The Florida woman was cloaked in shadow, yet her appearance on CNN made her the public face of the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman of murder and manslaughter barely 48 hours earlier. She was at times inarticulate and self-contradictory during prime-time interviews Monday and Tuesday, but she is the sole real window into the two days of private deliberation that produced a very public verdict, whose announcement was viewed live on television Saturday night and triggered large demonstrations across the country.
Juror B37, a middle-aged white resident of Seminole County and the mother of two adult children, appeared on TV as a silhouette, hungry enough for publicity to sit across from Anderson Cooper but cautious enough to demand the anonymity afforded by CNN and the court — pending a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing on the release of jurors’ identities to the public.
The public has tried to glean meaning from what she told Cooper — that Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place,” that things “just went terribly wrong” — and everyone from pundits to Twitter trolls have condemned her statements as misbegotten or racist. (Four other jurors emphasized Tuesday that B37 did not reflect their views.) And in the visceral reaction to one juror speaking out, it’s possible to feel the tension in the American system of trial by jury: People want juries to do so much more than they are empowered or supposed to do.
That desire might be rooted in the colonial role of juries as a bulwark against British rule, says Douglas Green, who lectures on jury selection and serves as president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.
“The right to a jury trial was fundamental to the colonies because they wanted to resist the authority of the crown,” Green says. “The reason people object when they hear these verdicts is because of this colonial perception of a jury as standing up for what is ‘the right thing to do,’ ” not for what is the correct, case-specific application of a certain law to a certain body of evidence.
The Zimmerman jury was initially split, Juror B37 told Cooper, with three voting “not guilty,” two advocating manslaughter and one ready to convict Zimmerman on the second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. All but one juror thought that the cries for help on a 911 call were Zimmerman’s, she said. After 16-plus hours of deliberation, when all six women attested to their unanimous verdict, “that’s when everybody started to cry,” B37 said, her voice quavering with emotion.
(In their statement late Tuesday, the four jurors said that Martin’s death weighed on them emotionally and that the trial took its toll physically. But, the jurors said “they did what the law required them to do.”)
In the television interviews, B37 sounded reticent and fatigued, as she did a month earlier when answering questions during a special round of pre-publicity jury selection, in which lawyers assessed potential jurors’ exposure to media coverage.