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Zimmerman trial begins no Blacks chosen for the jury

caines | 6/27/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Legal experts share their concerns and predict outcome of case The prosecution and the defense painted two very different pictures of what happened during that rainy evening on February 26, 2012 when a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, then 28 and in possession of a concealed 9mm semiautomatic pistol, confronted unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who was returning from a quick run to a nearby convenience store. Assistant State Attorney John Guy described Zimmerman as a vigilante determined to rid his community of a--holes like Trayvon. In stark contrast, Don West, one of the attorneys for the defense, claimed that Zimmerman was forced into a situation that he would have rather avoided, shooting the teen after being attacked, all the while attempting to protect his quiet, gated community. With Zimmermans second-degree murder trial beginning last Monday with opening statements given by attorneys from both sides and presented to the jury, one can fully expect to hear minute-by-minute descriptions of how things played out the night of Trayvons murder that could aptly be seen as a tale of two cities. Since the shooting, the case has gained the nations attention unlike any trial since the days of O.J. Simpson. It has also put the spotlight on this countrys centuries-old problem with race relations. By the end of the day, last Monday, four witnesses had testified, including the 911 operator who took the initial phone call from Zimmerman. Both sides are expected to tackle particular moments from the night that Trayvon was killed including the screams that were heard on the 911 recordings and the extent of Zimmermans fight with the teen. As the trial continued last Tuesday, the jury was scheduled to hear from a teenaged girl known first as Witness # 8, then later as Rachel Trayvons friend from Miami. It is believed that she is the young woman with whom Trayvon was speaking when he first noticed Zimmerman watching and then following him in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community that Trayvon was visiting with his father. In a previously written testimony, Rachel described Trayvon as scared and trying to get away from the man. She urged him to run. She last heard Trayvon say, why are you following me, after which she said she heard what sounded like him falling. After that, the phone went dead.

Jury: Five white women and no Blacks

Given the racial makeup of the six-member jury five white and one minority, later clarified as a Hispanic and all female, we asked several local legal experts what we can expect as the trial continues. Our most pressing question was whether they believe the family of Trayvon Martin could be assured that justice will be served, given the venue of the trial [Seminole County where Zimmerman resides], the jurys racial makeup and the fact that Trayvon was Black while the bi-racial Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic. Attorney H.T. Smith, Director, Trial Advocacy Program, FIU: The criminal case against Zimmerman is laced with racial overtones. How comfortable would you be if you were Black and you had a case [like this] that was being tried in a southern community with a shameful history of racial injustice and not one Black person was on the jury? Its unusual to have an all-female or all-male jury in Floridas jury system. However, the gender of the jurors is not very instructive regarding which side they might favor. What is more instructive is how they feel about critical issues like race, guns, self-defense, profiling, vigilantes, hoodies, crime watch, etc. The Stand Your Ground law is a get out of jail free card for criminals. Moreover, it insulates the killer from civil liability and money damages. The standard of proof is not high enough before a person gets the benefit of the law. I am absolutely concerned about the reaction of Blacks if Zimmerman is acquitted. Its still fresh in mind that both the Arthur McDuffie and the Rodney King cases had no Blacks on those juries either and . . . Attorney Larry Handfield, owner, Law Offices of Larry Handfield: The jury is more reflective of the kind that the defense would prefer and its unfortunate that its not more diverse. But people tend to confuse the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. A jury of your peers does not mean a sitting jury of your peers. It means the pool of jurors must come from a diverse group. Zimmermans attorney did everything he could to keep a Black [person] from being chosen for the jury and because Seminole County has a small Black population, that wasnt too difficult. We have to deal with that. Without a living witness to counter Zimmermans story, the prosecution has the burden of showing that no reasonable person would have acted in the manner that Zimmerman did. Well have to see if the jurors allow their emotions to come into play or not. I dont believe Zimmerman will be found guilty nor do I believe that Blacks will respond in a negative manner. I give our community more credit than that. Attorney Kymberlee Curry Smith, past president, Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association: I think the lack of the male and minority perspective harms the prosecution because of the lack of compassion that may be felt by a man or a minority for Trayvon. You might think having all women would mean they would see Trayvon as their own son. But you cant tell what a juror may think or feel. Stereotyping a juror is just as dangerous as stereotyping anyone else. I think the facts of this case should reflect that Zimmerman is guilty. I think the community at-large is watching, especially in light of the gun laws being at center court, to see the outcome. So many ideals Americans hold dear are hinging on it: gun rights, self-defense, freedom to not be considered suspicious because of your color or gender, etc. If Zimmerman is acquitted I worry about my own reaction. I have children two Black boys. No one wants to be taught or teach someone else to believe in justice and the fairness of the criminal justice system and watch all of it contorted when it comes to protecting the lives of innocent people, especially children. Attorney Mary Anne Franks, Associate Professor of Law, University of Miami Law School: For better or worse, the right to a jury of ones peers belongs to the defendant, not the victim. No state allowed women to serve on a jury until 1919 and Florida did not allow female jurors until 1967. Far more relevant are the jurors beliefs about self-defense, crime, racism and whether they are able to identify more with Zimmerman or Trayvon. Without knowing what other evidence the parties will present at trial, demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted with a depraved mind in shooting Trayvon, as opposed to recklessly or negligently, will be difficult. Of course, the jury could always find Zimmerman guilty of a lesser offense. There is likely going to be public unrest following either acquittal or conviction. If Zimmerman is acquitted, the gender of the jurors or the fact that there were no Black jurors may be blamed. Steps will certainly need to be taken to assure the safety and security of the jurors. Jasmine Rand, an attorney that is part of the team headed by Ben Crump that is representing the family of Trayvon Martin said she believes the reaction to the jurys decision will be peaceful just as it has been over the past 18 months. Tracy [Martin] and Sybrina [Fulton]s call for justice has always been to ensure that Zimmerman is held accountable in a court of law. People often forget that citizens have the right to lawful dissent and conscientious objection. If one asks this question about the Black community, one needs to ask how other communities will react if George Zimmerman is convicted. Everyone needs to respect the rule of law when the verdict comes down. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com