdict was right, according to the law.

But that leaves us with the needless death of Trayvon Martin, a killing that should never have happened and one that has no legal consequences for the man who pulled the trigger.

We can't know exactly how the six reached their verdict. But it seems clear that the principle of reasonable doubt applied. To convict, the jury had to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not justified in shooting Trayvon Martin, that he didn't act in self-defense. That was their charge from the judge and from the law.

Judge Debra S. Nelson told them that "your duty is to determine if George Zimmerman has been proven guilty or not, in accord with the law." That law provides that if jurors have even a reasonable doubt about Zimmerman's guilt, they must find him not guilty.

"A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of George Zimmerman may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence or lack of evidence," the instructions said.

Conflict there was for sure; witnesses told a confusing tale of a struggle; a recording of cries for help sounded like Martin to Martin's parents, like Zimmerman to Zimmerman's parents.

There was reasonable doubt. Hence the jury had to acquit, no matter what any of them believed. That's because the words "reasonable doubt" are two of the most powerful words in the language of the law when life and liberty are at stake. A jury cannot -- should not -- convict on probability. And the benefit of that reasonable doubt goes to the accused.

Life and liberty. Those words bring us to back to Trayvon Martin, whose liberty to walk down a street free of harassment was challenged by George Zimmerman, and whose life eventually was taken by Zimmerman, a man who proved even before he pulled the trigger that he didn't have the sense to work a neighborhood watch or the judgment to carry a firearm.

Zimmerman, in his late 20s, was the adult here. He should have used an adult's judgement. He could easily have avoided any confrontation with Martin. He'd called the police, and an officer was dispatched. Zimmerman could have returned to his car and gotten out of the way of the law. Instead he risked -- and got -- an unnecessary confrontation.

Trayvon Martin is dead, and has become a symbol of racism and injustice. George Zimmerman didn't create issues of race, vigilantism and separate justice for whites and blacks -- Leonard Pitts' column on this page illustrates a long history of racism that persists despite what the hopeful call the promising arc of history.

But Zimmerman's simple lack of judgment resulted in a boy's death and bitter upheaval over the infuriating fact that no one has had to answer for that death.

So the jury did its job, abiding by the rule of law, giving Zimmerman the benefit of the reasonable doubt, perhaps convinced that he did indeed kill in self-defense.

But that evening should never have gotten so far out of hand -- and that was in Zimmerman's hands.

Trayvon Martin was just walking down the street. He should still be alive today. That's why the end of the trial isn't the end of tribulation.

BOTTOM LINE: Verdict right, but that's not the end.

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