Editorial: Zimmerman reaction should not deter from an imperfect but good judicial system

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 11:17 PM

Every day in courtrooms across America, innocent people are found guilty, and guilty people are found innocent. Each year a number of inmates on death row in prisons throughout the country are set free when DNA evidence and other facts emerge that prove their innocence.

Our judicial system is far from perfect. It is flawed because in too many cases the people who can afford the best lawyers can beat the rap, while others who can't afford the best lawyers settle for mediocrity and, too often, conviction and jail time.

Six people who heard every word of testimony and every argument put forth by the lawyers found George Zimmerman innocent of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. How can this be, many cried out after the verdict. Zimmerman's guilt or innocence had already been decided by millions. Those six women appointed to make the decision did what they thought was best.

There is no doubt that Zimmerman killed Martin. Absent eyewitnesses, though, the jury was left to decide his guilt on other evidence, and concluded that the state did not prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he committed a crime when he killed the teenager. As astonishing, as unbelievable, as that decision may be to many people, it is the judgment of the real court that counts — not the court of public opinion.

Juries do some amazing things with evidence. To this day people are bewildered that a jury of 12 could have exonerated O.J. Simpson of murder, or set free racist members of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s and 1960s South when the evidence proved their guilt. The fictional Atticus Finch discovered what in reality was a mindset in the segregated South.

The legal system can be maddening, frustrating, weird and unsatisfying. Predicting human behavior in a courtroom is like picking the winning lottery numbers or guessing right when you toss the dice in a Vegas casino. Juries make mistakes. Lawyers successfully defend the guilty. Juries convict the innocent and send them to prison.

The Zimmerman trial divided America and, in its own small way, hurt the judicial system. But the system can take it. Flawed and inexact as it is, it's still the best one around. Even when we think it messes up.