The composition of the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman has caused concern among some African-American legal experts who contend that a panel of six women — five of them white and one Hispanic — may not be favorably disposed to the prosecution’s case in the death of Trayvon Martin.
“The composition of the jury doesn’t bode well for the prosecution, in my opinion,” said Royce Russell, a defense attorney in New York who represents the family of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed 18-year-old young man who was killed by police a year ago.
“This case is being tried in a very conservative county in Florida,” Russell said, in an interview with BET.com. “And when it comes to conservative communities, you find that white women tend to harbor fear against young Black men. Their view of young African-American men may not be so positive.”
The selection of jurors in the Zimmerman case came on Thursday when a group of six women were chosen to determine the fate of Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the 18-year-old Martin.
An additional four alternates were selected for the jury, including three white women and one African-American man. In Florida, juries for cases other than those of first-degree murder consist of six members, as opposed to nine.
For their part, the family of Trayvon Martin has a more measured reaction to the composition of the jury, saying that they believed that it was possible that the jurors might well decide to convict Zimmerman.
“This case has always been about equal justice,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the parents of the unarmed 17-year-old Martin, in a statement. “Equal justice under the law is not a Black value or a white value. It's an American value. With the makeup of this jury, the question of whether every American can get equal justice regardless of who serves on their jury panel will be answered. We expect the jury pool to do their duty and be fair and impartial.”
Crump added that the family believes “that when these jurors see the overwhelming evidence that will be put before them in the coming weeks, they will find George Zimmerman guilty of murder on the night in question.”
Not all are similarly convinced, however.
“History shows that overwhelmingly, all white or largely white juries acquit white defendants and convict Black defendants to a far high degree than a diverse jury,” Byron Franklin, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and at Coppin State University in Maryland, in an interview with BET.com.
“My concern is that the composition of this jury is one that seems likely to acquit George Zimmerman,” Franklin said. “I’m concerned because there were several jurors that the prosecution tried to remove, but were selected anyway.”
Franklin added: “This doesn’t mean that white defendants are always acquitted in cases like this with all-white juries or predominantly white juries. But this one certainly has me concerned.”
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