Reasonable Doubt: Why Zimmerman Should Be Acquitted

zimmermantrayon-martin-picture1Since the first charging of the case involving George Zimmerman, I have respectfully disagreed with many friends (including on this blog) about the case which I believed was clearly over-charged as second degree murder.  The trial has only magnified those concerns and I believe that the jury will acquit Zimmerman and would be correct in doing so. The reason is simple: reasonable doubt.  Putting aside the understandable anger and the heavy overlay of social and racial issues in the case, an objective review in my opinion leaves reasonable doubt on every element of the charge, even the lesser charge of manslaughter which the court has allowed the jury to consider. First, let me begin by saying something that should not have to be said. I am not accepting Zimmerman’s account and I do not know what happened that night. I am not condoning Zimmerman’s actions. Rather, I am looking at the facts and I cannot see a single material fact on the elements that does not create a reasonable doubt as to what occurred. We don’t make social judgment or guesses on verdicts. While many have criticized Zimmerman for following Martin, citizens are allowed to follow people in their neighborhood. That is not unlawful. It was also lawful for Zimmerman to be armed. The question comes down to who started the fight and whether Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.

The facts on these questions are no more clear today than they were on that tragic night. Zimmerman’s account has been met by an alternative account from the prosecution. However, there is no objective basis to clearly reject one over the other. In other words, they remain in equipoise and that is not a sufficient basis for a conviction.

I was frankly astonished that the prosecution did not have any stronger evidence and, as I mentioned earlier, I believe that the court failed to address the withholding of evidence from the defense.

Many people were highly critical of the prosecution for putting on what seemed like a case for Zimmerman. The reason is that there was not a strong case for conviction on the basis that Zimmerman did not “reasonably believe” that the gunshot was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself. Various witnesses said that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and said that they believed that he was the man calling for help. He had injuries. Not serious injuries but injuries to his head from the struggle. Does that mean that he was clearly the victim. No. It does create reasonable doubt on the question of the struggle.

There is also no evidence as to who threw the first punch or committed the first physical act in the struggle. I do not understand how, under the standard jury instruction, a juror could simply assume Zimmerman was the aggressor. Zimmerman was largely consistent in his accounts and his account was consistent with some witnesses. After 38 prosecution witnesses, there was nothing more than a call for the jury to assume the worst facts against Zimmerman without any objective piece of evidence. That is the opposite of the standard of a presumption of innocence in a criminal trial.

Rather than charge manslaughter, the prosecutors seemed to yield to the political pressure and charge second degree murder. Under that charge, they needed to show Zimmerman had the intent to kill and did so with “depraved mind, hatred, malice, evil intent or ill will.” They fell substantially below that mark. Witnesses said that both men used derogatory terms, including Martin’s reference to Zimmerman as a “cracker.” The first witness for the prosecution was in my view a disaster and admitted to previously lying under oath. The prosecution witnesses largely portrayed a consistent account from Zimmerman and even favorable views of him from some witnesses.

In the end, the only way I could see a conviction would be to discard the standard of a presumption of innocence and embrace the invitation of the prosecution to assume every fact against Zimmerman despite conflicting testimony from witnesses, including the prosecution’s own witnesses. Even for manslaughter, the jury had to find that George Zimmerman intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin but was told that “a killing that is excusable or was committed by the use of justifiable deadly force is lawful.” The jury instruction on deadly force states in part:

A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.

In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.

This lesser charge still brings the jury back to the question of who started the fight and how the fight unfolded.

The prosecution consistently overplayed its hand in a desperate attempt to overcome its own witnesses. For example, with an officer stating repeated that Martin’s Dad said no to the question of whether it was his son calling for help, the prosecution insisted that he was saying “no” as a type of denial of reality in hearing the tape. His dad said that he had to hear the tape about two dozen times to change his mind. Even after being criticized by many experts for overcharging the case, the prosecution proceeded to make a demand at the end of the trial that the jury be able to convict Zimmerman on a different crime: third degree murder based on child abuse. The judge wisely rejected that demand but allowed the jury to consider manslaughter as a lesser charge.

