Published: July 6, 2013
In the proverbial perfect world, we could right all wrongs down at the courthouse. Trayvon Martin lived in the real world, where the courts can do little to fix tragic events even on a perfect day.
No finding in Florida v. Zimmerman will restore Martin's life. Only one person in the courtroom, defendant George Zimmerman, was at the crime scene. If Zimmerman is convicted, and the judge throws the book at him, Martin remains dead.
None of us knows exactly what led to Martin's killing, though self-appointed experts act as if they were there. All Americans should respect that our courts are held to an incredibly high standard before convicting a person of a crime. If criminal convictions come easily, we have no means of keeping corruptible authorities from abusing power. Imagine prosecutors acting like the modern IRS, targeting individuals and groups for their religious convictions or political beliefs. A government without the burden of due process and proof "beyond reasonable doubt" could imprison individuals for life, with fabricated charges, on a basis of the subject's voting preference.
Because we rightly hold our courts to a near-impossible standard, criminals frequently go free even after authorities charge them with crimes and build believable cases. Free society prefers the unpleasant scenario of criminals roaming free over one in which governments easily imprison innocent persons.
Given the difficulty of criminal prosecutions, Zimmerman may go free regardless of innocence or guilt. Truth and what the state can prove are often vastly different.
Prosecutors concluded their case against Zimmerman Friday, so in coming days or weeks we could have a decision from the jury.
Martin was a teenager walking alone and, by all accounts, minding his own business. He wasn't peeping into windows, selling drugs or running from the scene of a crime. He was walking in a neighborhood he frequented because it was home to his father's fianc?.
It is possible that Martin, who has no known history of violence, suddenly became a threat and began beating a grown man senseless. It is possible Zimmerman feared for his life and felt the use of deadly force was his best hope for survival. So long as jurors consider Zimmerman's story a possibility, and nothing proves the story wrong, they must contend with reasonable doubt. One cannot vote for conviction if the prosecutor's story doesn't overcome reasonable doubt raised by the defense.
Even the case against O.J. Simpson contained enough reasonable doubt for jurors to dispense with evidence against him that most Americans considered overwhelming.
A person is murdered in the United States about every 36 minutes. Only a few of roughly 15,000 murders each year become national news. National media picked up on the case against Zimmerman because of questions involving race. Martin was black, and some reporters initially told us Zimmerman is white. He is not. His mother is Peruvian and his great-grandfather was Afro-Peruvian. He grew up in a racially integrated home.
Just as despicable as the media's desire for a race-oriented hate crime is the frequency with which some pundits assume innocence by Zimmerman and guilt on the part of Martin.
We can only hope our system of due process gives jurors information they can understand and believe. Use of deadly force, in the course of self-defense, must be respected and protected. But it cannot be taken lightly and should always be scrutinized.
In a perfect world, the courthouse could resolve this. In the real world, we only hope and pray the system gets it right. At the end of this trial, regardless of outcome, society will have nothing to celebrate. A young man, who had an adult life ahead of him, remains dead. It is tragic and cannot be fixed.