USA TODAY

Zimmerman lawyer, prosecutors talk trial with USA TODAY

USA TODAY, July 15, 2013

Link to video: http://usat.ly/12BlLJ8

By Yamiche Alcindor

SANFORD, Fla — The prosecutors who tried to get George Zimmerman convicted believe he got away with murdering Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s lawyer says everyone — including President Obama — should know that Zimmerman was wrongly charged and should recognize the unjust trauma brought upon him.

Two days after Zimmerman’s acquittal, lawyers from both sides, in interviews with USA TODAY, talked about the aftermath of a verdict that continues to reverberate across the nation.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled, tracked down, and murdered an innocent 17 year old — and then lied his way out of a conviction. Zimmerman’s lawyer says he will seek immunity from any further legal action against his client and thinks Obama should publicly recognize the suffering endured by Zimmerman and his family.

“He (Zimmerman) called the police and then he decided to become the police,” said State Attorney Angela Corey, adding that Zimmerman deserved to be charged with murder. “George Zimmerman used excessive and deadly force and that’s what made it a violation of Florida law.” (more…)

George Zimmerman found not guilty

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. (more…)

Five key issues for Zimmerman jury

USA TODAY, July 13, 2013

Link to video: http://usat.ly/12tr6lG

By Yamiche Alcindor

George Zimmerman could spend the rest of his life in prison or walk away a free man after more than a year of being reviled as a murderer.

During three weeks of testimony, state prosecutors called 38 people to the stand to paint Zimmerman as a spiteful, frustrated man who profiled and killed an unarmed teenager. Defense attorneys countered by calling 18 witnesses — but not Zimmerman — to explain that Zimmerman feared for his life and was being pummeled by Trayvon Martin.

When the fatal gunshot was fired in the dark, nobody was close enough to see what happened — other than Zimmerman and Trayvon. Throughout the trial, prosecutors tried to shine some light on that night and show jurors what they believe happened, but most experts think there were few concrete answers in the testimony.

“They are making it a guessing game, and guessing games favor the defense,” Jose Baez, a Florida criminal defense attorney, said of both sides. Baez successfully defended Casey Anthony, a Florida mother accused of killing her daughter in a high-profile murder case. (more…)

Trayvon Martin’s dad says he heard son’s screams

USA TODAY, July 8, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

SANFORD, Fla. — The father of Trayvon Martin told a jury Monday that he believes a 911 tape contains “my son’s last cry for help” on the night he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman.

Defense attorneys called Tracy Martin to testify about the 911 call and his exchange with Sanford police officers. Martin said he never told officers he didn’t recognize Trayvon’s voice, despite an investigator’s previous testimony that Tracy Martin told him he didn’t think he could hear his son on the tape.

Tracy Martin claimed to the jury on Monday that he was simply unsure and told officials, “I can’t tell.”

The testimony by Tracy Martin and other witnesses who heard the 911 call could be crucial as Zimmerman’s lawyers try to show that Trayvon was the aggressor and that Zimmerman shot him in self-defense. (more…)

Prosecution rests case in Zimmerman trial

USA TODAY, July 5, 2013

Link to video: http://usat.ly/126nvto

By Yamiche Alcindor

SANFORD, Fla. — Prosecutors wrapped their case against George Zimmerman on Friday afternoon after the mother and brother of teenager Trayvon Martin testified Friday that they believed the screams on a 911 call seconds before his death were his, not those of Zimmerman.

“I heard my son screaming,” said Sybrina Fulton, who listened to the 911 tape of the final moments of his life on Feb. 26, 2012. Fulton said she had to listen to the tape only once to know it was her 17-year-old son. She also testified that she didn’t think Trayvon was responsible for his own death.

The defense began with Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys Zimmerman, briefly testifying that it was her son screaming for help on the phone. “That’s George’s voice,” she said. (more…)

Who are the six jurors in Zimmerman’s trial?

USA TODAY, June 21, 2013

Link to video: http://usat.ly/124zI1c

By Yamiche Alcindor

SANFORD, Fla. — Now that a jury for the trial of George Zimmerman has been picked, lawyers for both sides will do their best to convince a group of everyday people that Zimmerman either murdered Trayvon Martin or killed him in self-defense.

How the jurors — six women — and alternates — two women and two men — will weigh lawyers’ arguments, evidence and witnesses’ testimonies may be impacted by their life experiences, legal experts say. Circuit Judge Debra Nelson made it very clear that jurors must use only evidence presented in court to reach a decision on Zimmerman’s actions.

