The verdict by a Florida jury that George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin settles pending review by the U.S. Justice Department the legal question of his criminal culpability. Jurors listened attentively and deliberated carefully, and the rule of law must be respected. But the central tragedy of this case - the death of a 17-year-old boy who had been on a simple errand to get snacks - remains.
"You have no further business with the court," the Seminole County judge told Mr. Zimmerman moments after the jury of six women at 9:47 p.m. Saturday delivered the twin verdicts of not guilty to the tense courtroom - and to a national audience attracted by the cable television coverage. Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Mr. Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, claiming self-defense after he said the teenager knocked him to the ground and hit his head against the sidewalk. Prosecutors had argued that Mr. Zimmerman instigated the confrontation by assuming the youth had no place in the gated Sanford community and was up to no good and then following him against the express advice of police. Mr. Martin, who was unarmed, was walking back to his father's home after going to a store for candy and a soft drink.
Never a simple homicide, Mr. Martin's death became the subject of a charged debate about race, criminal profiling and Florida's permissive "stand your ground" gun law. Despite the jury's verdict, those issues are not likely to go away. One reason the death of this boy in a gray hooded sweatshirt so resonated that even the president of the United States felt compelled to comment was that it brought to the surface historic concerns of minority parents about the vulnerability of their sons. The ineptness of Florida authorities in the initial investigation of this death validated that worry and deepened the distrust.