George Zimmerman found NOT GUILTY of the murder or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin
- Jury took just over 16 hours to come to not guilty verdict
- Twitter users calls neighborhood watch volunteer ‘dead man walking’
- Case was not about race or right to bear arms, prosecutor says
- Zimmerman said to be worried about reaction to verdict
- Angry protests outside courthouse as case ends
- ‘I thought he was guilty’ prosecutor Rionda says
- Immunity will be sought if attempt to sue Zimmerman is made
The jury of six women took more than 16 hours and 20 minutes over two days to reach a verdict, in which time they unanimously decided the neighborhood watch volunteer justifiably killed the teenager because he believed his life was in imminent danger.
As the judge announced that Zimmerman had no other business with the court just after 10pm on EST on Saturday his mother, who was sat in the court, smiled for the first time during the trial.
Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, were not in court to hear the verdict. Their reaction was said to be reserved but expressed their disappointment.
Moments after the verdict was read out, people reacting on Twitter had described him as ‘a dead man walking’.
Zimmerman’s defense attorneys said the verdict had not sunk in for him yet, and that he was worried about the reaction.
Zimmerman is said to have been in hiding and wears a bullet proof vest when outside, according to the New York Times.
Defense attorney Mark O Mara said: ‘[Zimmerman] has to be cautious and protective of his safety because there is a fringe element who have said on Twitter and elsewhere they want revenge.’
He added that after everyone left the room at the end of the trial, Zimmerman thanked his defense teams and became emotional as he realized the trial was done.
‘I’m not sure how you can feel after 16 months of trauma. It’s probably going to settle on him tonight when he is with his family and realizes he doesn’t have to come back to court.’
Robert Zimmerman Jr. said his brother was ