During that fatal encounter in a Florida neighborhood in 2012, who initiated the contact? Did neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman profile and stalk unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin? Or did Martin jump Zimmerman and cause him to fear for his life? Without knowing that – and there are no witnesses or evidence to prove it one way or the other – it’s hard to say definitively whether Zimmerman should have been charged with second-degree murder.
But that very lack of certainty has enabled trial watchers to read their own agendas into the proceedings. This is either the minority community’s search for elusive justice in a still-prejudicial society, or it is a show trial meant to cynically manipulate public passions. Nobody seems to be watching the trial the way one should be watched – with skepticism rather than cynicism, waiting patiently to see if the state makes its case or not.
Looking at the case with that kind of studied objectivity, it does seem fair to say the prosecution had a weak case, and at the least should have charged Zimmerman with something less than second-degree murder. There were enough unanswered questions that the state seems to have fallen short of the high standard of proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Perhaps the prosecution agreed. At the last minute, prosecutors sought allow consideration of a lesser charge of manslaughter, and the judge agreed. If you’ve screwed up, try to give the jury an out.