By Sylvia Hampton
August 6, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) -- I did not watch every minute of the George Zimmerman trial, but I did see the closing arguments and enough testimony to get the basic evidence against him and the arguments from the defense. I was convinced the jury would take the hint from the judge and find him guilty of manslaughter. Most talking heads have missed an important key to why the verdict came down as “not guilty” and that was the fact that the most powerful personality on the six-women jury turned out to be wrong, biased, and she pressured and got a unanimous vote. The hold-outs caved to her pressure because they were intimidated, I believe.
The reason juries exist is because nullification is a possibility: A sanctioned doctrine of trial proceedings wherein members of a jury disregard either the evidence presented or the instructions of the judge in order to reach a verdict based upon their own consciences. It espouses the concept that jurors should be the judges of both law and fact.
I have only been on one jury in my life and served as foreperson. Every other time I was called for jury duty and went through the jury selection process I was bumped quickly and sent home, delighted to be free. I learned years ago that the attorneys want people they can convince to support their side of the arguments, not necessarily people who are well informed and open-minded.
The jury I served on was for a civil damage case against a plastic surgeon accused of botching a face-lift on a 63-year-old woman. There were 12 jurors. In civil cases only nine jurors are needed for a verdict. The doctor did not testify. He had a Middle Eastern name and a dark look about him that did not help with first impressions on the jury. The attorney for the plaintiff was slick, with a British accent and a confident air. The main evidence was the “before and after” pictures of the woman. Her testimony was about what the doctor promised -- that she “would look like her face had all the lines ironed out.” From the pictures it appeared to me that she did not need a face-lift in the first place. And the “after” pictures looked just slightly better than the “before.” She was a good-looking woman.
We spent 2 long days in court over this. When we were finally sent to the jury room to deliberate, I passed out slips of paper for everyone to write down what their verdict would be at that moment. The vote was eight not guilty, two guilty and two undecided.
I was surprised there were any for “guilty” and then the deliberation began. I announced the votes and asked whoever voted “not guilty” to explain why they did so. The response was similar to my thoughts. Then I asked those who voted guilty to give their reasons. No response. So I asked those who were undecided to express the basis for their indecision. We heard just one very vague response that was quickly addressed by other jurors. So I asked if they were ready to vote again. That was when one of the male jurors jumped in to declare his opinion that the “doctor was guilty as hell.” He said he did not believe the doctor did a good job. Other jurors, including an attorney, pointed out that the case was not about the level of change in the woman’s face, but the question of any damage to the woman.
This argument lasted until we had to break and go home after two hours in the jury room. We came back the next morning and the same points were argued in the same way for over an hour ending with the most vocal man who voted “guilty” declaring he “did not trust doctors.”
At that point, with voices raised and the wheels coming off I called for another vote. Ten votes for “not guilty.” I said, “OK, we are done, thank you very much.” But the guy was still mad, still railing about doctors and directing his anger toward me as the foreperson.
The woman’s attorney stopped me in the hall and asked why we decided ‘not guilty” and I said, “You had no case and this was a waste of time for everyone.”
The jury system is great. It works almost all the time. But in the George Zimmerman case it did not fulfill its responsibility to see the big picture where a kid who was minding his own business with nothing in his possession but a can of tea, candy and a cell phone was shot and killed by an armed man cop-wannabe who did things he should not have done and made choices he should not have made and told the world he had no regrets.
A biased juror with the strongest personality and the loudest voice got the votes she wanted to declare him not guilty.
The opinions in this column reflect the views of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine.
Sylvia Hampton is a community activist inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of fame for 2008 for her work in the fields of healthcare reform, social justice and reproductive health. She is past president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County and served on President Nixon’s Title X Family Planning Council. Opinions are Sylvia’s alone and not to be interpreted as the policies of the League of Women Voters or East County Magazine.