Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Sue Carlton: Federal charges for Zimmerman? A second bite at a bad apple

"I think all of us thought that race did not play a role."

Juror B37, on the deliberations in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin.

And so this latest case about race in America ends, to the dismay but maybe not the surprise of many, with an acquittal of the neighborhood watch volunteer who targeted the kid he thought was up to no good.

George Zimmerman is officially not guilty in the utterly pointless shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who had the bad luck to walk through a gated community in the Florida town of Sanford after buying Skittles at a corner convenience store.

In the aftermath of the verdict, some who see Zimmerman as an overzealous cop-wanna-be who assumed Martin was trouble because he was young, black, male and there, are looking to federal authorities for another chance to convict him.

Of something.

The NAACP, among others, wants the Justice Department to pursue civil rights charges — another bite of the apple, as they say in court. You can understand in the heat of this case why. But it's not how our justice system — however flawed — is supposed to work.

It was important for the world to hear this week from a juror, identified only as B37 because of the high emotion surrounding this, on what logic led them to decide Zimmerman was guilty of neither second-degree murder nor manslaughter. (It was less good to hear an initial report that this same juror planned to write a book, this being America where no exploitation is too outrageous, though she later said she would not.)

Manslaughter — committing an act that ultimately causes a death — seemed to me the more appropriate charge. But the juror told CNN's Anderson Cooper she believed that in the confrontation between the two, the teenager was the one who was on the attack and who threw the first punch.

She said nearly every juror believed it was Zimmerman who could be heard screaming on the 911 call. She had "no doubt George feared for his life" in those last moments. And she believed his motive had to do with vandalism in the neighborhood, not race. "It just went terribly wrong," she said.

Even if you disagree vehemently, it's important to know what jurors saw in that courtroom. They were there for every minute of it. They saw each piece of evidence and heard every nuance of what witnesses and lawyers and the judge said.

That evidence is unlikely to change, much less get better, for federal prosecutors.

Does anyone think there is a single stone unturned, a witness we haven't heard, a piece of evidence unseen, in a case America cares this much about?

Remember, the federal government did not opt to pursue a civil rights charge against Zimmerman when this happened, even as the president himself was saying if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. They left it to the state courts, and we have the verdict.

A federal jury would have to find this was motivated by race. A state juror says the way they saw it, it wasn't. So say we all.

That's how it works. That's our system of justice, even when the results seem like something far from it.

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