Did George Zimmerman Get Away with Murder?

William Saletan, Slate, July 26, 2013

Did George Zimmerman get away with murder? That’s what one of his jurors says, according to headlines in the New York TimesWashington PostLos Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, and dozens of other newspapers. Trayvon Martin’s mother and the Martin family’s attorney are trumpeting this “new information” as proof that “George Zimmerman literally got away with murder.”

The reports are based on an ABC News interview with Juror B29, the sole nonwhite juror. She has identified herself only by her first name, Maddy. She’s been framed as the woman who was bullied out of voting to convict Zimmerman. But that’s not true. She stands by the verdict. She yielded to the evidence and the law, not to bullying. She thinks Zimmerman was morally culpable but not legally guilty. And she wants us to distinguish between this trial and larger questions of race and justice.

ABC News hasn’t posted a full unedited video or transcript of the interview. The video that has been broadcast—on World News TonightNightline, and Good Morning America—has been cut and spliced in different ways, often so artfully that the transitions appear continuous. So beware what you’re seeing. But the video that’s available already shows, on closer inspection, that Maddy has been manipulated and misrepresented. Here are the key points.

1. The phrase “got away with murder” was put in her mouth. Nightline shows ABC interviewer Robin Roberts asking Maddy: “Some people have said, ‘George Zimmerman got away with murder. How do you respond to those people who say that?’ ” Maddy appears to reply promptly and confidently: “George Zimmerman got away with murder. But you can’t get away from God.” But that’s not quite how the exchange happened. In the unedited video, Roberts’ question is longer, with words that have been trimmed from the Nightline version, and Maddy pauses twice, for several seconds, as she struggles to answer it. “… George Zimmerman … That’s—George Zimmerman got away with murder. But you can’t get away from God.”

You have to watch her, not just read her words, to pick up her meaning. As she struggles to answer, she looks as though she’s trying to reconcile the sentiment that’s been quoted to her—that Zimmerman “got away with murder”—with her own perspective. So she repeats the quote and adds words of her own, to convey what she thinks: that there’s a justice higher than the law, which Zimmerman will have to face. She thinks he’s morally culpable, not legally guilty.

2. She stands by the verdict. ABC’s online story about the interview ends with Maddy asking, “Did I go the right way? Did I go the wrong way?” But that’s not the whole quote. In the unedited video, she continues: “I know I went the right way, because by the law and the way it was followed is the way I went. But if I would have used my heart, I probably would have [gone for] a hung jury.” In another clip, she draws the same distinction: “I stand by the decision because of the law. If I stand by the decision because of my heart, he would have been guilty.” At one point, she says that “the evidence shows he’s guilty.” Roberts presses her: “He’s guilty of?” Maddy answers: “Killing Trayvon Martin. But as the law was read to me, if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can’t say he’s guilty.” That’s the distinction she’s trying to draw here: Killing is one thing. Murder or manslaughter is another.

3. She thinks the case should never have gone to trial. According to ABC News, when Roberts asked “whether the case should have gone to trial,” Maddy answered, “I don’t think so. … I felt like this was a publicity stunt.”
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7. To the extent she feels racial or ethnic pressure, it’s against Zimmerman. In the Nightline video, Roberts notes that Maddy could have hung the jury. Roberts asks: “Do you have regrets that you didn’t?” Maddy pauses, tilts her head, and thinks about it. “Kind of. I mean I’m the only minority. And I feel like I let a lot of people down.” In the GMA version, Maddy’s reference to being the only minority has been seamlessly edited out. But this theme returns in other clips. “I couldn’t do anything about it. And I feel like I let a lot of people down,” she says. And again: “I feel like I let ’em down. We just couldn’t prove anything.” She feels the anger and the cosmic injustice. But they don’t change her legal judgment.

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