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How One Zimmerman Juror Went From Second-Degree Murder To Acquittal

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"How One Zimmerman Juror Went From Second-Degree Murder To Acquittal"

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Juror B29 and her lawyer talk to ABC's Robin Roberts. (Credit: ABC)

In interviews aired Thursday night and Friday morning, a juror who identified herself as “Maddy” from the six-person panel that acquitted George Zimmerman said she changed her vote from second-degree murder to acquittal after reconsidering the law as described to her in the jury instructions.

Maddy, who was Juror B29, said that while Zimmerman “got away with murder” as far as her heart was concerned, she felt the law as described to her did not allow her to convict him. In an exchange with ABC’s Robin Roberts, she suggested that in order to find Zimmerman guilty even of manslaughter, he had to have intent to kill Trayvon Martin when he left his home:

ROBERTS: When you all sent that note to the judge asking for an explanation on manslaughter, what was that about?

MADDY: What we were trying to figure out was, manslaughter, in order to be charged, we had to prove that when he left home, he said, I’m gonna go kill Trayvon Martin.

The note referenced by Roberts was a question from the jury to the judge asking that she clarify the definition of manslaughter. The judge said she could only respond to more specific questions, and the jury never followed up with another question.

If the jury did decide that Zimmerman had to have the intent to kill Martin when he left his home, that is an incorrect assessment of the law. What Maddy describes in this exchange is equivalent to “premeditation,” and while such premeditation is required for some murder charges, it is not an element of manslaughter. In fact, the definition of “manslaughter” as described in the jury instructions makes explicit that no intent to kill is required — even at the time the gun was fired:

In order to convict of manslaughter by act, it is not necessary for the State to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death, only an intent to commit an act that was not merely negligent, justified, or excusable and which caused death.

Zimmerman’s “intent to commit an act” could be, for example, Zimmerman’s intent to shoot a gun if it was not otherwise justified or excusable. But other sections describing when killings are “excusable” or “justified” may have confused the issue. The killing is excusable when it occurs “by accident” or “in the heat of the moment.” And it is “justifiable” if it was in self-defense and Zimmerman was standing his ground, per the state’s Stand Your Ground law.

Maddy clarifies during other portions of the interview that she believed, at the very least, some intent to kill him was required:

MADDY: In between the nine hours, it was hard. A lot of us had wanted to find something that was bad, something that we could connect to the law. Because, for myself, he’s guilty. Because the evidence shows he’s guilty.

ROBERTS: He’s guilty of?

MADDY: Killing Trayvon Martin. But as the law was read to me, if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can’t say he’s guilty.

In sections of the interview that were not aired on TV but quoted in ABC’s story, Maddy also said she felt “confused” by the self-defense provision, which was the section that describes the state’s Stand Your Ground law. The other juror who appeared in a television interview, Juror B37, stated explicitly that both the law’s Stand Your Ground law and the “heat of passion” element of Excusable Homicide played into the jury’s deliberations. She also said she sympathized with Zimmerman, and four jurors issued a statement distancing themselves from her comments.

Throughout the interview, Maddy expressed remorse and heartbreak that she was instrumental in finding Zimmerman not guilty. She said she “fought to the end” and was the juror who could have led to a hung jury. Ultimately, though, she said, she believed the law dictated her result and did not regret her decision.

“I feel that I was forcibly included in Trayvon Martin’s death,” she said. “And as I carry him on my back, I’m hurting as much as Trayvon Martin’s mom is. Because there’s no way that any mother should feel that pain.” After the interview, Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, called the comments “devastating.”

When asked if she considered race in her deliberations, Maddy, the only minority on the six-person jury panel, said she had no idea how significant her views would be or how closely the case was being watched by the public.

“I didn’t know how much importance I was to this case, because I never looked at color,” she said. “And I still don’t look at color.”

After the trial, a lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s parents criticized the prosecutor for ignoring the role that race played in the case.

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