The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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July 20, 2013

Stand your ground law to blame for jury verdict

---- — PENNSYLVANIA MAY be considered an archaic state when it comes to some laws, but after seeing the results of the recent George Zimmerman trial, I’m glad for it.

While I felt Zimmerman was at least guilty of manslaughter in the shooting of young Trayvon Martin since he followed him after being told by 911 to walk away, I didn’t take in much of the trial.

I would guess that the prosecution was so bent on getting a second-degree murder charge that they wasted too much time trying to push that through. And with so little to go on, the jury could never find for that.

One of the major problems is that Florida has a “stand your ground” law which allows the use of deadly force if you feel your life is threatened. This is pretty much a free chance to commit murder if no witnesses are around. And of course allowing people to carry concealed weapons doesn’t bode well either.

While it’s too late to save Trayvon Martin, it will bring to light the problems with both laws and create a great deal of debate across the country.

Obviously, there is massive controversy over the final verdict. Racial bias goes into the views for some people on both sides. That was a point made also from an unsuspected source – former NBA star Charles Barkley – who came out and said he agreed with the verdict.

It appeared the hands of the jury were tied on how to reach the not-guilty verdict. And remember, not guilty, doesn’t mean innocent. Hey, remember O.J.? And let’s face it, guilty people get off every day on technicalities or because they have better lawyers than others.

Also, anybody who has ever sat on a jury pretty much can understand what goes on behind closed doors in that jury room. One strong juror can often sway the decisions of the others.

Decades ago I was on a jury and as we discussed the evidence, one woman was reading a book. I asked her what she was doing and she said: “I’ll go along with whatever you think.”

Yikes. But on second thought, if someone is that disinterested, it reflects poorly on our jury system. It’s better if a few people who are interested make the final decision on the fate of defendants.

The Zimmerman trial was a media event. Thousands of people are killed by guns every year, but only a few shootings get that kind of publicity. There probably are other incidents that actually deserve come kind of coverage for the controversy involved.

Unfortunately, none of us will ever know the full story of what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. But one thing is certain: If Zimmerman hadn’t been carrying a gun, he probably would not have continued to follow Martin. And if not for “stand your ground” laws, Zimmerman would probably be guilty of at least manslaughter for shooting the youngster.

While it won’t bring back Trayvon Martin, changes on how we look at laws might save the lives of future youth who may be victims of racial profiling.

The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this column each Saturday for The Opinion Page.

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