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Many people will have already seen this, but some won’t have — and everyone should. This is Zimmerman Juror B-29, who for some time was the only holdout against acquittal. Her name is Maddy, she’s of Puerto Rican ancestry, she’s a Certified Nurses Assistant and a mother of eight — and she feels very badly that, in ultimately agreeing that the law required her to vote to let Zimmerman “get away with murder,” she let both him and his parents down.
I like this woman based on what she said. And I can both understand and sympathize with her belief that she had to vote for acquittal because the law simply didn’t apply otherwise. (If the law didn’t apply, that was largely due to the judge’s jury instructions, which were themselves as they were largely due to the fact that the prosecution made Zimmerman’s defense case for him by introducing hearsay evidence that would exculpate him without requiring him to take the stand.) But there’s one line of argument in her explanation that deeply disturbed me.
She invoked God as the basis for her decision.
ABC interviewer Robin Roberts asked her this: “Did you feel that you were bullied?”
She replied: “I trust God that I wasn’t bullied.”
I don’t think that one should trust God that one wasn’t bullied, especially on a jury with the outspoken aspiring author Juror B-37. For whatever purpose, God seems to allow bullying to occur.
Later, Roberts asked her if she had regrets that she didn’t make it a hung jury. After hesitating, she said: “kind of.” She then expressed her sympathy and empathy for Trayvon’s parents.
Roberts then asked her how she would answer those critics who say that “George Zimmerman got away with murder.” She eventually said it herself, but she didn’t stop there.
George Zimmerman got away with murder. But you can’t get away from God. And at the end of the day, he’s going to have a lot of questions and answers he has to deal with. The law couldn’t prove it; we just have to believe in the Lord that if he’s asked to pay, he will pay.
As I sometimes note here, I am unfashionably religious, although other than my beliefs falling within the broadly inclusive general frame of Reform Judaism I don’t take part in organized religion. But I think that those views, comforting and quintessentially human as they are, have no place in a court proceeding, especially in a jury box.
While I believe that there is a God — not an embodied and personalized Zeus-like thunderbolt throwing God, but someone not of this earth and surely beyond human understanding that imbues our reality with morality and purpose — I think that if there’s one thing we can conclude about God it is that God did not want to make God’s own existence too obvious. God left room for subjective free will — and thus for doubt. Rather than being a flaw in the system, I see that as a core feature of the system. And the corollary I draw from that is: you’re supposed to act as if there is morality and purpose in life, but that there is no afterlife in which individuals are rewarded or punished for what they do here.
(A side note: If there is a personalized afterlife, which I like to imagine but tend to doubt, I suspect that the only rewards and punishments would be satisfaction at having acted morally and shame at not having done so. But my own suspicion is that an afterlife would involve a return to the cosmic Ocean of Soul in which all human experience may be recorded and reviewed.)
You may or may not agree with my take on religion, but I will submit this to you: the belief that no individual reward or punishment follows us after death should be our civic equivalent of religion — adopted at least for the sole purpose of making decisions in criminal cases. One should not be able to take heart in the notion of divine justice after we die — because despite our individual beliefs we do not know individually or (more important) collectively that it does exist. We cannot give ourselves that out.
If a belief in divine justice is what kept Juror B-29, this fine woman placed into a difficult and stressful situation, from deciding that she would hang the jury, then she should have hung the jury. In the legal system, we should take no comfort in the belief, no matter how deeply felt, that someone or something else will perform the task of deciding guilt or innocence that has been assigned, by law, to us.
This shunting aside the responsibility for making a decision to God happens with sufficient frequency that I wish that a standard jury instruction could be crafted to tell jurors explicitly not to do it. That’s the kind of proposal, however, that I expect would not make it through many trial courts.
This is your more serious than usual Weekend Open Thread. Talk about this or anything else you wish, within broad bounds of decency and decorum. Your weekly Dearthwatch, charting what was until this week incessant decline of the online presence of the OC Register, appears below.