As the nation awaits a verdict in the trial, police and city leaders in Sanford and South Florida say they have taken precautionary steps for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if George Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, is acquitted, particularly in African-American neighborhoods where passions run strongest over the case.
There were massive protests in Sanford and other cities across the country when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with the February 2012 slaying of the Miami Gardens teen, who was in Sanford visiting his father after having been suspended from Dr. Michael Krop High in North Miami-Dade.
The killing of Trayvon Martin drew a great analysis on Florida’s self-defense law, which critics say promoted vigilante justice, while prominent black civil rights leaders staged rallies for Zimmerman’s arrest.
Sanford police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman after he claimed self-defense and Gov. Rick Scott later appointed prosecutors from Jacksonville to investigate. Zimmerman was arrested 44 days later.
The trial began more than a month ago as lawyers selected an all-female, six-person jury; of the jurors, five are white, one is Hispanic.
Closing arguments end in Zimmerman trial.
Mark O’Mara began his closing with calm philosophical musing on the U.S. trial system, invoking Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, warning jurors not to “connect the dots” for prosecutors who have the burden of proving Zimmerman is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defense attorney reinforced his arguments with a poster-board timeline of events, a power point-presentation showing witnesses who had testified and a computer-animated depiction of the fight based on Zimmerman’ account. O’Mara placed two cardboard cut-outs of Zimmerman and Martin in front of jurors to show Martin was considerably taller than Zimmerman, although Zimmerman was much heavier. Later, he carried a block of concrete and put it in front of the jury box to show how it can be used as a weapon.
O’Mara’s display was the dramatic finish to an otherwise professorial and methodical closing argument in which he insisted that Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon only after the teen attacked first, bashing Zimmerman’s head against the concrete walkway of a Sanford gated community. “It is a tragedy, truly,” O’Mara said. “But you can’t allow sympathy to overrule common sense.” O’Mara told jurors the burden was on prosecutors, and said they hadn’t proven Zimmerman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. O’Mara said prosecutors built a case on a series of hypothetical “could’ve beens” and “maybes.”
Bernie De la Rionda said in his closing argument that Zimmerman assumed Martin was a criminal who was up to no good when he confronted him in his neighborhood. A scuffle followed, and Zimmerman fired his gun. “A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own,” De la Rionda said. “He is dead because a man made assumptions; unfortunately because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks this Earth.”
De la Rionda used Zimmerman’s own words in interviews with both police and national media to try to prove Zimmerman followed Martin and then killed him. He demonstrated with sarcasm that Zimmerman told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Martin had skipped away from him while Zimmerman was on the phone with police.
The state also focused on the variations in Zimmerman’s story between his recorded statement that night and his reenactment the next day. “I ask you to come back with a verdict that speaks the truth, a verdict that is just,” said De la Rionda as he wrapped up prosecution’s closing argument.
The prosecution concluded by stating, “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe the truth.”
The six jurors will begin deliberating today. Since there were no eyewitnesses, the panel of six women will likely rely heavily on testimony — which was often conflicting — from police, neighbors, friends and family members. They will have to decide if they can determine who was yelling for help on a 911 call that recorded the shooting, and whether Zimmerman was acting as a “want to be” cop who took the law into his own hands or someone who was in a fight for his life.
To win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must prove Zimmerman showed ill will, hatred or spite. De la Rionda argued Zimmerman did that when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cell phone while following Martin through the neighborhood. He said Zimmerman “profiled” the teenager as a criminal.
By allowing the jurors to consider manslaughter as another option could give those who aren’t convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman accountable for the death of the unarmed teen. To get a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)