One of our regular columnists, Rufus Sanders, had a piece in the Monday paper, "Zimmerman will walk." Pastor Sanders argues George Zimmerman will escape punishment in the killing of Trayvon Martin when his Florida trial is over.
I enjoy Rufus' columns (he's always good for a strong opinion in colorful prose) but his prediction seems premature to me. Here's why:
1. The trial will not take place for months, if not years. We don't know what evidence will be put before the jury, what surprises will emerge and how the judge will rule on key issues. It seems early to complain about the verdict.
2. The key controversy for weeks concerned whether Zimmerman would be arrested and charged and have to face a court trial. Until the U.S. becomes a police state, it seems unfair to assume in advance of the trial that a person must be convicted for justice to prevail. (Otherwise we would have a show trial with a predetermined verdict). The demand that his victim's family must get its day in court has been met.
3. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the jury returns a "Not guilty" verdict that appears to fly in the face of the evidence and the instructions from the judge.
That would open the door for the federal government to step in and file civil rights charges, forcing Zimmerman to face a second criminal trial. This seems very likely if President Obama wins re-election, somewhat less likely but possible if Governor Romney wins.
4. Even if Zimmerman escapes a state or federal criminal conviction, his life likely will not return to its former state.
If I were tried for a crime in Sandusky and acquitted, I could move to another town and start over, confident that few of my new neighbors would know anything about my alleged misdeed. Even the most heinous crimes typically become well known only in the immediate area. Only a comparatively few cases become national media events.
But Zimmerman has become a national villain. Thanks to all of the news coverage, he will likely come under intense scrutiny no matter where he lives. It will resemble living under closely supervised probation for the rest of his life.
How did that sort of scrutiny work out for O.J. Simpson?