George Zimmerman made it official yesterday. The killer of Trayvon Martin will forgo a “Stand Your Ground” immunity hearing and take his chances with a jury of his peers. We’ve known this for a while. Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara said as much last August. And he insisted to me last February that the law didn’t apply to his client. That’s the one area where O’Mara and Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon’s parents, agree.
SYG greatly expands the longstanding legal right to defend yourself in your home or place of work without a duty to retreat before using deadly force. In 2005, Florida expanded that zone of protection to wherever you have a legal right to be. In addition, it granted the covered person immunity from prosecution. All that’s needed is for a judge to rule in that person’s favor.
But as The New York Times reports today, “During a self-defense immunity hearing, the defendant, not the prosecutor, bears the burden of proof.” And the burden on Zimmerman would have been great. From his injuries, the screams, the lack of his DNA on Trayvon to the placement of Trayvon’s hands, Zimmerman would have been in for an intense grilling to explain a host of contradictions.
By putting his fate in the hands of a jury, Zimmerman shifts the burden of proof away from himself. He also will be able to go full force on putting Trayvon and his actions on trial. As we’ve seen, Trayvon brings out the worst in people. He inspires rabid hate in people who didn’t know him. And folks seem eager to paint the 17-year-old, who was only armed with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, as a thug who got what he deserved.
“We can live with a jury verdict,” Crump told me in February, when I was interviewing Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother. “We will respect the rule of law.” But getting to that point will be ugly. Jury selection begins June 10.
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