The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 17, 2013

Zimmerman juror offers sole window into verdict

By Dan Zak
The Washington Post

— The Florida woman was cloaked in shadow, yet her appearance on CNN made her the public face of the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman of murder and manslaughter barely 48 hours earlier. She was at times inarticulate and self-contradictory during prime-time interviews Monday and Tuesday, but she is the sole real window into the two days of private deliberation that produced a very public verdict, whose announcement was viewed live on television Saturday night and triggered large demonstrations across the country.

Juror B37, a middle-aged white resident of Seminole County and the mother of two adult children, appeared on TV as a silhouette, hungry enough for publicity to sit across from Anderson Cooper but cautious enough to demand the anonymity afforded by CNN and the court — pending a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing on the release of jurors' identities to the public.

The public has tried to glean meaning from what she told Cooper — that Zimmerman's "heart was in the right place," that things "just went terribly wrong" — and everyone from pundits to Twitter trolls have condemned her statements as misbegotten or racist. (Four other jurors emphasized Tuesday that B37 did not reflect their views.) And in the visceral reaction to one juror speaking out, it's possible to feel the tension in the American system of trial by jury: People want juries to do so much more than they are empowered or supposed to do.

That desire might be rooted in the colonial role of juries as a bulwark against British rule, says Douglas Green, who lectures on jury selection and serves as president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

"The right to a jury trial was fundamental to the colonies because they wanted to resist the authority of the crown," Green says. "The reason people object when they hear these verdicts is because of this colonial perception of a jury as standing up for what is 'the right thing to do,' " not for what is the correct, case-specific application of a certain law to a certain body of evidence.

The Zimmerman jury was initially split, Juror B37 told Cooper, with three voting "not guilty," two advocating manslaughter and one ready to convict Zimmerman on the second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. All but one juror thought that the cries for help on a 911 call were Zimmerman's, she said. After 16-plus hours of deliberation, when all six women attested to their unanimous verdict, "that's when everybody started to cry," B37 said, her voice quavering with emotion.

(In their statement late Tuesday, the four jurors said that Martin's death weighed on them emotionally and that the trial took its toll physically. But, the Associated Press reported, the jurors said "they did what the law required them to do.")

In the television interviews, B37 sounded reticent and fatigued, as she did a month earlier when answering questions during a special round of pre-publicity jury selection, in which lawyers assessed potential jurors' exposure to media coverage.

"I have no time to do anything other than feed my animals," she told state prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda on June 11, adding that she occasionally watches the "Today" show and uses newspapers only to line her parrot's cage.

Either in spite or because of her apparent ignorance of the circumstances surrounding Martin's death, B37 was empaneled on the six-person jury (only capital-offense trials require 12 jurors in Florida) and spent three weeks sequestered from the outside world as she heard arguments and testimony at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Fla.

Tall and slender, with long brown hair, Juror B37 watched the trial from the front row of the jury box, just steps from Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. B37 usually stared straight ahead, taking in the motions of the trial but little of the surrounding spectacle. She was serious, focused, intense. While lawyers made their closing arguments, other jurors took notes furiously, but B37 seldom jotted down a word. Some in the courtroom speculated that she'd already made up her mind by that point.

Her willingness to speak on national television, even after expressing a stand-offishness before opening arguments, isn't a surprise to Green.

"These jurors have been through a lot, emotionally and physically — long, hard days listening to a lot of evidence — and they haven't been able to talk about it to friends or family or even their fellow jurors," Green says. "At the end of this process, the ability to talk to somebody is therapeutic."

B37 seemed both certain and confused during her CNN interview Monday, at one point saying that the jury "knew exactly what happened," yet adding 30 seconds later that "I don't think anybody knows" what really happened.

Cooper asked her why she was speaking out.

"I want people to know that we put everything into everything to get this verdict," she said, her voice breaking again.

"We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards," she continued. "I don't think any of us could ever do anything like that ever again."

On Monday morning, B37 was represented by Seattle-based literary agent Sharlene Martin, who was ready to shop around a book about "the commitment it takes to serve and be sequestered on a jury in a highly publicized murder trial." Mere hours after the interview aired, Martin tweeted that she was rescinding her offer of representation. Martin told the Los Angeles Times that she and B37 agreed to abort the project after the CNN interview but before a Twitter-fueled online petition was activated to squelch the deal.

Being sequestered "shielded me from the depth of pain that exists among the general public," Juror B37 said in a statement released through Martin on Twitter around 1 a.m. Tuesday.

During the second part of her interview, which aired Tuesday night, Cooper asked B37 whether she thought Trayvon Martin had played a part in his own death.

"Oh, I believe he played a huge role in his death," she said, adding that "when George confronted him, he could have walked away and gone home. He didn't have to do whatever he did and come back and be in a fight."

That mentality suggests that the jury accepted, at face value, Zimmerman's pretrial statements about Martin throwing the first punch, says Orlando criminal defense lawyer Aramis Donell Ayala, who notes that juries are instructed to apply Florida's self-defense statute "at the time the force was used" — not, say, at the time one person initiates an encounter by following another.

Therein lies the larger question of how clearly the jury-selection process reveals racial biases, Ayala says, and where aggression starts in the timeline of a crime.

"The sad part is that no one sees the profiling — or the following of a person whom you've profiled — as a big enough social issue to make it illegal," she says.

Juror B37, for her part, told Cooper that "race did not play a role" in the deliberation room. In the statement released within hours of her Monday interview, she expressed a desire to fade back into obscurity.

"Now that I am returned to my family and to society in general," she said, "I have realized that the best direction for me to go is away from writing any sort of book and return instead to my life as it was before I was called to sit on this jury."

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Washington Post staff writer Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.