The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has been described as every black parent’s worst fear, and it’s looking like the man who killed him won’t be convicted of second-degree murder.
Nobody knows exactly what happened the rainy night in February 2012 when George Zimmerman shot an unarmed teenager in the heart because he looked “real suspicious.” But prosecutors are the ones who have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and some legal experts believe they’ve already lost their case.
“I certainly sympathize with the anger and frustration of the Martin family and doubt that a jury will accept the entirety of George Zimmerman’s account as credible,” ABC’s legal analyst Dan Abrams wrote. “But based on the legal standard and evidence presented by prosecutors it is difficult to see how jurors find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn’t self defence.”
The main hurdle for prosecutors was to prove that Zimmerman didn’t “reasonably believe” the gunshot he fired was necessary to save his life or prevent serious injury, Abrams points out. Based on Zimmerman’s injuries, it’s clear there was some kind of physical fight between him and Martin.
The state’s own witness, Zimmerman’s neighbour Jonathon Good, testified Martin was straddling Zimmerman before the shot was fired — which would suggest the teenager was the aggressor. While another neighbour testified it was Zimmerman on top of the fight, the differing eye witness testimony could sow seeds of doubt in jurors’ minds as to who was beating up whom.
“There are significant weaknesses in the state’s case — most importantly conflicting eyewitness accounts which themselves create reasonable doubt as to what happened that night,” former prosecutor Elizabeth Parker told USA Today.
If jurors don’t agree Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder, it’s possible they could convict him of manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter requires a showing of “recklessness or lack of care,” while voluntary manslaughter is a “homicide intentionally committed while in the midst of provocation.”
It could still be hard for prosecutors to disprove Zimmerman’s self-defence claim, especially since several of his friends testified he could be heard yelling for help on a 911 call.
The stakes in this case are high. Trayvon Martin has come to symbolise the racial profiling young black men endure from the streets of Los Angeles to New York. There’s a good chance the jury — which doesn’t have a single black person — could acquit his killer because of a lack of evidence. This is how our justice system works, but the outcome of this case could be seen as another tragedy.
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