Did George Zimmerman get away with murder? That’s what one of his jurors says, according to headlines in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and dozens of other newspapers. Trayvon Martin’s mother and the Martin family’s attorney are trumpeting this “new information” as proof that “George Zimmerman literally got away with murder.”
The reports are based on an ABC News interview with Juror B29, the sole nonwhite juror. She has identified herself only by her first name, Maddy. She’s been framed as the woman who was bullied out of voting to convict Zimmerman. But that’s not true. She stands by the verdict. She yielded to the evidence and the law, not to bullying. She thinks Zimmerman was morally culpable but not legally guilty. And she wants us to distinguish between this trial and larger questions of race and justice.
ABC News hasn’t posted a full unedited video or transcript of the interview. The video that has been broadcast—on World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America—has been cut and spliced in different ways, often so artfully that the transitions appear continuous. So beware what you’re seeing. But the video that’s available already shows, on closer inspection, that Maddy has been manipulated and misrepresented. Here are the key points.
1. The phrase “got away with murder” was put in her mouth. Nightline shows ABC interviewer Robin Roberts asking Maddy: “Some people have said, ‘George Zimmerman got away with murder. How do you respond to those people who say that?’ ” Maddy appears to reply promptly and confidently: “George Zimmerman got away with murder. But you can’t get away from God.” But that’s not quite how the exchange happened. In the unedited video, Roberts’ question is longer, with words that have been trimmed from the Nightline version, and Maddy pauses twice, for several seconds, as she struggles to answer it. “… George Zimmerman … That’s—George Zimmerman got away with murder. But you can’t get away from God.”
You have to watch her, not just read her words, to pick up her meaning. As she struggles to answer, she looks as though she’s trying to reconcile the sentiment that’s been quoted to her—that Zimmerman “got away with murder”—with her own perspective. So she repeats the quote and adds words of her own, to convey what she thinks: that there’s a justice higher than the law, which Zimmerman will have to face. She thinks he’s morally culpable, not legally guilty.
2. She stands by the verdict. ABC’s online story about the interview ends with Maddy asking, “Did I go the right way? Did I go the wrong way?” But that’s not the whole quote. In the unedited video, she continues: “I know I went the right way, because by the law and the way it was followed is the way I went. But if I would have used my heart, I probably would have [gone for] a hung jury.” In another clip, she draws the same distinction: “I stand by the decision because of the law. If I stand by the decision because of my heart, he would have been guilty.” At one point, she says that “the evidence shows he’s guilty.” Roberts presses her: “He’s guilty of?” Maddy answers: “Killing Trayvon Martin. But as the law was read to me, if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can’t say he’s guilty.” That’s the distinction she’s trying to draw here: Killing is one thing. Murder or manslaughter is another.
3. She thinks the case should never have gone to trial. According to ABC News, when Roberts asked “whether the case should have gone to trial,” Maddy answered, “I don’t think so. … I felt like this was a publicity stunt.”
4. The jury was not ethnically divided on Zimmerman’s culpability. Unlike Juror B37, who spoke to CNN, Maddy doesn’t say—at least not in the edited clips—that Zimmerman was a good man or that Martin shares the blame. But some white jurors seem to have shared Maddy’s feelings. “A lot of us had wanted to find something bad, something that we could connect to the law,” she says. “We felt he was guilty,” she adds in other comments quoted by ABC News. “But we had to grab our hearts and put it aside and look at the evidence.”
5. Race wasn’t discussed, and she didn’t focus on it. Unlike Juror B37, Maddy knows what it’s like to be profiled. She says it has happened to her while shopping. But she withholds judgment as to the role of race in this case. Roberts asks: “How do you respond when you see people who are making this about race, who are saying, had Trayvon not been a young black man, that the conversation would be different?” Maddy tilts her head noncommittally and responds: “Is it true? That’s the question to be asked.” In another clip, Roberts says, “That was something that a lot of people from the outside thought must have been the discussion in the deliberations, about race, about color. But that wasn’t the case?” Maddy affirms, “It was not the case.” When the verdict was announced and she was released from sequestration, she was dismayed to discover the national outrage. “I didn’t know how much importance” was attached to the trial, she says, “because I never looked at color. And I still don’t look at color.”
The value of colorblindness is controversial. Some people believe that when you don’t talk about race in a case such as this one, you’re excluding racial bias. Others believe that you’re simply overlooking that bias. But Maddy’s comments indicate that sequestration worked. The jurors focused not on the meaning of the case to outsiders, but on the evidence and the law.
6. She was no pushover in the jury room. “I was the juror that was gonna give them the hung jury,” she says. “I fought to the end.” Roberts asks: “Did you feel a little, for lack of a better word, bullied in the deliberations?” ABC News seems to have cut the video here, so we don’t know what was taken out. But in the edited video, Maddy’s next words are, “I don’t know if I was bullied. I trust God that I wasn’t bullied.” Roberts asks, “Do you feel that your voice was heard?” Maddy assures her, “My voice was heard. I was the loudest.”
7. To the extent she feels racial or ethnic pressure, it’s against Zimmerman. In the Nightline video, Roberts notes that Maddy could have hung the jury. Roberts asks: “Do you have regrets that you didn’t?” Maddy pauses, tilts her head, and thinks about it. “Kind of. I mean I’m the only minority. And I feel like I let a lot of people down.” In the GMA version, Maddy’s reference to being the only minority has been seamlessly edited out. But this theme returns in other clips. “I couldn’t do anything about it. And I feel like I let a lot of people down,” she says. And again: “I feel like I let ’em down. We just couldn’t prove anything.” She feels the anger and the cosmic injustice. But they don’t change her legal judgment.
8. Acquittal is not personal—or national—exoneration. This is what she’s really trying to convey. “Maybe if they would put [out] the law, and a lot of people would read it, they would understand the choices that they gave us,” she says. The tragedy of the case, and the long-standing sense of racial injustice that surrounds it, shouldn’t and didn’t dictate the verdict.
But by the same token, the verdict doesn’t absolve the tragedy or the injustice. “I want Trayvon’s mom to know that I’m hurting,” says Maddy. “And if she thought that nobody cared about her son, I can speak for myself. I do care.” And it’s not just about the Martins. “There’s no way that any mother should feel that pain,” says Maddy. In another clip she adds, “My hope is that we stop walking around looking at color.” Martin’s mother, in a statement responding to Maddy’s interview, says the case “challenges our nation once again to do everything we can to make sure that this never happens to another child.” Amen.
William Saletan’s latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: