It's been 17 years since the O.J. Simpson murder case, the "trial of the century" that gave us 134 days of courtroom drama.
Now, we could be in for another blockbuster murder trial involving neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman but, as sports commentator Lee Corso says in his most famous catch-phrase, "Not so fast, my friend!"
On Wednesday, Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey calmly announced second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26. The case has gained worldwide attention due to Florida's "stand your ground law," which gives people wide latitude in using deadly force rather than retreating during a fight. Prosecutors must first prove to a judge that Zimmerman wasn't defending himself when he killed Martin and only then can the case proceed to a jury.
Florida officials faced relentless pressure to arrest Zimmerman, spurred by Martin's parents and civil rights activists like Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Marches were held throughout the country over the last 45 days, and even President Obama commented that "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
Credit Corey for not bowing to pressure to make a hasty arrest.
"We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition," she said. "We prosecute based on the facts on any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida."
We've heard few voices of reason surrounding this case, no thanks to the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton, who have kept the racial fires stoked.
Jackson, head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, has commented earlier that "blacks are under attack" in America, not only with the violence shown in the Martin case but in their daily lives, evidenced by the number of home foreclosures and unemployment facing African American families.
And the left-wing activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who led several rallies demanding the arrest of Zimmerman, said Wednesday that "Trayvon Martin committed no crime."
"The rush to judgment was those that moved against him, said he was suspicious, and took his life. So to lecture us about rushing to judgment, we're a victim of a rush to judgment in this case," Sharpton said.
It's been difficult to find news from the other side. Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, however, citing statements made by political and civil rights leaders about the shooting being racially motivated, said he believed "there has been a rush to judgment" in the case.
Zimmerman's father is white and his mother Hispanic. He told Hannity that "it's very sad that so many people are not telling the truth for their own agenda." He added that he had never heard his son utter a racial slur and told of the time when his son helped a black homeless man.
Legal experts feel Corey has a tough task, since prosecutors must prove Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will. They must counter Zimmerman's claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community that night. Only then can Corey take the case to a jury, where the prosecution will then face the burden of proving that the killing wasn't in self-defense.
At a pretrial hearing, meanwhile, Zimmerman's lawyers only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence that he acted in self-defense.
If the case is dismissed by the judge, things will get hot, and we don't mean because of the abnormally high temperatures we've been seeing. If it's dismissed, get ready for more racially-charged marching in the streets.
By Jim Zbick