The process behind the acquittal

Making sense of how a jury came to free George Zimmerman

The author is retired and currently coordinates Soup On Sundays, a program that helps feed Chico’s homeless.

Upon hearing the news that George Zimmerman had been acquitted in Sanford, Fla., I was initially outraged.

I still am upset at the verdict, but I also understand the process that freed the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. A few years ago, I was a jury member for the trial of a local teacher accused of theft.

There are rules that strictly regulate a juror’s role in a criminal trial. The first rule: During the trial, you keep your thoughts to yourself. A juror cannot discuss the ongoing trial with other jurors, with spouses, or anyone else. You are asked to not develop a conclusive opinion until you have heard all of the testimony and presentations.

I have always believed in the judicial concept that one is “innocent until proven guilty” and that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. Most important, I believe in and support “reasonable doubt” as the standard of proof in a criminal trial.

When we began deliberation, three charges fell so short of the burden of proof that we voted for acquittal in a few hours. The fourth charge required several more hours of careful deliberation before we had a unanimous vote. All 12 of us gave serious thought to the issues. Ultimately, we reviewed a video of the defendant’s initial interrogation more than six times, sometimes repeatedly playing back segments of only two or three minutes in length, phrase by phrase.

At the end of our deliberation, our conclusion was that by law the defendant’s own words gave us no choice but to find a verdict of guilty on the remaining charge. Had the defendant invoked his right to remain silent, he would have been acquitted for lack of evidence.

I was very proud of the way we deliberated. We examined the facts and found that for three charges, those facts fell short of the burden of proof.

It is my hope that the jurors in the George Zimmerman trial were able to impartially examine the facts and not base their judgment on emotional issues. I was not there. Had I been on the jury, I may have also voted for acquittal. Zimmerman was entitled to be considered innocent until he was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I still personally don’t like the verdict. Zimmerman had a gun and Martin had only his fists.