- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Everybody in trouble with the law is entitled to a fair trial. Nobody is guilty until a court looks at the evidence and decides. A man is innocent until proved guilty. But sometimes we hold the trial at the circus, not the courthouse.

The state of Florida has charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman says he shot the boy in fear of his life. Now the court, and a jury if it gets that far, must shut their ears to the shriek and clatter of the circus, listen to cold facts, and decide.

This won’t be easy. The suspect made his first appearance in court Thursday, arraigned on the second-degree murder charge, and his lawyer in his best judgment declined to ask for bail, citing “fervor” outside the courthouse.

“Fervor” has been the name of the exercise since the usual suspects discovered the incident several weeks after the fact, and concluded that it would be such a shame to let opportunity go to waste. The eminent divines Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton arrived as if on cue, elbowing each other out of the way to be the first in front of the cameras. Skilled in the arts of angering and inflaming, they wanted to “help.” They got unexpected help from President Obama, who stirred the anger from the White House with an appeal to emotions rubbed raw in Florida. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

But what looked at first like an atrocity, a redneck execution of a cherubic black boy staring at us from a grammar school photograph, no longer looks like an atrocity, but a tragedy.

Trayvon’s mother now says it was an “accident.” She wants an apology, an acknowledgment of her son’s worth and of her loss, a recognition of what might have been if he had not been cheated of his life. “I believe it just got out of control and he couldn’t turn the clock back,” Sybrina Fulton said of George Zimmerman on NBC’s “Today” show. She would ask Mr. Zimmerman, she said, “Did he know [Trayvon] was a minor, that he was a teenager and that he did not have a weapon?” She suggested she would be satisfied even if Mr. Zimmerman is acquitted by a proper court. “We just want him to be held accountable for what he has done. We are happy that he was arrested so he could give his side of the story.”

That’s not much for a mother to ask, particularly from a broken heart. But the Big Top is up, the tent stakes have been driven deep into the ground, ready for a long run. The circus is no place to calm a crowd. She “clarified” her remarks later, suggesting that maybe she didn’t mean exactly what she said.

The Florida authorities, finally taking control of the story, understand that mere justice is not enough. There must be the reassurance of the perception of justice. Gov. Rick Scott appointed a female special prosecutor, Angela Corey of Jacksonville, and the case was assigned to Jessica Recksiedler, a female judge of the state circuit court. These won’t be good ol’ boys at work, eager to cover up mischief and misdeeds of white men.

The special prosecutor could have taken the case to a grand jury, which might have declined to return an indictment, despite a prosecutor’s celebrated talent for indicting a ham sandwich. The governor no doubt wants a jury, or at least a judge, to make the determination of guilt or innocence. The state must prove that George Zimmerman was motivated by “hatred or ill will,” and his lawyers must prove only that “a preponderance of the evidence” - a lower standard - shows him to have acted in self-defense. One prominent Florida defense lawyer thinks it’s likely, given the weight of the evidence already public, that the judge would dismiss the case when the jury retires to hear the evidence.

Then the circus could resume. The Justice Department is investigating whether the shooting of Trayvon Martin violated federal civil rights laws, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. promises that “at every step the facts and the law will guide us forward.” But it’s clear where his hopes and sympathies lie.

Only this week he embraced Al Sharpton at a civil rights convention in Washington, thanking him “for your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless.” Only two cheers for the Big Top.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.