In The Jury Speaks, a four-part true crime series airing this week, Oxygen is delving into a handful of the most infamous cases in American history. The cases range from celebrity spectacle (Michael Jackson) to eerily topical (O.J. Simpson). But one case—the 2013 George Zimmerman trial—stands apart as a singular moment in our national zeitgeist that still reverberates. While other trials before and after have captured the attention of the entire country, they didn’t spark a movement.
The Jury Speaks seeks to reexamine the George Zimmerman trial through the eyes of the jurors who deliberated on the case; jurors who, unlike much of the country, hadn’t been closely following the extensive media coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death. The irony, for the six women who ended up delivering a “not guilty” verdict, is that the two names that they had barely heard of before reporting for jury duty have followed them ever since. “It’s hard for me to sleep, it’s hard for me to eat because I feel I was forcefully included in Trayvon Martin’s death,” juror Maddy explained in an interview following the trial. She continued, “And as I carry him on my back, I’m hurting as much [as] Trayvon’s Martin’s mother because there’s no way that any mother should feel that pain.”
Four years later, Maddy is still horrified by the tragedy of Martin’s death, but maintains that she had no choice but to adhere to the law as she understood it. It’s a point that comes up time and time again in The Jury Speaks—the painful chasm between a personal urge to administer justice, and a citizen’s responsibility to go by the letter of the law.
As Maddy tells The Daily Beast, “They give you this paper, and the five women were explaining it to me, saying, ‘This is the way it has to go’—you can’t look at the situation from where George Zimmerman was calling 911 and was chasing him or, you know, hovering over him—that’s not necessarily intent to hurt anybody. You have to look at it when Trayvon Martin was on top of him. Did he feel like his life was in danger? So you look at the rules they gave you, and you’re stuck in a box. You have no choice…it’s not emotional, it’s not what we want.” In other words, “The decision is made before we even get there.”
Still, Maddy has doubts. “I was the only juror who openly gave my objections and opinions to the world,” she muses when asked about her post-trial interview. “I just didn’t have the chance to do it with [my fellow jurors], because they were very vocal, they said because I didn’t know the law they were gonna help me. Was I manipulated? I don’t know.”
It bears mentioning, as so many did in the wake of the trial, that Maddy, who is Puerto Rican, was the only person of color on a six-woman jury. Maddy divulges, “If we’re being totally honest,” that she felt “very different” from her fellow jurors, although race wasn’t the only factor: “I was around high-maintenance women, women who were very educated, women who were not my color, women who were not raised with the struggle that I was.”
While Maddy admits that she was not the only juror who struggled with the verdict, there was one woman whose motives she questions to this day. “The only person who I can honestly say that I felt in my bones was racist, was the one who came out on TV, B37,” she confesses. During an infamous CNN appearance, Juror B37 said that she believed Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” on the night of the attack, and that Martin probably threw the first punch.
“[B37] tried to argue with me about a TV show that I taped, and then was like, ‘Oh my god, there she goes with those ghetto shows,’” Maddy recalls. “Me and her were constantly going at it. She would talk to me like I was five years old. We used to go out to restaurants to get something to eat—our ‘field trips,’ I swear to god I felt like I was seven years old. And when I would save my food to take it back to the hotel, she would say, ‘Why are you saving food, you act like you’re poor.’ So those comments, after a while, it got to the point where in the deliberation, I wanted to knock her teeth out. Everything that came out of her mouth was like, ‘Hurry up! Hurry up! We need to hurry up with this! You guys know the answer already!’”
Maddy chuckles, concluding that, “Me and her, we did not have a nice relationship.”
What Maddy and her fellow jurors did have in common was a shared ignorance of the Trayvon Martin shooting—before the trial, they were ostensibly unfamiliar with the details of the case, as well as the larger cultural significance of the shooting. Maddy explains that her lack of prior knowledge was equal parts preference and practicality. She was living in Chicago at the time, and “I never watched the news, because in Chicago, all you see in the news is the same things: gangs, shootouts, another person passing away. After a while the news got repetitive. Being a mom and working over 40 or 50 hours a week, I used to just come home, go to sleep, wake up, take care of my kids, and then get ready to go to work again.”
When she moved to Florida and showed up for her first day of jury duty, Maddy had no idea what she was in for. “It was my first time ever having jury duty. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I hope this goes quick.’ And so when they asked us to come back the next day, I’m like, ‘Why do I have to come back the next day? I thought this was a one-day process?’ On the second day I came in and filled out more papers, and there were like forty of us, and then little by little, they told us ‘We’re choosing you.’ And again, I was so naive, I thought, ‘This sounds cool! How long is it gonna be?’ And they’re like no, you’re getting sequestered, and I’m like, ‘Ok, what does that mean? I don’t even know what sequestered is!’”
At the time, her youngest daughter was only three months old, and Maddy gets understandably emotional describing the toll that the forced separation took on her: “When my husband was allowed to come visit me for thirty minutes on Sundays, my three-month-old hardly knew me! And that’s time you can’t get back.”
Once Maddy and her fellow jurors, along with George Zimmerman, were free to go, Maddy began to experience a new kind of pain. “When I came out of deliberations, they put us in the car, and then I saw the helicopters,” Maddy recalls. “I’m coming home, and I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ And they explained it to me, they gave me a big red folder, and in the folder there were a bunch of different news channels that wanted to speak with me, and I was like, ‘About what?’ In my mind, I’m thinking that when you go to court, it’s private, not knowing that half of the people at that trial were news people.” She continues, “When I came out, when I got home, and I started watching the TV, I started panicking. I had no idea it was more about black and white, about racism…I realized how big it was.” In the months and years after the trial, Maddy “went through it all”— “losing my home, work, friends and some family.” She was harassed, threatened, and treated “like I was a contributor to Zimmerman killing.”
“These tough words were very hard to handle,” Maddy says. “Again, I had no knowledge of how big the trial would be…we’re victims of the society that brings us into this situation. For three years of my life I had to feel like I’m carrying a child on my back.”
These days, Maddy feels as though she’s finally channeling the stress of the trial and the personal reckoning that followed into positive change. She’s studying to become a teacher and working at a kids’ after school program. “I’m just trying to protect another child from being victimized,” she explains. “I want to make a difference.”
As for George Zimmerman, Maddy “feels sad” every time she sees a new troubling headline: “It causes me to think he doesn’t value his own life, so it was easy for him to take someone else’s.”