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Area reaction to Zimmerman verdict mirrors national split

Everyone from lawyers to laypeople weigh in

POSTED: July 16, 2013 1:19 a.m.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, handed down Saturday by a jury of six women, was inevitably polarizing.

It prompted praise from groups who said Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and widespread dissatisfaction from civil rights groups who said he profiled the unarmed teen.

While there were no protests in Hall County, legal experts in the local criminal justice community weighed in, offering a perspective outside the ideologies.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said he’d leave it to the public to to draw its own conclusion on the case, but said it is not uncommon for self-defense to be used as justification for homicide in a court of law.

“It does seem to me that each side in the Zimmerman case made a complete presentation of their evidence from which the jury could decide, and the jury spoke,” he said.

Lawyers are usually not selected to serve on juries, but criminal defense attorney John Breakfield had the unique opportunity to serve as a juror for a felony case in Hall County.

“The unique ‘behind the scenes’ experience of being on a jury, and also having my legal background, emboldened and greatly increased my faith in the jury system,” he said.

He described the intense scrutiny of the decisions, discussion of facts and law, and weight of the consequences.

“I am sure the jurors on the Zimmerman case had similar emotions, debates and discussions. By sitting in the jury box, and listening to all of the testimony, the jurors understood the magnitude of their decision and almost certainly wanted to get it right,” he said.

Breakfield also called for humanizing the participants.

“I think that people have to realize that although the case is on television, none of the participants are celebrities. The prosecutors, defense lawyers, the judge, police, witnesses, families, etc., are just regular people. They are not on a television drama that handles a big case once a week,” he said. “I feel for everyone involved and the intense scrutiny and pressure everyone was under.”

Most people responding to a Times Facebook question gauging opinions on the case said they felt justice had been done, and the jurors should be given a reprieve, although others disagreed.

Speaking before a Monday night school board meeting, board member Willie Mitchell, who is African-American, said he would tell his children and grandchildren to pay attention to the case in a historical context.

“I don’t think justice was served,” he said. “I made up my mind, and I won’t be going to Florida to spend my money in the near future.”

Organizers of demonstrations across the county said they’ll try to maintain the momentum with vigils next weekend.

Advocates want federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. The Rev. Al Sharpton said Monday that his organization will hold vigils and rallies in 100 cities Saturday in front of federal buildings.

The Justice Department has said it’s considering whether federal prosecutors should file criminal civil rights charges now that Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case. The department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.

Sunday’s demonstrations, held in cities from Florida to Wisconsin, attracted anywhere from a few dozen people to a more than a thousand.

President Barack Obama, Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have urged calm.

In Atlanta, about 75 protesters chanted and carried signs near Centennial Olympic Park.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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