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Serious murder trial reduced to soap opera

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Tue Jul 16, 2013

Editor: The much publicized murder trial of George Zimmerman is over and he is acquitted, but Afro-American groups are not satisfied with the decision and are calling on the federal government to intervene and to file civil rights charges against the 29-year-old shooter.{{more}}

I am amazed at the type of coverage given by my favourite television station, CNN, to the hearing. The reporters, commentators and so-called experts, have reduced a serious murder trial into a soap opera. It is unbelievable that a national TV station could devote so many hours to televise not only the trial, but silly comments from attorneys who are considered experts. It is a shame.

It is more than a TV trial, and the views expressed by some of the experienced lawyers are total nonsense. How can someone know what was operating in the minds of Zimmerman, the witnesses and experts who testified? What is laughable is that while the jury was deliberating, the so-called experts were discussing on national television what they thought was operating in the minds of the six women who were considering the verdict.

The legal system in Florida, and the United States on the whole, is so different from the English legal system. Look Adam Harris, the editor-in-chief of the Guyana Kaieteur News and reporter Rehanna Ramsay were fined by Justice Brassington Reynolds for contempt of court for reporting what transpired in a voir dire – because the jury was absent. I recall in 1965, a robbery trial was aborted because the reporter, my good friend Vic Hall, reported in the Evening Post that one of the accused in the Smith brothers bank robbery trial was acquitted for robbery two weeks before the bank robbery trial started. Defence counsel Fred Wills brought it to the trial judge’s attention and said it would be prejudicial to his client. The judge agreed and ordered a mistrial. Compare the two incidents in Guyana to the Zimmerman trial.

Judge Debra Nelson’s instructions to the jury were merely on the law of homicide, manslaughter and self-defence. She did not analyze the evidence, as is done by judges in the Caribbean, but it seems as if the TV reporters and experts went overboard with this to their viewers, which to my mind is outrageous and silly.

Another point I wish to make is that the jury selection took several days and they came up with a panel of six women – five white women and a hispanic. What was amazing was that the defence lawyers were happy with the panel. It is different from the English system, since prosecutors were permitted to speak to the press while the jury were deliberating. The defence attorneys did not address the media until after the verdict was read and lead counsel Mark O’Mara, a former prosecutor, admitted that the judicial system could be unfair to African Americans.

Civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson and the president and CEO of NAACP Ben Jealous contend that the shooting was racially motivated. Meanwhile, Zimmerman was advised to remain indoors because of death threats.

Oscar Ramjeet