There can be no doubt that Trayvon Martin’s death was tragic and unnecessary. George Zimmerman should not have presumed Trayvon Martin was up to no good. George Zimmerman should not have followed Trayvon Martin. And George Zimmerman should not have engaged Trayvon Martin in the exchange that, as a jury of six women found on Saturday night, reasonable doubt existed as to whether Trayvon Martin was killed by a man who was acting in self defense.
But our legal system requires prosecutors to prove all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In this specific case, prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was not acting in self defense.
The sharp conflict in testimony from multiple witnesses regarding whether the 911 call made by a neighbor in the moments before the fatal gunshot contained audible cries for help from Trayvon Martin or from George Zimmerman created more than enough reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was the one wailing and moaning for assistance — which made it impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in self defense.
For non-lawyers and those who were not watching the trial carefully and thus not realizing what prosecutors could and couldn’t prove, it’s a confusing and frustrating result. In the sports world, the confusion and frustration has emerged via various comments made on social media.
Deadspin has compiled plenty of tweets, from the NFL and elsewhere. Some are highlighted below.
Falcons receiver Roddy White, who rarely bites his tongue, sounded off loudly on Twitter. “F–king Zimmerman got away with murder today wow what kind of world do we live in,” White said. “All them jurors should go home tonight and kill themselves for letting a grown man get away with killing a kid.”
Marcus Vick, the brother of Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, continued a theme he began during the prosecution’s closing argument. “Like I said before, a dogs life mean more then a human of color,” Marcus Vick said. “My people’s did 2 years over some bullshit when this dude took a human life. Y’all MF’s sick. . . . Zimmerman u peace of DOG shit if I ever seen u I would run up n let u beat my ass then I’ll pop u right between the eyes u cricket Bitch.”
Even Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who isn’t known for saying or doing outlandish things, offered up a chilling prediction for George Zimmerman’s future, via Deadspin: “Zimmerman doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up with him.”
Bengals linebacker James Harrison made a very strong point that gets to the core of the case. “Think I’ll go pick a fight and get my ass kicked then pull my gun and kill somebody and see if I can get away,” Harrison tweeted.
Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, who lost a brother last year under far different but no less tragic circumstances, realizes that eye-for-an-eye revenge shouldn’t happen. “Also as mad as a lot of people are over the verdict…trying to take out Zimmerman isn’t the answer neither,” Smith said.
The answer should have been for prosecutors to select charges that prosecutors were extremely confident they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. By swinging the bat for a second-degree murder conviction, the Plan B effort to convict Zimmerman of voluntary manslaughter and put him away for 10-to-30 years became muddled. If the prosecutors had chosen manslaughter and only manslaughter charges, perhaps the case would have been easier to piece together and present. (Even then, it would have been hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in self defense at the moment the shot was fired.)
Perhaps, then, prosecutors should have done what prosecutors in St. Augustine recently did in response to a claim that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew punched a bouncer at a club. There, prosecutors honestly concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, so charges weren’t pursued.
A different form of justice would have still been available for Trayvon Martin, and justice can still be had for him. Trayvon Martin’s family can and should sue Zimmerman for negligently and/or recklessly provoking the exchange that became the fight in which Zimmerman apparently defended himself with deadly force. Like O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of double murder despite overwhelming evidence of guilt, Zimmerman will have to testify in a civil case, both at deposition and at trial. Seeing him forced to answer tough questions from a zealous lawyer under oath could help Trayvon Martin’s family obtain the peace they hoped Saturday’s verdict would bring. And Zimmerman could end up being responsible for a crippling verdict, with any significant money he ever earns for the rest of his life going to Trayvon Martin’s family.
The money will mean nothing to Trayvon Martin’s family. Knowing that they can continue to chase Zimmerman for more and more money to satisfy the verdict over the coming decades could mean a lot.
It may not be the desired form of justice, but justice can indeed be had, under a far lower legal standard than the one required to take away an American citizen’s liberty. And while the evidence presented over the past few weeks at trial showed plenty of reasonable doubt regarding criminal charges of murder and manslaughter, the evidence also indicates that the Martin family could easily win a lawsuit against Zimmerman for at least negligently provoking the fight that resulted in Trayvon Martin’s death.
Here’s hoping they pursue it quickly, since George Zimmerman definitely should be accountable at least financially for choosing to pursue Trayon Martin and to provoke the fight that claimed his life.