The instruction on reasonable doubt given to the jury is as follows:

George Zimmerman has entered a plea of not guilty. This means you must presume or believe George Zimmerman is innocent. The presumption stays with George Zimmerman as to each material allegation in the Information through each stage of the trial unless it has been overcome by the evidence to the exclusion of and beyond a reasonable doubt.
To overcome George Zimmerman’s presumption of innocence, the State has the burden of proving the crime with which George Zimmerman is charged was committed and George Zimmerman is the person who committed the crime.
George Zimmerman is not required to present evidence or prove anything.
Whenever the words “reasonable doubt” are used you must consider the following:
A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt. On the other hand if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find George Zimmerman not guilty because the doubt is reasonable.
It is to the evidence introduced in this trial, and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof.
A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of George Zimmerman may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence.
If you have a reasonable doubt, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty. If you have no reasonable doubt, you should find George Zimmerman guilty.

Here are all of the jury instructions.

There is, in my view, no objective basis for an abiding conviction of guilt on either second degree murder or manslaughter. The prosecution’s case remains more visceral than legal in effectively asking for a presumption of guilt. Zimmerman should be acquitted on that basis.

290 thoughts on “Reasonable Doubt: Why Zimmerman Should Be Acquitted

  1. it’s a shame that this entire situation took place. But the reality is that this is how our court system works. Beyond a reasonable doubt means that the prosecution/state has to do really well. In this case, that just didn’t happen and now he walks free.

  2. PO,
    My mistake. I didn’t realize you were merely saying anyone who disagreed with you lack humanity and sensitivity. If I had only digested your sensitive prose in a more humanistic fashion I would have realized you making an even more idiotic claim. I stand corrected, “Obviously”.

  3. Just finished watching Lawrence O’Donnell. They had a few legal experts making a claim that one of the juror’s husband (who is also an attorney) is ‘friends’ with Mark O’Mara. When asked about this relationship, Mr. O’Mara declined commenting on this matter.

    Can we say the 85% rule is true about jury selections?

  4. po,

    I took your point immediately and had no difficulty understanding the context but then I’m not a “stand your white ground” kind of woman. 😉

  5. DavidM,

    “What was wrong was the physical altercation. Once that started, a line had been crossed. Who started the fight is important, because once started, the other man has a right to defend himself.”

    OK. Zimmerman says that he started the fight.
    On encountering Martin he says he chose not to explain what he was doing in that dark place after having tracked Martin from the NW corner of the community by truck.
    He says and demonstrates that his hand went for his hip.
    A reasonable and prudent Martin in the circumstances by which he was surrounded assumed what Hannity and Zimmerman would assume by “hand on waistband”.
    He punched Zimmerman in self defence. He had a right to defend himself.

    Zimmerman crossed the line.
    He actually crossed the line of “reasonable and prudent” twice in the night already by (1) following and (2) remaining there.
    He is also clearly lying about (1) circling and (2) his minutes (that he has always denied existed) after the NEN ended.
    .

    Or…
    Do you disagree with Hannity and Zimmerman when thay say that “hand in waistband” is such situations indicates a gun/weapon?

    • Sling wrote: “Zimmerman crossed the line.
      He actually crossed the line of “reasonable and prudent” twice in the night already by (1) following and (2) remaining there.
      He is also clearly lying about (1) circling and (2) his minutes (that he has always denied existed) after the NEN ended.”

      I disagree that following and remaining there crosses the line of “reasonable and prudent.” He had a right to do those things, and many people, myself included, have done this kind of thing without someone getting killed. I have also had people follow me, even report me to the police like Zimmerman did, and I have been investigated by the police when I did nothing wrong. We have to have tolerance for this kind of behavior. Somebody who hits someone else for this kind of behavior is wrong. He has crossed the line. This is what the law says, and I think the law is right on this. What are you going to do, make it illegal for someone to walk and watch what someone else is doing? That makes no sense to me.

      Sling wrote: “Or… Do you disagree with Hannity and Zimmerman when thay say that “hand in waistband” is such situations indicates a gun/weapon?”

      I think we have a case of Hannity leading the witness and the witness reluctantly trying to be agreeable. Hannity wondered if he thought Martin had a gun. I didn’t hear “yes sir, I sure did!” — No, what I heard was reluctance and then the word “weapon” in response to Hannity’s word “gun”. Perhaps he is thinking a knife, or just trying to get something that might serve as a weapon. The truth is that I think Zimmerman was just watching him closely, wondering what he was fiddling with and wondered if maybe he might be looking for a weapon of some kind. I suspect that because Martin was talking on his phone with Rachel Jeantel at the time, and Jeantel says he had a bluetooth headset, then perhaps his phone was in his pocket or waistband area and that was what he was messing with.

