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I Don't See Murder Here

Contrary to what George Zimmerman's lead attorney asserts, "not guilty" -- should that be the jury's verdict -- is not the same as "absolute innocence" in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
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The jury left the courtroom just before 2:30 Friday afternoon to begin its deliberations, but the court of public opinion is in full swing arguing about what the jury should do.

I, for one, would not convict George Zimmerman of second-degree murder. I might find him guilty of manslaughter, but even that would be a stretch based on the evidence presented to that Sanford, Fla. jury.

Still, contrary to what George Zimmerman's lead attorney asserts, "not guilty" -- should that be the jury's verdict -- is not the same as "absolute innocence" in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the teenager he mistakenly assumed to be a menace to society, or, at least, to the residents of a Florida community where he volunteered in a neighborhood patrol.

The lawyer, Mark O'Mara, says he wishes the choices were guilty, not guilty and completely innocent because, as he sees it, Zimmerman "is completely innocent." I beg to differ.

Reasonable people -- whether they are in Zimmerman's corner or not -- must concede that Zimmerman screwed up when he took it upon himself to track Trayvon as the teenager nonchalantly walked towards the home of his father's friend after a quick trip to a 7-Eleven to buy snacks. As Trayvon talked on a cell phone with a friend, Zimmerman -- "a cop wannabe," the prosecution calls him -- dialed 911 and reported: "There's a real suspicious guy... This guy looks like he's up to no good. He's like he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about... He's just staring, looking at all the houses... Something's wrong with him. Yes, he's coming to check me out." Zimmerman opened his call with a reminder that "We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood"; and, as he followed Trayvon, muttered in exasperation, "They always get away."

Zimmerman was wrong in his assumptions, wrong in his attitude, wrong in ignoring the advice of the police dispatcher to stay put and wait for the police to come, wrong in confronting Trayvon, wrong in shooting him, wrong in lying about what transpired. That said, however, he may not be guilty of murder. Under Florida law, a reasonable jury relying on its common sense can reasonably find that, as he tussled with Trayvon, he feared for his life and shot in self defense. That he resorted to deadly force because he actually believed he faced "death or great bodily harm." That he acted as "a reasonably prudent and cautious person" would have done in those circumstances.

In the view from my armchair couch potato juror's seat, prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman, as wrong as he was in what he did that rainy February night, committed murder. Maybe manslaughter, a death resulting from "accident and misfortune."

That is hard to swallow on so many levels. But this is not a case to right all racial wrongs. This is not a case against all who have abused blacks throughout United States history. This is a case against one man: George Zimmerman.

Should a court set him free after the jury reaches a unanimous verdict, the response of those who disagree with that verdict should not be to lie in wait for an opportunity to dole out street justice. Nor should it be to rampage through the streets of Sanford, Fla., or anywhere else.