Jurors discussed Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law before rendering their not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial, one of the jurors told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
The jurors struggled with the law and the jury instructions, said the juror, who spoke anonymously and was identified only by her court ID, B37.
“The law became very confusing. It became very confusing,” she told Cooper Monday night. “We had stuff thrown at us. We had the second-degree murder charge, the manslaughter charge, then we had self defense, Stand Your Ground.”
Juror B37 mentioned Stand Your Ground a second time of her own accord, saying the jury ultimately made its not-guilty verdict Saturday night based on the evidence and “because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground.”
Still, the degree to which Stand Your Ground led to the not-guilty verdict is unclear and in dispute. Cooper never asked B37.
Stand Your Ground allows a law-abiding citizen to “meet force with force, including deadly force” if he reasonably feels threatened in a confrontation. The NRA-drafted law, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2005, made two major changes to homicide cases:
• It changed standard jury instructions, which previously held that a person had a duty to retreat by using “every reasonable means,” and,
• It gave prospective defendants the right to immunity from prosecution. To make the immunity determination, the courts established pre-trial Stand Your Ground hearings.
Gun-control advocates and many Democrats want to change or eliminate the law. Republicans, who control the Legislature, say the law has helped law-abiding citizens reduce violent crime, and they don’t want to change it.
Zimmerman’s case made Stand Your Ground, which spread to more than two dozen states after it was passed in Florida, a national topic of conversation because he wasn’t arrested for 44 days after shooting Trayvon Martin, a Miami Gardens teen, in a Sanford subdivision where he was visiting his dad on Feb. 26, 2012.
Amid protests and national media attention, Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor who then charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Zimmerman waived his right to the Stand Your Ground immunity hearing, a pre-trial event that’s not spelled out in statute. But he was afforded the protections of Stand Your Ground, which is embedded in Florida’s self-defense laws. Its language, found in statute 776.013, was tailored to the Zimmerman trial’s jury instructions and said the following:
“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Despite the language on the jury-instruction form and B37’s comments about Stand Your Ground, some commentators have said it had nothing to do with the case because it was a standard self-defense case.
But Stand Your Ground is standard self defense in Florida.
The juror, a gun-rights supporter whose interview indicated she admired Zimmerman, said she was ready to acquit the defendant at the beginning of deliberations when the six-member jury held a vote.