USA TODAY, July 16, 2013
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla. — A televised interview of Juror B-37 reveals her ease in relating to George Zimmerman and state prosecutors’ failure to humanize Trayvon Martin, some legal experts said.
The juror told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Zimmerman was “a man whose heart was in the right place,” but he went too far and did not use good judgment. She also said she thought Trayvon threw the first punch and attacked Zimmerman — and that Zimmerman had the right to shoot the teen. The juror’s statements illustrate her empathy for Zimmerman and her emotional and demographic disconnect with Trayvon, the experts said.
“She (Juror B-37) was more empathic to the living than the dead,” said Susan Constantine, a jury consultant and body language expert who attended Zimmerman’s trial regularly. “The state really needed to work with her. I would have done almost a memorial about Trayvon Martin. I would have shown these are the things he’s not going to be able to do: He’ll never have a family or he’ll never see his graduation.”
Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated townhouse community, shot and killed Trayvon, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed he shot the unarmed black teen in self-defense. Speculation that the shooting was race-related as well as avoidable sparked demonstrations nationwide.
A jury of six women found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter last week. The women’s identities have not been released and Circuit Judge Debra Nelson plans to hold a hearing on when and if their names will become public.
When the six jurors went in for deliberation, three were for acquittal, one was for second-degree murder and two were for the manslaughter charge, Juror B-37 told Cooper. All eventually came to the not guilty verdict after hours of tears and conversation, she said.
The jury got it right and Juror B-37 is simply explaining how the state didn’t prove their case, said Florida criminal defense attorney Randy Reep.
“Each juror may come to their conclusion by way of a different path — what was important was the verdict was unanimous, not the road map getting there,” he said. “Everyone agreed that this jury was engaged and attentive, so to second-guess them now is disingenuous to say the least.”
Juror B-37 is a middle-aged white woman who is the daughter of an Air Force captain and has been married to a space industry attorney for 20 years. She has two children in their 20s, and works in a management position.
On Monday, an agent announced that B-37 would write book about the trial. On Tuesday, B-37 announced that she had changed her mind.
On CNN, she said she thinks the shooting was not racially motivated and that Zimmerman would have reacted the same way to someone of any race.
She added that Trayvon calling Zimmerman a “creepy a– cracker,” wasn’t racial. “I think it’s just everyday life, the type of life that they live, and how they’re living, in the environment that they’re living in,” Juror B-37 told Cooper.
Zimmerman did have the right to carry his pistol, but he should have stayed in his car that night and not have gotten out to follow Trayvon, the juror said.
Along with the state’s failure to bring Trayvon to life, some experts said Juror B-37 also used assumptions in coming to her conclusion.
Rachel Jeantel, 19, was on the phone with Trayvon moments before he was killed. The teen said Trayvon was followed by Zimmerman and that the young man tried to get away but couldn’t lose Zimmerman.
During Jeantel’s at times contentious testimony, defense attorney Don West, the court reporter and the jury struggled to hear and understand her.
On Monday, Juror B-37 said she too had problems understanding Jeantel.
“She (Jeantel) just didn’t want to be there, and she was embarrassed by being there, because of her education and her communication skills, that she just wasn’t a good witness,” the juror said.
Jules Epstein, a law professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del., said those comments show demographic differences may have been important.
“The juror’s comments about Rachel Jeantel typecast her as an inarticulate person,” Epstein said. “This juror’s comments show where the issue of race and racial perceptions may have come into play.”
Jeantel, who is black, speaks three languages, Haitian Creole, Spanish and English. Constantine said those facts showed she was a bright young woman who was “profiled” by Juror B-37.
Reep, however, had a different take.
“The state does not have professional witnesses — they take them as they get them,” Reep said. “She (Jeantel) hurt the state. She was disagreeable, a self-professed liar, and what we learned now was that she was hard to understand based on idioms she used.”
During the trial, Jeantel admitted she had lied to authorities about her age and about going to Trayvon’s funeral. She said she was too distraught to go to Trayvon’s funeral and made up a lie that she had gone to the hospital instead. She also told the teen’s mother that she was younger than she actually was.
The state’s other witnesses also made an impact on Juror B-37.
The juror said the fact that lead investigator Christopher Serino, a Sanford police officer, thought Zimmerman was telling the truth weighed in her decision. Judge Nelson instructed jurors to disregard that statement and not consider it in their verdict following a motion by the state.
Still, the jury thought it was important.
“People trust police officers over and above family and friends,” Constantine said, adding the juror probably forgot she wasn’t supposed to weigh Serino’s opinion.
When the verdict was read, Juror B-37 looked confident about her decision. At least one juror looked upset and several others looked serious and contemplative.
Juror B-37 being the first juror to speak isn’t a big surprise to Constantine. The body language expert said the juror during individual questioning was expressive, spoke with her hands, and was somewhat eccentric. During the trial, Juror B-37 was much more reserved, took fewer notes than the other jurors, and paid a lot of attention to witnesses, Constantine said.
During pre-trial testimony questioning, Juror B-37 said she had several pets including a parrot whose cage she lined with newspapers.
“She (Juror B-37) saw him (Zimmerman) as a caregiver and she is a caregiver,” Constantine said. “She is a more forgiving person. She felt George Zimmerman was in a vulnerable position.”