While I have been a columnist for years now, I have also remained a practicing attorney. In my early days as a lawyer, through an unusual set of circumstances, I found myself serving as lead counsel for a 17-year-old boy against whom the state was seeking the death penalty. I’m sure I was too young and inexperienced, but along with a slightly more experienced and brilliant co-counsel, we somehow managed to avoid the electric chair for our client.
It was considered a success from the standpoint of the seemingly insurmountable evidence we faced, but when it concluded, I vowed never to get involved in another murder case as long as I lived. There are no winners in such matters, and I am far too soft-hearted when it comes to both victims and the arguments, when strong, for the accused.
So, having tried a case — one in which, at the time, my client would have been the youngest to ever face death row in Georgia — what words of wisdom do I offer on the Zimmerman verdict? The answer is: none.
The laws that govern any case as serious as that which Zimmerman faced are so complex, and the impact of testimony and other evidence is impossible to truly comprehend outside of the courtroom. And to armchair second-guess the strategy of the prosecution or defense, much less how a jury ferreted through the facts and applied the law, is far too complicated.
There are certainly many legal analysts with much more experience in this type trial than I, and their opinions, while varied, are at least generally grounded in law and experience, if not sometimes tinged with a little emotion. But when it comes to politicians and political pundits somehow passing judgment on the decision of a jury, there is not much more to say but forgive them, for they know not of what they speak.
And as to various positions on existing or potential new laws, well, there isn’t much that I have heard that seems very relevant to either the evidence or the law as it applied to this case. There are politicians, preachers and pundits offering all sorts of opinions and proposals with respect the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and other states.
What seems to be a bit of a disconnect is that the defense in the Zimmerman case did not rely on that particular law as a means of arguing their case. That hasn’t stopped the arguments over their effectiveness or related to potential problems that might arise under such laws. Again, it’s an example of opinions arising from something not really central to what occurred in the actual courtroom.
Now we have some members of Congress wanting stricter laws related to racial profiling. Certainly that might be practical with officials, government and law enforcement. But how in the world does Congress expect to determine if an individual private citizen in any given matter is “racially profiling” another with regard to the actions they might take? And would new laws put in place apply to all races and how they are treated by others?
There is one thing that we do know from this case. Trayvon Martin, regardless of what actions he did or did not take on the night of his death, is nevertheless deceased. His family and friends will never get over that fact, and it is understandable, even if one has the view that Zimmerman was not guilty of the charges that faced him.
But the other fact is that Zimmerman is not really a free man. He is the target of much hatred and both spoken and unspoken threats. For a man declared by a jury to be “not guilty,” Zimmerman will undoubtedly feel a sense of a “sentence” hanging over his head for years, if not forever.
I’m just not wise enough to second-guess prosecutors, defense attorneys and a jury selected by both sides in a case that I passingly followed from the comfort of my home on a television that just as easily could be switched to a news debate on Egypt or a rerun of “Frasier.”
I would have to try a whole lot more murder cases to feel qualified to opine on the merits of this case. And I can pretty much guess that most who are yapping about it now haven’t much useful experience and perhaps have never had the burden of arguing such a case in a court of law.
Matt Towery heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.