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Editorial: Verdict doubts

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard that a jury must use in weighing whether a defendant is guilty or not.

The six women impaneled in the case of George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Fla., resident and neighborhood watch captain on trial for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year, spent five weeks listening to more than 50 witnesses and looking at 60 pieces of evidence. And during the deliberation, one that took place for roughly 16 hours over the course of two days, the jury found that there was indeed reasonable doubt.

As outrageous the acquittal of Zimmerman of second-degree and murder charges may be for those on the outside of this case, the jury did its job correctly.

If there’s blame here — and there is — it rests many other places in this tragedy.

Let’s begin with what first happened. Zimmerman, out on patrol, spotted a black teenager on the street of his gated community. Armed, Zimmerman, decided to trail Martin, first in his truck and then on foot — ignoring advice from a police dispatcher to stop following the teen.

A struggle ensued, leaving Martin dead.

Such a fatal shooting calls for immediate and thorough investigation. Yet that’s not what happened. There was no arrest for two weeks, with the Sanford Police chief saying there was no proof that Zimmerman didn’t act in self defense. Were the police handcuffed by Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which forces them to have specific evidence in disproving a self-defense claim?

Or did race contribute to this story?

What we do know here is that it took public outcry and federal intervention by the Justice Department and the FBI to get the state of Florida to act.

But with no eye-witnesses, the evidence involved conflicting statements and little else. Couple this with a weak prosecution and a defense that made its case for self defense, and the jury could not be convinced beyond reasonable doubt.

If there is justice to be had here, it must come from a decision by Florida, and all the other states for that matter, to treat all shooting deaths as the kind of horrible incident that they are, even where self-defense may come into play.

In Florida’s case, where the “stand your ground” statute places the burden of proof on the prosecutors, the law should not keep those empowered to protect society from doing their job.

There should never be reasonable doubt that the state did all it could to see justice prevail.

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