By Jerrianne Hayslett, Anatomy of a Trial blog

Jerrianne Hayslett

Jerrianne Hayslett

Editor’s Note: Jerrianne is a long-time friend of the museum. For years, she served as Los Angeles Superior Court’s media liaison and information officer and coordinated media logistics for numerous high-profile cases, including the O. J. Simpson criminal and civil trials, the Menendez brothers, Heidi Fleiss, Rodney King beating, and two cases involving Michael Jackson.

News reports and opinion pieces have been full of comparisons between the George Zimmerman and O.J. Simpson trials on murder charges. I jumped on that bandwagon with my “Déja Vu All Over Again” post on this blog.

A good friend and the most experienced and knowledgeable non-lawyer person on courtroom proceedings I know, however, begged to differ.

Other than public perception, she said, there is no comparison between the two trials.

OJ Simpson on the cover of TIME Magazine,  June 27, 1994. Simpson was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the murder of his wife and her friend.

OJ Simpson on the cover of TIME Magazine, June 27, 1994. Simpson was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the murder of his wife and her friend.

I certainly agree that public perception is a common denominator and huge factor in measuring the Zimmerman trial against Simpson’s. But I believe other similarities are present, too.

One is the prosecution’s less than stellar, even ineffectual, performance. Another is that both defendants had juries of their peers racial makeup is concerned. Both trials were highly emotional, polarizing, fraught with the role racism played or might have played in the case, and both were scored by a wide swath of media and pundits as if they were sporting events.

Unlike sporting events, however, in which few other than team fans care much about the outcome, just everybody who knew about Nicole Brown’s and Ron Goldman’s murders and Simpson’s trial, and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s trial have strong feelings/opinions about the verdicts in those cases.

My friend asserted that Florida law was the cause of acquittal. Certainly, Zimmerman’s claim of self defense was the crux of the case his lawyers presented and of jury instructions. Lost, not considered or even absent, though, was Trayvon Martin’s need, attempt or right to defend himself.

The question that should be asked, my friend said, is what would have happened under that law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed….

One finding cited in a Tampa Bay Times story is, “Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.”

Read Jerrianne’s full discussion of the case here.
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