      As for the dialogue with Hannity, context is important. Later in the interview, Zimmerman said he was sorry this happened, and he said he wanted to clarify those remarks when he was asked if he would have done anything differently. Zimmerman said that he had regret that Martin had died, and he apologized to the Martin family. He said that he wish there was something he could have done different that would not have put him into the position of having to take Martin’s life.

      George Zimmerman said:
      “First, I would like to readdress your question when you asked if I would have done anything differently. When you asked that I thought you were referring to if I would not have talked to the police, if I would have maybe have gotten an attorney, if I wouldn’t have taken the CVSA and that I stand by, I would not have done anything differently. But I do wish that there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life. And I do want to tell everyone, my wife, my family, my parents, my grandmother, the Martins, the city of Stanford, and America that I am sorry that this happened. I hate to think that because of this incident, because of my actions it’s polarized and divided America and I’m truly sorry.

      Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/hannity/2012/07/18/exclusive-george-zimmerman-breaks-silence-hannity?page=9#ixzz2ZEMwMjh1

  6. DavidM,
    “I would hope that Zimmerman has some introspection about his fault in this matter, about how he might have acted differently to prevent this event from happening”

    HANNITY: Is there anything you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?

    ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

    HANNITY: Do you regret that you had a gun that night?

    ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

    HANNITY: Do you feel you wouldn’t be here for this interview if you didn’t have that gun?

    ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

    HANNITY: You feel you would not be here?

    ZIMMERMAN: I feel it was all God’s plan and for me to second guess it or judge it —

    HANNITY: Is there anything you might do differently in retrospect now that the time has passed a little bit?

    ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

  7. “ZIMMERMAN: I feel it was all God’s plan and for me to second guess it or judge it —”

    Typical copout … God made me do it. If he is a a practicing Catholic then he has a fairly good understand of the concept called Hell and the actions that place one there for eternity. I’m not certain shifting the responsibility for his actions onto God is going to keep him out of the fires … God may be an “I stand My holy ground” kind of guy.

  8. Thanks, Blouise, perhaps it does indeed help not to be a “stand your white ground” type of person to get my point. The holy books tell us that God is definitely a stand your holy ground type of guy, and he definitely said: don’t kill!
    And yet, Zimmer has not even the decency to at least regret something about events that lead him to kill a teenager. That speaks volume about his state of mine that day of the incident.

    David, Sling and Arthur both reinforce my point about the strangeness of your argument that Trayvon and Zimmer were on equal footing of responsibility in the tragedy,, on how it started and how it ended. You seem to ignore everything that happened before the fight started, and that is completely blamable on Zimmer. Once it started, you imply that the responsibility/blame of Zimmer, if there was one, ended and both participants were at totally equal footing of responsibility.

    This was not a duel, nor was it a bar fight, where both people faced each other and one punched the other. Even then, when the cops come, the one who would be blamed would be the one who initiated the whole incident by doing the initial move into the other’s face/ space, forcing a defensive reaction and subsequent confrontation. This one is not Trayvon, it was Zimmer. The fact that you have been followed before does not make it right. If you had flagged down a cop and pointed out the person following you, more likely than not they would interview him and ask him to stop following you.

    The point is this: Trayvon had more right to address Zimmer following him, than Zimmer had to 1/ follow him, and 2/ not leave him alone when asked to. I have a right to ask you to leave me alone, and you have a duty to leave me alone. As a general rule, if you don’t leave me alone and a fight ensues, in a fair world and in most of the world, the cops would book you for not leaving me alone. Had Trayvon come knock at your door and ask for help because some guy was following him in the street, wouldn’t you have called the cops, or would you tell him to just subject himself to the process?

    Trayvon had more right to a self-defense claim than Zimmer ever had, so the fact that you and others are adamant about giving him that right over the person he killed, especially when you don’t really know what happened between them, is strange at best. Perhaps you are just a contrarian.

    And finally, I am not talking about the fully legal/ courthouse aspect of the case. It is an established process, a recourse, however flawed it is. if it was good enough for OJ, it is good enough for Zimmer. Let me rephrase that, if it was flawed enough for OJ, it was flawed enough for Zimmer. I am however, again, talking about the humanistic aspect that would have made any of us come to the aid of Trayvon when followed and confronted by Zimmer. And yet now that he is dead…

  9. He had a right to do those things
    You have a right to very stupid things. When those very stupid things have consequences, you have to answer for them.

    Somebody who hits someone else for this kind of behavior is wrong
    It might help if you were to specify what it was that might have caused Martin to hit Zimmerman.

