Juror: Trayvon played 'huge role' in own death

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJuly 17, 2013 

Trayvon Martin “played a huge role in his death,” one of the six jurors who acquitted George Zimmerman in the killing of the Miami Gardens teen said in an interview that aired Tuesday night.

“When George confronted him, he could have walked away and gone home,” Juror B37 told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “He didn’t have to do whatever he did and come back and be in a fight.”

The juror conceded that Zimmerman had exercised bad judgment when he got out of his car to follow Trayvon, setting into motion the chain of events that led to the fatal shooting of the unarmed teen.

Zimmerman “started the ball rolling,” the juror said. “He could have avoided the whole situation by staying in the car.” But “when the end came to the end, he was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin,” the juror said, adding that she believed testimony from Zimmerman, who did not take the witness stand, would not have made a difference in the outcome of the case.

Juror B37 spoke to Cooper on Monday on the condition she would not be named. She appeared on the show obscured by a dark shadow.

All that is known about the woman comes from her pre-trial interviews. She is middle-aged, has two grown children, once had a license to carry a concealed weapon and worked for a chiropractor for 16 years.

The names of the six jurors, all women, will not become public record for several months. That doesn’t bar jurors from speaking out or revealing their identities if they choose.

On Monday, Juror B37 announced that she had inked a deal with a literary agent to write a book. She backed off her plans Tuesday, saying that the sequestration of the jury during the long trial had “shielded [her] from the depth of pain that exists among the general public over every aspect of this case.”

Speaking to CNN’s Cooper, the juror said she felt as if she had gotten to know Zimmerman. She called the defendant by his first name and said she knew what motivated him.

By contrast, the juror said she knew little about Trayvon.

“We basically had no information about what kind of a boy Trayvon was and what he did,” she said. “We know where he went to school. That was about it — and that he lived in Miami.”

When asked what she would say to Trayvon’s parents, the juror responded: “I would say, I’m terribly sorry for your loss. It’s a tragedy…. I didn’t know him, but I felt their pain because of his death.”

Fighting back tears, she added: “I felt bad that we couldn’t give them the verdict that they wanted. But legally, we couldn’t do that.”

The CNN interview also raised new questions about the role Florida’s Stand Your Ground law played in the jury deliberations.

Under the 2005 self-defense law, a person may use deadly force if the person “reasonably believes” he or she is in a life-threatening situation — and has no obligation to attempt to retreat from the threat.

Zimmerman waived his right to a Stand Your Ground hearing before trial, and did not invoke is as part of the defense strategy. But it was included in the jury instructions.

In the portion of the interview that aired Monday, Juror B37 said she and the other five members believed Trayvon was the aggressor in the Feb. 26, 2012, confrontation. The remarks that aired Tuesday, however, were more nuanced.

“I think the roles changed,” the juror explained. “I think George got in a little too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him and get one over up on him. I think Travyon got mad and attacked him.”

The already-controversial law garnered new critics Tuesday, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Speaking at the NAACP’s annual convention in Orlando, Holder said the time had come “to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.”

“By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety,” Holder said.

Miami lawyer David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor, called the speech “appropriate” in light of the concerns raised by civil rights organizations.

To date, more than one million people have signed an NAACP petition urging the U.S. Department of Justice to file federal civil-rights violation charges against Zimmerman, the organization said.

“The Justice Department has a high burden of proof to meet before they can file any federal charges,” Weinstein said. “His shifting of the focus from an investigation into possible civil rights-hate crime charges to an analysis of self-defense laws was the appropriate response. This approach will keep people’s expectations in check and not create false hope.”

The sentiment was echoed in Tallahassee, where more than 100 student activists crowded into Gov. Rick Scott’s office to demand a repeal of the self-defense law in Florida.

The activists, who called themselves the Dream Defenders, called on Scott to convene a special session of the Legislature dedicated to Stand Your Ground, racial profiling and what they called the school-to-prison pipeline. They also called on Florida lawmakers to pass a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.

“If the courts aren’t going to deal with these issues, we have to call upon our elected officials to make changes,” said Nailah Summers, 25, a Miami Beach native and president of the University of Florida chapter of the Dream Defenders.

Summers and the other protesters flooded Scott’s office early Tuesday, and pledged to stay until they could meet with the governor.

There was one problem: Scott was in New York.

The young activists decided to wait for the governor’s return.

When the Capitol closed at 5 p.m., police allowed about two dozen protesters to stay inside overnight. The Dream Defenders planned to dine on leftover pizza and sleep on the tile floors.

It was unclear when Scott would return to his office, or if he planned to meet with the students Wednesday. But Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers pointed out that the governor had already convened a task force to review the Stand Your Ground law last year.

“The task force recommended that the law should not be overturned and Gov. Scott agrees,” Sellers said.

Protests elsewhere in the country were less peaceful. In Los Angeles, protesters broke windows and blocked the freeway. At least 14 people were arrested, according to published reports.

Trayvon supporters also took to social media Tuesday, many to propose a boycott of Florida until Stand Your Ground is repealed.

At least two online petitions on MoveOn.org demanding the law be reformed or repealed have garnered about 7,200 signatures. A separate Boycott Florida page on Facebook has more than 1,300 “likes.”

R&B legend Stevie Wonder announced during his Quebec City performance on Sunday that he will not perform in Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is repealed.

“The truth is that — for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world — we can’t bring them back,” he was quoted as saying in the Hollywood Reporter. “What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.”

Miami Herald staff writers Audra D. S. Burch and Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

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