The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin affair has generated considerable furor, much like other misplaced outrages about other juries’ not guilty verdicts. It is worth remembering some of the latter.
This post was prompted by the remembrance that this week in 1892, 121 years ago, businessman Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found axed to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts home. Daughter Lizzie was arrested and indicted for their murder. The media of the time, consisting almost entirely of newspapers, hastened to convict her, but a jury found Lizzie Borden not guilty. The public was outraged by this “miscarriage” of justice, or so it was reported. Was the verdict wrong? Actually, in the Borden case the proper question is, did she do the deed? Only she knew for sure.
There was another famous, at least locally, acquittal in a ax murder case in 1980. During the hottest summer on record in Texas, Collin County housewife Betty Gore was hacked to death in her home. Betty’s husband Allen had been having an affair with neighbor Candy Montgomery that Betty apparently had discovered. During an altercation between the two women, Candy killed Betty with an ax, striking her numerous times. Candy Montgomery admitted she did it and pleaded self defense. The jury bought it, and found her not guilty.
Most of us are familiar with O. J. Simpson’s 1995 trial on murder charges for murdering his estranged wife Nicole and her boyfriend Ron Goldman. Most observers believed the evidence of guilt was overwhelming, even though no one witnessed the crimes. A jury nevertheless found Simpson not guilty. Did he do it? Later a civil jury found he was responsible — under a much lower standard of proof.
Similarly, the media observers were convinced of her guilt when Casey Anthony was tried for the 2008 murder of her 2 year old child Caylee in 2011. Much to the public outrage – mainly, I suppose, because of the death of child barely out of infancy and a ne’er do well mother – Casey Anthony was declared not guilty by her jury. Again, only she knows for sure.
As for George Zimmerman, we know for sure he killed Martin by shooting him with a gun. The reasonable doubt question was whether he was justified under Florida law. The only persons who could answer that were the six jurors. They did. Were they correct? So much of that depends on one’s point of view, and is empirically unanswerable.
There are doubtless a myriad of other cases like these that did not draw widespread attention.
Did justice fail in such cases? For whom did it fail?
So far as whether “justice” failed on the facts, if you were not on the jury and listened to all of the evidence that was present, you are in not position to say the verdict was wrong.
Considering for whom it might have failed, consider this. Signs read “Justice for _______.” Fill in the blank: Andrew and Abby, Betty, Nicole and Ron, Caylee, Trayvon, countless unnamed others. But how can we achieve such justice? They are dead; gone; no more than a bleeding, then decaying piece of earth. If there is a life to come after physical death, perhaps they will receive justice, or mercy, whichever is appropriate. It nevertheless is beyond the power of anyone living. If physical life is all there is, as some believe, then those victims (and I use that term as merely descriptive and without judging their blame of lack thereof) are completely out of luck. Some of them might have been out of luck in this world, anyway. Perhaps some progs believe in a collective consciousness and justice for the victim is justice for those similarly situated. That concept is more fantastic than that of an afterlife, which cannot be empirically proven one way or the other. Those who say they feel your pain really don’t. See if they yelp when you get stuck in the butt with a sharp stick. The bell isn’t tolling for you until it does.
Law is really not about justice. Law is really about ordered liberty (Justice Benjamin Cardozo’s phrase, not mine), though some semblance of justice is quite often the by-product.This is more often the case true in a body politic that makes laws on an objective basis with the standard being individual freedom for all its members as the standard of reference.Where the rights to life, liberty, and property clash, ambiguity often arises. The law provides a means, although imperfect, of sorting out the ambiguities. The goal is to keep the lid on and protect reasonable expectations, which may not necessarily be just to many minds.
Justice is a subjective concept. Those close to or who identify with the victims believe they were deprived of justice. The (alleged) perpetrators may believe they were deprived of justice because they had to undergo the ordeal of a trial. The trial itself was all the justice either would receive, and, for many of them or their surrogates, that was not enough or too much for them.
To those who decry the lack of justice, take comfort. As Hamlet reminded Polonius: “use every man after his desert, and who should escape whipping?”