    Work backwards from the fight:

    Zimmerman says and demonstrates putting his hand to his waistband.
    It does not matter that he might have thought that Martin was just bluffing a weapon back at the truck. What matters is that he would think that hand in waistband was associated with a weapon at all – which he clearly does.
    He thought to mention the hand to the dispatcher. In the walk-through the following day, it is the one thing that he repeats from the NEN in connection with a threatening approach by Martin.
    Accordingly, it is entirely reasonable that Martin on seeing this follower in the dark putting his hand to a waistband would assume weapon and therefore would be in a position of defending himself.
    .

    What happened just before Martin saw the stranger putting his hand to his waistband?
    According to Zimmerman’s account, Martin had asked him (albeit in a less than polite way) what he was up to.
    It was entirely reasonable for Martin to ask him that. Zimmerman had undeniably followed him by truck and had now appeared on foot in a dark pathway area. Given the movements of the truck it was absolutely to assume that the reason for Zimmerman to be in that dark area was to follow Martin. This was not someone who having followed him, had now parked his truck and was walking to his home in a different street from the one on which he had parked.

    How did Zimmerman respond?
    Is it not ironic that considering that part of his justification for assaulting a plainclothes ATF officer was an assertion that the officer did not identify himself?
    Zimmerman, by his own account – ‘got cute’.
    “No. I don’t have a problem.”
    Now come along! What the hell are you doing there moron? Bird-watching? We both know you followed me here. What’s going on?
    Zimmerman’s response can only be judged as inflammatory in the circumstances…. and then his hand went to his waistband.
    .

    What happened before that?
    Martin had approached the truck. Whether he dd so in order to pass it on his way home or to ask Zimmermna what he was up to is unknown.
    Zimmerman was safe inside. He could have identified himself then. He could have asked Martin why he was there. He could have said that he was talking to the cops. He chose not to. He rolled up the window.
    From Martin’s point of view – just walking home from the 7-11, the actions of this guy in the truck – first down by the NW corner, then at the clubhouse are truely bizzarre and abnormal.
    .

    Later in the interview, Zimmerman said he was sorry this happened,
    MOM gave him ‘attitude adjustment’ in the interval.
    Zimmerman now has to explain away “not regrets whatsoever / God’s Plan”
    He thought Hannity was asking about “if I would not have talked to the police, if I would have maybe have gotten an attorney, if I wouldn’t have taken the CVSA and that I stand by, I would not have done anything differently.”
    Putting that aside, “But I do wish that there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life”
    Right , so now he’s saying that it’s not the case that he would not change anything about his actions leading up to the shooting.
    So the confusion was all Hannity’s fault for asking ambiguous questions.

    What Hannity should obviously done earlier was to ask unambiguous questions like “Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?”
    If he had asked that question…….. no wait! ..He did… and Zimmerman answered “No Sir.”

    So Zimmerman saying he’s sorry this happened just means that he is inconveniences by all the fuss.
    He’s certain about one thing though, He would definitely get out of the truck and follow if the same thing happened again.
    .

    The man is a dangerous moron.
    It was stupid to get out and follow. He’s learnt nothing. He says he would do the same again.
    .

    Getting out was absolutely pointless.
    He had seen Martin – quite obviously aware of Zimmerman’s attentions – head “down towards the back entrance” – a place where they always get away to.
    His job as an eyes and ears call from the safety of your home NW volunteer was done.or vehicle was done. Having told the dispatcher never ever asked about Martin again. He didn’t need to. He had noted in the Event Repot that the suspect was headed for the back entrance and the cops could take it from there.
    If Zimmerman wanted to be of further assistance, he could drive down to near the back entrance and “observe from the safety of your vehicle”.

    He says that he got out to get an address – at which to meet the cops.
    Right. Meet at the clubhouse / mailboxes. That’s simple. The suspect has gone. They always get away, running between the houses.
    Meet at the back entrance.
    .

    But I do wish that there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life
    OK
    When the guy approached the truck, introduce yourself and ask him what he is doing.”
    SIMPLE!!! None of it would have happened. Martin would be alive.

    Cretin!

    • Sling – You know, I would love to have you in a room with Zimmerman for several hours. I do believe you could do him some good and adjust his perspective about showing more respect for the strangers who might appear in his community. You make some good points.

      Nevertheless, while I agree with you that Zimmerman reaching for his phone in his pocket might look threatening, it does not justify Martin in striking him. Physical contact crosses the line. If Zimmerman actually brandished his weapon (a form of assault), then physical contact could be viewed as his defensive right. Reaching into his pocket does not rise to that level.

