USA TODAY, July 14, 2013
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter Saturday night.
The verdict is the culmination of a case that captured the nation’s attention and will undoubtedly be imprinted in America’s history. For Zimmerman, it means trying to recapture his life after he was at the center of a national maelstrom over racial profiling, state gun laws and what constitutes self-defense.
The not guilty verdict means the jury of six women, after deliberating for more than 15 hours over two days, found that Zimmerman justifiably used deadly force. They determined that he reasonably believed that such force was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself — Florida’s definition of self-defense.
Zimmerman showed no emotion as the verdict was read. After the verdict was read, he smiled slightly and shook hands with one of his lawyers.
The unidentified jurors decided Zimmerman didn’t “intentionally commit an act or acts that caused death” or demonstrate a “depraved mind without regard for human life” — Florida’s definitions of manslaughter and second-degree murder, respectively.
In a press conference after the verdict, Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara said his client will now need to get on with his life.
“I think he’s going to be great. I think he is still worried. Hopefully everyone will respect the jury’s verdict,” O’Mara said.
He offered his sympathies to Trayvon’s parents for the loss of their son. But he said despite the national protests that erupted after the shooting, the case had nothing to do with civil rights.
Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that his brother was processing the reality that he is free.
“He has some decompressing to do,” he said. “Our family was emotional. We are exonerated as a family and George is exonerated as a defendant. It’s going to take us some time to heal.”
For all the euphoria on Zimmerman’s team, prosecutors and Trayvon’s family faced a huge letdown. Trayvon’s parents were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
Trayvon’s father, Tracy, posted on Twitter, “Even though I am broken-hearted, my faith is unshattered. I will always love my baby Tray … even in his death I know my baby proud of the FIGHT we along with all of you put up for him.”
The family’s attorney Benjamin Crump thanked all the protesters nationwide who “put their hoodies up and to everybody who said, ‘I am Trayvon.’ ” He urged supporters to remain peaceful, despite the verdict.
Lead prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda said, “I am disappointed in the verdict but I respect it. We accept the jury’s verdict.”
State Attorney Angela Corey said the case was a challenge. But she said, “That scream stops when the shot was fired and we always believed it wasTrayvon Martin.”
Outside the courtroom, demonstrators who supported Trayvon stood in stunned silence. But legal analysts say they were not surprised by the verdict because the prosecution did not prove its case.
“The prosecution had no clear narrative, witnesses that appeared poorly prepared, and at the end of the day, this is more of a loss by the prosecution than a win by the defense,” criminal attorney Darren Kavinoky said.
Susan Constantine, a jury consultant and body language expert who attended Zimmerman’s trial regularly, said the verdict meant there was reasonable doubt. “They just could not put the pieces together,” she said.
The case has gripped the nation since the shooting happened on Feb. 26, 2012. Police initially did not charge Zimmerman with a crime, citing Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, which allows someone who believes they are in imminent danger to take whatever steps are necessary to protect themselves.
Protests ensued in several cities, including New York, by supporters of Trayvon’s family. Many protesters voiced the opinion that Trayvon was targeted and killed for racial reasons. Trayvon, 17, was black and Zimmerman is Hispanic.
“You have a little black boy who was killed,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the parents of Trayvon. “It’s going to be reported in history books and 50 years from now, our children will talk about Trayvon Martin’s case like we talk about Emmett Till.”
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black young man, was tortured, grossly disfigured and murdered in 1955 in Mississippi after being accused of flirting with a white woman.
In Zimmerman’s case, State Attorney Corey stepped in and charged Zimmerman with murder on April 11, 2012. Prosecutors never argued that Zimmerman racially profiled the teen and instead said the teen was profiled as a criminal.
The five-week trial of Zimmerman, held in the same Florida city where Trayvon was killed, brought the facts of the case under a nationally televised spotlight, with every moment captured on camera. More than 50 witnesses testified, and when deliberations began Friday afternoon, the jury requested a list of the plethora of evidence that lawyers presented.
Some of the items include several statements Zimmerman gave to police, Trayvon’s autopsy report and photos of both Zimmerman’s injuries and Trayvon’s body. Witnesses included forensic experts who testified about the angle at which Trayvon was shot, the position Zimmerman’s gun may have been in, and where DNA and blood was found.
Other witnesses offered conflicting statements about how the fight happened, who had the upper hand when Zimmerman fired the shot and who was screaming for help in a 911 call recording.
The defense called nine people — including both of Zimmerman’s parents — to testify that the screams belonged to Zimmerman. Both of Trayvon’s parents and his brother all said Trayvon was screaming moments before he was shot.
In at times riveting detail, prosecutors tried their best to convince jurors that Zimmerman was a killer who “tracked” Trayvon, an innocent teenager, and murdered him before police arrived.
“That child had every right to be afraid of a strange man following him,” prosecutor John Guy told jurors before they began deliberations. “This case isn’t about standing your ground. It’s about staying in your car.”
Zimmerman attorney O’Mara cast Trayvon as the aggressor, saying the teen may have been charged with aggravated battery had he survived the shooting. Trayvon, instead of going home, likely hid, waited for Zimmerman and confronted him, the lawyer said.
Elizabeth Parker, a former prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney in Palm Beach, Fla., said the defense did a good job of humanizing Zimmerman .
“The defense did a phenomenal job of presenting their case through the state’s witnesses,” Parker said. “They were able to get George Zimmerman’s testimony in through several witnesses –sparing him from having to undergo vigorous cross-examination by these bulldog prosecutors.”
One such is example was the testimony of Sanford police officer Christopher Serino, called by the state and later the defense, Parker said. Serino agreed with prosecutors that Zimmerman may have been profiling Trayvon but said no physical evidence or witness statements contradicted Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and that the medical examiner’s report supported Zimmerman’s version of events.
Now that the verdict is in, Zimmerman is a free man. But he may have to go into hiding and be unable to live a normal life for some time, said Jose Baez, the defense attorney who successfully defended Casey Anthony, a Florida mother accused of killing her daughter in a high-profile capital murder case.
“The end is not near for George Zimmerman,” he said.