It's been hours since the jury in the George Zimmerman case reached it's "not guilty" verdict and already, the questions have begun.
The main question on people's minds is how did a man who had already been pre-convicted by the media avoid conviction by a jury? In short, how was George Zimmerman found not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin?
To give some background, George Zimmerman was on trial for the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teen. After almost two days of deliberation, the jury returned a not guilty verdict in favor of Zimmerman. The jury consisted of six females, none of whom were African American.
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Here are five reasons why George Zimmermam was acquitted:
Perhaps the greatest way to sum up why Zimmerman escaped conviction is that there was reasonable doubt. In legal terms, reasonable doubt means that if there exists even a tiny shred of doubt on the defendant's guilt, he cannot be found guilty.
Lack of eye witness testimony
When your only eye-witness is dead, there isn't much to contest your story, unless you left a trail of circumstantial evidence. In the end, it was Zimmerman's word against Martin's word. And without Martin being there to attest, it became very difficult for the prosecution to make it's case beyond a reasonable doubt. It also became much easier for the defense to paint Trayvon Martin as a less sympathetic character.
Sympathetic personalities are the key to a good defense. That's why defense attorneys focus so heavily on character witnesses. Remember the series finale of Seinfeld, where the four were convicted based on a parade of character witnesses?
In the real legal world, it's not as easy to introduce character evidence. In fact, evidence rules can make it almost impossible, in some cases, to include character evidence. But in the case of Trayvon Martin, the fact that he referred to Zimmerman as a "creepy-ass cracker" didn't go over too well with the mainly white female jury.
And it didn't take much for the defense to present this evidence. In fact, the prosecution witness was the very person who testified to the "cracker" remark, when she was asked about the conversation she and Martin were having right before he was shot.
Zimmerman's lawyers showed evidence that he had a bloody nose, two cuts and some lumps on his head. That photographic evidence, they told the jury, was reason to believe that there had actually been a fight between Martin and Zimmerman.
What may have been the smoking gun was the forensic expert who testified that Martin had been shot as he was leaning over Zimmerman-- a position which indicated that he was attacking Zimmerman.
"Bad choices" versus "bad intent"
Another key element in the crime of manslaughter is intent. While first degree murder carries the malicious intent, second degree murder requires that the defendant acted with a "depraved mind." In short, that means that Zimmerman was required to have acted with disregard for human life.
His attorneys painted him to the jury not as a lunatic but rather, as a well-intentioned citizen who made a series of bad choices-- from getting out of his vehicle to engaging in conflict with a stranger.
In the wake of the verdict, there are many unhappy people. Indeed, this was a case that showcased some strong racial issues. Many are asking "what if Zimmerman had been black and Martin had been white?"
Those questions will remain unanswered for years to come.
Jury finds George Zimmerman not guilty (LA Times)
State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman (Wikipedia)
Maryam Khan Ansari is an attorney and has worked in criminal defense. She currently practices as a corporate attorney in San Francisco.