Still, lawyers from both sides and legal experts indicated that jurors’ backgrounds matter. (more…)

Fla. town on edge as Trayvon Martin case goes to court

USA TODAY, June 10, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

SANFORD, Fla. — For more than a year, the Trayvon Martin murder case has ignited protests, death ttravhreats, online campaigns, and become the center of national discussion about race, gun laws and self-defense.

Monday the trial finally starts.

Supporters of George Zimmerman and Martin have waged emotionally charged arguments about the deadly encounter Feb. 26, 2012, in this small southern city. The Internet has buzzed with debates about whether Zimmerman was defending himself against an aggressive teen who had begun pummeling him or whether he had profiled and murdered a black, unarmed 17-year-old.

“This is the second trial of the century as far as central Florida goes,” said Dave Sirak, chairman of the Central Florida Media Committee, referring to Case Anthony’s as the first. “This trial feels larger than the Casey Anthony trial though because we are seeing international interest right off the top.”

(more…)

New Jersey gun laws don’t curb violence in Camden

USA TODAY, June 4, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

CAMDEN, N.J. — Anderson Baker lives in a state with a litany of gun regulations. But no law stopped him from becoming a teenage drug dealer who could easily acquire, and use, his weapon of choice.

The national debate in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre has centered on the legislative approach to reducing gun violence: rein in assault rifles, downsize magazine clips, expand background checks and review mental health protocols. Baker says these types of measures would do little to stem violence that for decades has plagued this small city in the shadow of Philadelphia’s skyline.

Dozens of frustrated city leaders, residents, law enforcement officials and other experts interviewed by USA TODAY echo the conclusion that the blood running in Camden’s streets isn’t just about gun laws.

“I wanted to shoot people because that’s what I saw growing up,” said Baker, 20, a Camden native who spent four years in jail after being involved in several shootings. “When I was younger, I would see my boys and cousins going into jail and when they got out, all the girls wanted them. So, I wanted to go to jail. I wanted to be like America’s Most Wanted. I wanted my name to be known on the streets.” (more…)

Ohio kidnapping probe stirs questions about race, status

USA TODAY, May 11, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

CLEVELAND — Judy Martin recites the names of missing people in Cleveland like a well-memorized poem. She knows names, dates, last-known whereabouts and details about dozens of cases dating to 1997.

Martin, who founded Survivors/Victims of Tragedy, also says she knows how race and economic status play a role in how police treat cases, including those of three women held captive for years in a rundown Cleveland neighborhood.

Martin says cases involving people of color and lower incomes don’t get the same law enforcement resources as others. But the Cleveland Police Department says officers did all they could find Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, and they investigate missing-persons cases without any biases.

“When it’s somebody of color or someone from in a poorer area, we don’t seem to get the response that other areas of the country get,” said Martin, whose group works with families of victims. “It needs to stop. When a person goes missing, it shouldn’t matter whether they’re white, black, Hispanic, Asian, purple, green or blue.” (more…)

Kidnap suspects’ neighborhood has seen more prosperous days

USA TODAY, May 9, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

CLEVELAND — Seymour Avenue, now the infamous location of a decades-long house of horrors, had usually been considered a quiet place where neighbors look out for one another, hold block barbecues and nurse a tight-knit community.

Ariel Castro — the suspect police allege to have held captive Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — fit in with the crowd. A bus driver and local bass player, he was like many of the working-class residents and enjoyed the respect that came with a well-known family name.

“He was a member of this community and I loved him,” said Maria Castro-Montes, Ariel Castro’s cousin, one of the dozens of family members living and working in the neighborhood. “We are just stunned and shocked that anyone in our family had anything to do with this.” (more…)

Bombing suspects’ family struggles: ‘Just regular kids’

USA TODAY, April 26, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md. — When he first came to America eight years ago, Alvi Tsarni lived with his brother, Anzor Tsarnaev, and his family in a small Cambridge, Mass., apartment. It was there he spent the most time with his nephews, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, who he described as happy young men.

“They were just regular kids,” Alvi Tsarni, 48, said while sitting inside his Montgomery Village, Md., home. “They would go outside and play. They liked music, dancing, playing video games and the Internet.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was very young and played a lot with the children of another nearby Chechnyan family in Cambridge, Tsarni recalled. The brothers didn’t get into trouble, ate whatever their mother cooked, and lived an ordinary life.

Tsarni, who lived with the family for a year, didn’t remember the Tsarnaev brothers and their family as very religious. Tsarni said he never talked about Islam with the father of the two suspected bombers. (more…)