The Post reports: “George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed Trayvon Martin, was charged with second-degree murder Wednesday in a case that has riveted the nation. Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charge at an early-evening news conference in Jacksonville. She said Zimmerman had turned himself in and was being held in the state.” Corey denied the state had charged him because of public pressure. She declared that the state of Florida charges defendants based on the law and the facts.
But, of course, it was public outcry that got the prosecutors going. And one question to be answered is why the local Sanford police did not detain or charge Zimmerman at the time of the killing. My colleague Jonathan Capehart, like many observers, says his faith in the judicial system is restored.
But the test of the judicial system is whether the public perceives that Zimmerman receives a fair trial and is either convicted or acquitted based on those facts and the law that Corey referenced. If he is ultimately acquitted, or convicted of lesser charges, will that shatter the faith in the system, because Zimmerman is already guilty in the eyes of so many?
Let’s hope not. Trials have, by necessity, rules of evidence. What the public knows or thinks it knows is not necessarily admissible evidence. What the police and prosecutors gathered in the course of the investigation may not be known to the public. The trial will play out, and whatever the result, we can hope for (although not necessarily expect) restraint if the jury doesn’t do the public’s bidding.
This case seems ripe for a change of venue in order to provide Zimmerman with an impartial jury. But where is an untainted jury pool in Florida? Everyone who’s not been under a rock knows or thinks he knows something about the case. The effort to find people who may know about the case but have yet to form an opinion will be arduous. Yet the judicial system prosecutes high-profile, high publicity cases regularly. I expect the Florida courts will do so in this case.
Jonathan is certainly right that the “court of public opinion has been working overtime since this tragic story flooded the national consciousness last month.” But now it’s time for the real court to take over and to follow the rules of the courts. Public opinion doesn’t always match jury verdicts, and that doesn’t mean something has gone “wrong” or that “justice didn’t work.” The public wanted a trial and got it, but it now must respect the legal process and its verdict. Anything else suggests that those pushing for a trial didn’t have justice, but vengeance, in mind.