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Editorials

The Trayvon Martin verdict

Published:   |   Updated: July 15, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Given the uncertain evidence they were presented, the jury's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Stanford is no surprise, but it is no vindication of Zimmerman's actions.

The verdict caused protests to be organized around the nation, including Tampa, by those who felt Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was black. Zimmerman denied race was a factor. The trial did not resolve the matter.

The second-degree murder charge Zimmerman faced may have been overblown and based more on political pressure than solid evidence.

But even the 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer's version of events revealed reckless behavior that needlessly jeopardized lives, including his own.

He may not have intended to shoot anyone when he followed the teenager who was returning from buying a snack at a convenience store. But he assumed Martin was up to no good and, ignoring the instructions of a 911 operator, pursued him into a fatal conflict.

If Zimmerman's account is truthful, he genuinely may have been in fear of his life when he shot the unarmed Martin, who he says was on top of him and slamming his head onto the sidewalk.

With conflicting versions of what happened that February 2012 night, it is understandable jurors failed to find the Sanford man guilty of either second-degree murder or manslaughter.

The murder charge would have required jurors to conclude Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred or spite. The manslaughter charge required that they determined he acted without lawful justification. If Martin was indeed beating Zimmerman, then a conviction on either charge would be difficult. Zimmerman, however foolish his prior actions, could say he was defending himself. He probably wouldn't even need the protection of Florida's lenient Stand Your Ground law.

The case has caused widespread debate about racial profiling. That discussion, as the Martin family lawyer pointed out after the verdict, may benefit the nation. But the jurors, who listened to three weeks of testimony, had to attend the details of the case, not its political ramifications.

Their judgment may be appropriate, however unsatisfying. Yet the fact remains: A teenager is dead for no good reason. Zimmerman may not have committed a crime, but he caused a tragedy.

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