George Zimmerman verdict: The jury speaks

By Hal Boedeker
Posted July 20, 2017

Three jurors from the George Zimmerman trial are going on national television to defend their controversial verdict — one that sparked protests across the country — and legal analysts say they could perform a public service.

“People don’t understand you have to follow the law,” juror Madelin Rivera said in an interview. “They give directions to the jury, and you follow that.”

Rivera (known as juror B-29 during the trial), Amy Tronolone (D-40) and Christine Barry (B-51) appear in “The Jury Speaks: George Zimmerman” at 9 p.m. Monday on Oxygen. The series also talks to jurors in the trials of Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson and Robert Durst.

The Zimmerman jurors’ names were made public in April 2014, but the Orlando Sentinel typically does not identify jury members unless they have agreed to be interviewed.

A Seminole County jury in 2013 acquitted Neighborhood Watch volunteer Zimmerman of murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old. The not-guility verdict in Sanford helped spur the Black Lives Matter movement.

The issue for jurors came down to self-defense. “Trayvon was on top of George Zimmerman,” said Rivera, the only non-white juror on the six-woman panel. “Did George Zimmerman feel like he was threatened, fighting for his life? That’s how we all made the decision.”

The concept of “The Jury Speaks” sounds great, said attorney Richard Hornsby, who was a Zimmerman trial analyst for WESH-Channel 2.

“Whenever there is a verdict that runs contrary to public sentiment, the public wants to understand how such a seemingly incorrect decision could be reached,” he said. “If anything, this show will help the public understand that verdicts are based on filtered evidence and are reached based on detailed legal instructions, not necessarily human intuition. And if a juror follows the law, they often will have to return verdicts that defy public expectations.”

Rivera has given interviews to ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the nationally syndicated “Inside Edition. “The Jury Speaks” broadens the public’s look at the Zimmerman jury.

Tronolone, the jury foreperson, talks of Trayvon’s family in the program. “Our hearts were with that family, but there’s nothing we could really do in reference to the case or the law,” she said.

Juror Barry recalls that jurors tried to stick with the facts. “You’ve got to move past the part that somebody should pay for something,” she says in the series.“You can’t do that. It doesn’t work that way.”

In “The Jury Speaks,” several jurors take another vote, knowing everything since the verdict: They stand by their decision — but slam Zimmerman.

Mark NeJame, who was a legal analyst for CNN, says “The Jury Speaks” could add to people’s understanding. “The state in the Zimmerman case was miserable and tried to stretch the truth,” he says. “I’m no fan of Zimmerman. In that case, the jury technically reached the right legal decision, but it was not necessarily the right moral one.”

Zimmerman’s defense attorneys Mark O’Mara and Don West appear in “The Jury Speaks,” but there are no new interviews with prosecutors, who are seen in trial footage.

In an interview, O’Mara said he was “a little bit concerned we’re turning into a criminal justice system where people have to put their lives on hold, take on this artificial standard — beyond a reasonable doubt — then afterward they’re open to constant review and threats.”

Jurors shouldn’t be subject to ongoing review, he said. “The jury made their decision. You have to respect it,” he said. “I don’t like that all of a sudden we have a TV program, ‘Did They Do It Right?’ We need to be careful to protect the process from the invasion of body snatchers of intense media scrutiny.”

The program explores the challenges and frustrations the jury enduredin 22 days of sequestration. Other jurors talk: Lauren Germain, an alternate, and David Ramirez, who says he was dismissed because security guards couldn’t keep track of him.

Rene Stutzman, who covered the trial for the Sentinel, shared her initial reaction to the program.

“I knocked on the doors of all these jurors and why didn’t they talk to me? They were afraid for their safety,” she said.

But Stutzman sees good in the jurors coming forward now.

“If jurors can articulate how they voted and people understand, that has real value,” she said. “The core issue here is people expect justice and the law to be the same, and they are not. The law required them to look at the mind of George Zimmerman as he was on the ground with Travyon Martin above him pounding his head on the sidewalk.”

Being a juror cost her, Rivera said. She said she lost her home and her job (in a nursing home); family and friends fell away because of the verdict; and people threatened her children. She went through “a really bad depression” and “felt in danger at all times.” She had just moved to Central Florida (from Chicago), didn’t know how big the case was and didn’t understand the jury process, but she learned.

Now the mother of eight plans to go to college and become a teacher because she says she wants to make a difference.

“I wanted to speak the truth,” Rivera said of taking part in “The Jury Speaks.” “I wanted people to understand in my eyes, it wasn’t about race.”

The show should play well in legal circles.

“As a trial lawyer, I would definitely watch it,” Hornsby said, “because there is nothing more valuable than understanding how a juror reaches a difficult decision that they must know will be unpopular.”

 

Source: Orlando Sentinel