As the anger builds over the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, one thing leaps off the page to this actor and public speaker: the prosecution.
Before I get to my thoughts on that, let me just say that it’s fortunate, I think, that the protests and demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful, with scattered violence. It makes it hard for the right wing to paste “savages” label over this and forces them to move mountains to do so.
The facts supported one slam-dunk verdict: manslaughter. A case could be argued for murder in that Zimmerman saw Martin, started stalking him, aggravated an assault then in a panic shot Martin dead, meaning that he brought this on himself with at least a felonious assault. Killing someone in the commission of a crime is by definition in most states murder, and I’m sure Florida has had enough fatalities during bank robberies and such that this statute exists there, too.
That’s a hard case to make when the victim can’t speak for himself, can’t give his side of the story and there’s precious little evidence – either forensic or eyewitness – that conclusively determines this is what happened.
Which brings me to my point.
The prosecution attempted to try this case strictly on facts, but they missed a golden opportunity to get the jurors’ sympathy for Martin, leaving Zimmerman and the families to be the only emotional totems in the entire courtroom.
His opening statement focused on the actions of Zimmerman, which it should, but he presented it from an objective, third party standpoint, and threw in a few obscenities to boot. On a jury of six southern women, this was a mistake. He needed to make an emotional connection with them, make them feel for Martin. Here’s what I would have said:
“Ladies of the jury, I want you to put yourself on the streets of Sanford that rainy, dark night. You’re walking home from the store, carrying a few groceries. Maybe you’re chatting with a friend on the phone, minding your own business, when you notice that creeping up behind you is a car you don’t recognize. It’s moving slowly. It makes no effort to pass you. If anything, it seems to be following you. You walk a little faster. Maybe you mention to your friend on the phone that there’s this car creeping behind you. You duck down a side yard, hoping to get away.”
You walk on a little further and realize now there’s a man walking behind you, following you. You don’t know who he is, but you recognize him as the driver of the car. You don’t know what he wants, but you’re scared, terrified. It’s a cold night and windows are closed, no one else is out on the street. You shout at him, more to get him to leave you alone than to find out what he wants. He yells back. Words are exchanged and you panic out of sheer terror, trying to force him to stop following you.”
“We’ve all been in situations like this. We’ve all been stalked, hunted, by someone who means to do us harm, no matter how nice we might be. It’s frightening.”
Imagine now, six women jurors. They’ve been to pools and beaches, walked past construction sites. Maybe they’ve had *that guy* as a boyfriend, the one who follows them after they break up, demanding answers. It made them angry. It was terror of the most personal and destructive kind.
And you’ve just won your verdict by being honest about Trayvon Martin.