Inside Story

Law, justice, and the Zimmerman case

Zimmerman has been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, so what does this decision mean for the US justice system?

Last Modified: 16 Jul 2013 12:07
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After a three-week trial and 16 hours of deliberation, George Zimmerman was cleared of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed black teenager as he walked home in February 2012. The shooting caused national public outcry after it took 44 days to arrest Zimmerman.

“Our senior partner turned it down, he didn’t agree with the charges that were being filed, and we also have a conflict of interests ...  I think that the law was followed, and I think it was appropriate. 

Vanessa Braeley, attorney at Nejame law firm 

Protests broke out in several cities in the US on Sunday evening as people voiced their disappointment and frustration at the verdict, raising major questions about race in America.
"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young soon," US President Barack Obama declared.After 

After Trayvon Martin's death, a petition calling for Zimmerman to be charged with murder reached over two million signatures, and in New York  hundreds marched calling for justice.
It was not until April that Zimmerman was charged, and after entering a not-guilty plea, he was eventually released with a bond of $1m.
More than a year later, his trial began; prosecutor John Guy opened by saying Zimmerman killed Martin "because he wanted to."
The trial lasted for three weeks and on Saturday, Zimmerman was acquitted by a six-woman jury, accepting his argument of self-defence. 

So was this a racially motivated killing? And what does this decision mean for the US and its justice system?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Veronica Pedrosa, are guests: Vanessa Braeley, a criminal defence attorney for Nejame law, who last year her firm turned down the chance to represent Zimmerman; Gary Younge, a writer and columnist for The Guardian newspaper; and Margaret Burnham, a professor of law and director of Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project Northeastern University.

"The real central problem here … is that Trayvon Martin was really not seen either by George Zimmerman or by the police, who took 44 days to arrest Mr. Zimmerman, or it appears by the jury, for who he really was, which was a barely  17-years old young man, teenager, going out to buy some candy; and it is that fact that has gotten people outraged  ... race explains this case, so its impossible to say that we have the best justice system in the world, that it is as good as it could be ... when it's not a system that can recognise the critical importance that race plays at every step along the way today."

- Margaret Burnham, a law professor at Northeastern University 


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