To the editor:
Reading back Tribune issues following a Midwestern trip, the “Death for Dunn” Sound Off item of Feb. 26 stood out. Its author, anonymously identifying as a “white female” began: “There was no justice for Trayvon Martin.” It went on to say that the shooting of Jordan Davis was “racist,” with the shooter deserving capital punishment. It is the comment about George Zimmerman’s trial that sticks.
The homicide occurred on February 26, 2012. In March, 2013, the local police chief went on administrative leave following a firestorm of criticism concerning his department’s investigation. There had been repeated calls for the arrest of George Zimmerman. The chief maintained that Zimmerman had not been arrested because there was no investigatory evidence to belie Zimmerman’s claim of self defense. The local prosecutor recused himself, succeeded by a special prosecutor in April. Shortly thereafter, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. In July Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury of five white and one non-white females. Much consternation and a spate of protests followed.
Not surprisingly, Barack Obama weighed in. He said the judge acted professionally, and the jury was properly charged prior to its verdict. As to jury instructions Obama stated that including the concept of “reasonable doubt” was correct “in a case such as this.” Our Harvard-educated, former constitutional law instructor ignored a clear opportunity to provide basic legal clarity by seeming to suggest that significant numbers of criminal prosecutions might not require judge or jury to address reasonable doubt. In fact, in virtually all criminal prosecutions “reasonable doubt” is the measure beyond which the prosecution must prove in order to obtain a guilty verdict. It is just as essential in charges of burglary or robbery as it is in cases of rape and murder. Not merely “in a case such as this,” Mr. President.