NORMAN — Can there be any question now that misbegotten “stand your ground” laws can provide a legal cover for murder?
Watching the distressing ABC News interview with one of the George Zimmerman jurors — the only non-white juror and the only one who began deliberations believing Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder — it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.
“Some people have said George Zimmerman got away with murder,” ABC’s Robin Roberts began. “How do you respond to that?”
“George Zimmerman got away with murder,” replied the 36-year-old juror, identified only as Maddy. “But you can’t get away from God. At the end of the day … the law couldn’t prove it. We just have to believe in the Lord that if he has to pay, he will pay.”
As a nonbeliever, I take little comfort in her theory.
It’s reassuring, however, that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and even Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain tried to launch a national conversation about “stand your ground” laws that could put pressure on 30 states that adopted them. If states won’t fix them, maybe juries will reclaim power.
Anytime the National Rifle Association is the main backer of legislation, as it has been on this issue, you can be sure the outcome is aimed at more gunplay, not less.
Of course, there are times when homicide is a justifiable response to threat of great bodily harm or death. But these laws encourage citizens to engineer aggressive, armed confrontations, when they should be encouraged to do all in their power to walk away. They enable the kind of tragedy that Zimmerman inflicted the night he decided that a teenager on his way home from a store looked suspicious and needed to be followed.
Maddy told ABC News that had she followed her heart, she would have held out for a guilty verdict.
“I was the juror that was gonna give them a hung jury,” she said. “I fought to the end.”
I wish she had held out, but I can’t blame her for following the letter of the law, and not quite grasping how much power she really possessed.
She said the reaction to the verdict in the days following the trial overwhelmed her.
“I literally fell on my knees and I broke down, my husband was holding me, and I was screaming and crying, and I kept saying to myself, I feel like I killed him.” She said she has had trouble sleeping and eating. “I feel that I was forcibly included in Trayvon Martin’s death,” she told ABC.
On Friday at a conference of the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Martin’s mother, Sabryna Fulton, urged the audience to work against “stand your ground” legislation, describing it as “a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable, and to pay for this awful crime.”
It’s worth remembering that if Zimmerman had shot Martin before Florida passed its “stand your ground” law in 2005, the jury would have been instructed that the shooter “cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force.”
That might have given Maddy all the moral ammunition she needed.
Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.