Zimmerman not guilty in Trayvon Martin killing

George Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The jury came out with its verdict last night at around 10pm EST.



The jury, which had been sequestered since June 24, deliberated 16 hours and 20 minutes over two days. The six female jurors entered the quiet, tense courtroom, several looking exhausted, their faces drawn and grim. After the verdict was read, each assented, one by one, and quietly, their agreement with the verdict.

Trayvon Martin’s father responds to the verdict

Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, responded to the verdict via Twitter:


What the jury had to find in order for George Zimmerman to be guilty

They were looking at Second Degree Murder or Manslaughter.

AP explains some of the difference between Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter in Florida, and what you need to prove for each:

To secure a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury that Zimmerman acted with a “depraved” state of mind — that is, with ill will, hatred or spite. Prosecutors said he demonstrated that when he muttered, “F—— punks. These a——-. They always get away” during a call to police as he watched Martin walk through his neighborhood.

To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

More on what a lawful justification is below.

The Washington Post notes that the jury was looking at the manslaughter charge, so they dismissed Second Degree murder:

Earlier Saturday, the jury had sent a note to Judge Debra Steinberg Nelson requesting clarification of instructions related to manslaughter, signaling that they were taking a hard look at the lesser of the two charges against the former neighborhood watch volunteer and sending a jolt through the courtroom and the crowd outside. Before starting deliberations, the jury was given a cautionary note by Nelson, who instructed them that “Zimmerman cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide.”

Negligence means there was no intent to kill, but you were so sloppy in your actions that you killed someone.  You’re negligent when you leave a loaded gun near a child, and the child uses it and harms someone, but you didn’t intend for the child to harm someone.

Without lawful justification” sounds like you still have to find that there was intent to kill.  But if you find intent, in order to convict it has to be an intent that was not lawful – meaning, it wasn’t justified by self-defense, or you weren’t a cop who’s justified in shooting someone.  That’s “justifiable homicide” – you intended to kill someone, but you were justified in doing it.

As for the other term, “excusable homicide,” here’s what it means in the Florida statutes:

782.03 Excusable homicide.—Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent, or by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

That’s a long definition. It actually contains 3 independent definitions of excusable homicide – if you can prove any of the three, you’re off the hook.

In order to meet the first definition of excusable homicide you need to meet all of the following four elements:

1. By accident: You drop a vase of water accidentally, it breaks, someone near you slips on the water and breaks their neck; and

2. It also has to be while doing something lawful – meaning, if you accidentally kill someone while committing a crime, it’s not excusable homicide; and

3. You have to be exercising usual caution: You can’t be negligent in doing whatever you did that accidentally led to someone else dying; and

4. You can’t have had any unlawful intent: That one’s interesting.  It think it means that if I was intending to kill you, and I accidentally drop the vase, you trip on the water and die – my intent was still unlawful.  So even if it was an accident, they might not let me off the hook.

But there’s a second definition that can independently count as “excusable homicide”:

1. By accident; and

2. It was the heat of passion and you were suddenly provoked to a significant degree.

I’m not entirely sure I understand this second defense.  I think that may be saying that the other elements in the first definition – that you were doing something lawful, that you were exercising caution, and that you didn’t have an unlawful intent may not be necessary for this second definition of “excusable homicide” if it was the heat of passion and you were suddenly provoked to a significant degree.  I wonder if this isn’t the reason the jury found Zimmerman not guilty.

And the third definition of excusable homicide in the law says that you were suddenly in a fight, and no dangerous weapon was used, yet the other guy died – that clearly doesn’t apply to this case, as there was a gun.

USA Today seems to think that the jury ruled that Trayvon Martin was killed in self-defense:

The not guilty verdict means the jury of six women found that Zimmerman justifiably used deadly force and reasonably believed that such force was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself — Florida’s definition of self-defense.

Can the Justice Department intervene?

Interesting statement from Al Sharpton about the Justice Department via AP:

Issuing a statement from New York, civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton called the not-guilty verdict “a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice.”

“We intend to ask the Department of Justice to move forward as they did in the Rodney King case and we will closely monitor the civil case against Mr. Zimmerman,” Sharpton said, adding that he will travel to Florida in the next few days.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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