      It concerns me that both you and several others in these forums justify the use of physical violence for someone following them. I think it indicates a failure in our society in teaching the proper place for violence and physical altercations in society. We leave it to violent movies to teach the boundaries. The schools have abrogated their responsibility in teaching these things.

    • leejcaroll wrote: “Trayvon Martin Church Sign Accuses Zimmerman Jury Of ‘White Racism’: Alabama Pastor Defends It.”

      There go those religious zealots again, always on the wrong side of the issue. 🙂

  10. DavidM

    You are suggesting that:
    – you had been followed through dark streets and then ended face to face with the follower in a dark footpath area
    – the follower did not answer your very reasonable question
    – the follower then goes for his waistband

    You agree that “it might seem” threatening. Hannity suggests a gun when in confrontational circumstances – which this clearly was
    You would in those circumstances wait to see if the follower really had a gun. You are 17.
    When you saw that he – the person who had been following you and did not answer your question – actually had a gun, you would only then think about what to do.
    .

    “It concerns me that both you and several others in these forums justify the use of physical violence for someone following them.”
    It concerns me that you and several other in these forums continue to assert something that is completely and demonstrably false. You are not debating in that. You are pushing propaganda.
    I never asserted that it was acceptable to use violence on a follower.
    Zimmerman followed, but then he went way beyond mere following. When Martin approached the truck he wound up his window (he says).
    He then followed on foot. When challenged, he did not explain. Then he put his hand to his waistband. Hannity thinks that indicates a gun, and Zimmerman grudgingly goes as far as “weapon”.
    .

    The entire thing would have been avoided had Zimmerman spoken to Martin at the truck.
    He was safe sitting inside.

    He didn’t.
    He says that he rolled up his window.
    Why?
    He says that he wanted to avoid a confrontation.
    OK? Sitting safe inside his truck he was afraid.

    Then he got out and followed/went_in_the_same_direction straight at teh dark corner where Martin had passed out of sight.
    He is not longer safe in his truck.

    Having very stupidly and recklessly put himself out in the open where the person that he had been afraid of might be, it dawns on him that the person could be near.
    He needs to back in his truck with the window rolled up. ASAP.

    On that alone, the man is an incompetent cretin. That’s not emotional name-calling. It’s a considered judgement.
    He’s a very dangerous cretin as he packs a gun all the time except when he goes to work.

    More cretin:
    He considers the person dangerous – so dangerous that he would not engage with him even when he was safe inside his truck.
    He now sees the person he believes to be dangerous. He says the person is coming towards him.
    His response to a question is imbecilic and guaranteed to inflame the situation.

    He’s a provocative cretin.

    He says the dangerous person that he was afraid of is only feet from him. The person is not just approaching. He might have a weapon in his waistband. He decides to get his phone out.
    This is a great move.
    If this dangerous person starts to do anything, Zimmerman will be able to say “Excuse me! Do you mind? I’m an a phone call.”
    .

    THe above is based on Zimmerman’s own story of what happened. He is clearly lying about significant details in his story. Why does he need to?
    .

    “I do believe you could do him some good and adjust his perspective about showing more respect for the strangers who might appear in his community”
    There was nothing wrong with Zimmerman calling NEN and keeping an eye on Martin from his truck. That is standard NW practice.

    Where he went woefully wrong was in not explaining the situation – particularly at the truck, where he could do so from a secure safe position.
    The adjustment that Zimmerman needs is some basic intelligence.
    .

    He’s a cretin. He messed up bigtime.
    He’s also clearly lying about some of the events.

    Can you accept his story about Martin circling the truck?
    I see people arguning that the dispatcher asked Zimmerman to “let me know if he does anything” Twice! They say that these are clear instruction to follow to the ends of the earth. Anyone listening to the call can see it was a single instance of teh dispatcher coaching Zimmerman to tell him what the guy aproaching the truck with his hand in his waistband was doing.
    You saw MOM in the courtroom walking with a glass and pouring water after the mentions this. Do you see MOM circling the jury in a threatening mannerwith his hand in his waistband and confrontational body language?

    Far more significantly, what about the missing minutes after the NEN, when nobody knows what Zimmerman was doing?
    Zimmerman had always denied delaying there. MOM had to admit the unexplained time but offers a theory that perhaps Zimmerman might have been “looking around”. For what? – In the realisation that the person that he says he was was afraid of could well be close by?
    He has absolutely no idea that he is carrying a gun – not the slightest glimmer – so he has no protection out there.
    .

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