Before long, the Zimmerman case will be mostly forgotten


In the 36 hours or so since a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of wrongdoing in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, I’ve read and heard hundreds of reactions to the verdict and speculations on how the aftermath of the case will play out.

I’ve read that Zimmerman might well become an enduring hero to right-wing vigilante types — or, conversely, that the rest of his life will be that of a pariah.

My own sense of the matter is that the case will quickly recede from public consciousness. We live in an age of media sensationalism, and there will soon be other stuff that will dominate public attention. In a year or so, perhaps even sooner, George Zimmerman will fade from public memory. Fewer and fewer people will have any clear recollection of the details in his case. Before long, if he adopts a different hair style and grows a beard, Zimmerman will be able to travel about without being recognized — if he so chooses.

All of this somehow reminds me of the case of William Calley, a U.S. Army lieutenant who was convicted of murdering 22 Vietnamese civilians in 1968, but spent virtually no time in jail for his crimes.

A court-martial jury of six Army officers, five of whom had served in Vietnam, found Calley guilty of murder charges in connection with the infamous My Lai Massacre. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and  hard labor at Fort Leavenworth.

But on the day after Calley was sentenced, then-President Richard Nixon ordered him transferred from Leavenworth to house arrest at Fort Benning, Ga., pending appeal. In other words, Calley was confined to an apartment rather than a jail cell. He was free to drink alcohol, call out for pizza and entertain a girl friend. He just couldn’t leave the place.

Four months later, Calley’s sentence was reduced from life to 20 years. Then the secretary of the Army reduced it to 10 years. Eventually, he was pardoned by Nixon after serving only three and a half years of house arrest.

All of these proceedings stirred controversy among the American people, but eventually the entire matter was obscured by the Watergate scandal and other spectacles and was soon forgotten.

William Calley is 70 years old now (that’s him in the photo above), and most Americans are unfamiliar with his name. His prosecution was said, at that time, to be a significant chapter in American history. But relatively few people now living know anything about it.

The Zimmerman case, a minor matter compared to the Calley case, will fade from public consciousness much sooner than the My Lai Masssacre did.





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