It’s now been over a month since the death of Trayvon Martin and public calls for the arrest and conviction of George Zimmerman are only growing louder by the day. Yet despite the massive movement seeking justice for Trayvon, it doesn’t appear we’re any closer to seeing Zimmerman put behind bars. Will he get charged with manslaughter? Probably. Will he be convicted? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
Public perception of guilt does not always translate to a guilty verdict. As details continue to emerge, it seems to me the chances of eventually getting a jury to convict George Zimmerman are doomed.
Based off the police report and details leaked about the investigation that night, it looks as though Zimmerman’s defense won’t have a hard time challenging the evidence due to an inadequate initial investigation. It doesn’t seem like there was any forensic ballistics testing done that night, which could have provided key evidence as to whether Martin really grabbed for the gun, as Zimmerman claims. How could a jury determine whether there was a struggle for the gun or not if there is no proof? Without evidence regarding the bullet’s angle of entry or where the powder residue was, it would be difficult to prove or disprove claims of a struggle that night. It looks as though the police on February 26th did little beyond a visual observation.
Another key element in determining whether the shooting was really self-defense, as Zimmerman claims, is the injury he sustained that night. The police report references a bloody nose, an injury to the back of his head and grass marks on his back, possibly indicating there was a struggle. Yet, to our knowledge, police never had Zimmerman checked by a doctor that night to determine the cause of his bloody, possibly broken nose or how deep his head wound was. With tainted evidence and a botched investigation, the case becomes nothing more than a he said-she said game, except one of them isn’t around to answer.
There are several steps to getting Zimmerman convicted in Martin’s death, and it seems to me he could get off at any step along the way. First, he has to be charged. It’s been revealed that a prosecutor from the state attorney’s office that night determined there was not enough evidence to bring manslaughter charges. If there wasn’t enough evidence over a month ago, it’ll be difficult to find more now. Due to the massive public outcry, I believe Zimmerman will still get charged, but then a judge could easily dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence. The admissibility of evidence is often where a criminal case is won or lost, we’ve seen it in the past with suspects getting off due to a botched police investigation and we could see it again here.
Even if the case were to reach a jury, the likelihood they’d be able to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult in a state where the “Stand Your Ground” law will be applied in his defense. Zimmerman’s attorneys would claim he felt “reasonably threatened with serious harm,” and without eye-witnesses or evidence to disclaim that, it would be difficult for a jury to convict him.
Putting George Zimmerman behind bars, at this point, seems like an uphill battle. Yet, there is still some hope for justice for Trayvon Martin’s family: a civil trial. A trial where the burden of proof is lower and only nine jurors are needed to find him responsible for Trayvon’s death. In a civil case, the “Stand Your Ground” defense would not matter because he is still liable for Martin’s death, regardless of whether he was justified in using lethal force.
George Zimmerman’s case could play out in a similar manner to O.J. Simpson’s. While Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman’s families were unable to find closure through the criminal court, they at least labeled Simpson as a killer in their civil case. Similarly, if the criminal justice system fails here because of a faulty police investigation and “Stand Your Ground,” the only remedy for justice is a civil suit.
Yes, it seems unfair that Martin’s family may be unable to find justice in a criminal court and only in a civil court. Yet, a verdict there may send an even louder message. In a civil case, the Martins could sue both Zimmerman and the neighborhood association for allowing him to patrol with a loaded gun. Taking the neighborhood association to task would send the message that vigilante justice is not tolerated.
If the neighborhood association were found liable for Martin’s death, then similar associations across the nation would have to re-examine their neighborhood watch programs and ensure no one patrolling is doing so with a loaded gun. Finding the association liable has broader implications because it will help prevent future deaths in similar circumstances. The civil case offers an opportunity the criminal case doesn’t; to ensure neighborhood watch programs apply stricter standards for those patrolling and save the lives of future Trayvon Martins.