“There is evidence that the defendant is the provoker, especially when he admits that he was following,” Mantei said.
But West responded: “Walking up to somebody, following somebody is not enough to get you to the legal definition of provoked.”
The judge sided with the defense, though some lawyers think West bluffed her and she ought to have had a version of the aggressor statute in the instructions.
But even if the “aggressor” instructions had remained, anonymous juror B37 told CNN that she believed Zimmerman’s defense: He followed a suspicious-looking Trayvon, lost him and then got jumped by the teen.
Trayvon was the aggressor under this scenario.
Yet juror B37 also said that some of the jurors “wanted to find him [Zimmerman] guilty of something.”
And one juror, she said, specifically was interested in how or whether Zimmerman’s decision to get out of his vehicle and follow Trayvon could fit with a manslaughter charge.
There’s a chance this other juror might have found Zimmerman guilty because he was an aggressor. If so, and if B37 stuck to her guns (which sounds likely from what she told CNN), the six-member jury would have hung July 20, and Zimmerman wouldn’t be convicted.
But there was no language about starting a fight and then using self-defense, and the instructions were confusing, B37 said.
“After hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law and reading it over and over and over again,” she said, “we decided there’s just no other place to go” but render a not-guilty verdict.
B37 twice mentioned Stand Your Ground in discussing the jury’s deliberations.
Even without the 2005 law, would the jurors have been persuaded to consider Zimmerman more of an “aggressor” under the old “duty to retreat” provision? That’s a hypothetical atop a hypothetical.
And when does that duty to retreat begin?
Under Zimmerman’s defense, he had no ability to retreat; he was unexpectedly and savagely attacked. Before he was jumped, there was no confrontation and, therefore, no duty to get away from something that hadn’t happened yet.
But even if Stand Your Ground were not on the books and the aggressor language had been part of the jury instructions and if the jury found Zimmerman was the aggressor, he still could be found not guilty.
The aggressor statute says a person who provokes a violent confrontation can still use “force which is likely to cause death” if he “reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger.”
That language and section of that law predates Stand Your Ground.
The general “use of force in defense of person” law found in 776.012 has nearly identical self-defense language. And it, too, predates Stand Your Ground (which is sandwiched between the predating statutes at 776.013).
Zimmerman had a bloody head and nose to help prove he was being beaten. And juror B37 believed that scared screams of “help” heard in the background of a neighbor’s 911 call were Zimmerman’s. One witness said he saw Trayvon raining down blows on Zimmerman before the shooting.
So whether you like Stand Your Ground or not, it’s not the whole story when it comes to the Zimmerman verdict. It’s part of it. It gave Zimmerman extra protections and made the prosecution’s already tough job even tougher.
But we don’t know how much Stand Your Ground factored into the verdict.
The whole story will never be known. Zimmerman, after all, shot and killed the only other eyewitness.
And when you’re a defendant and the only eyewitness — when there’s little evidence to contradict the main thrust of your defense and when the prosecution gets outfoxed — the chances are extremely high that you’ll be found not guilty, regardless of Stand Your Ground.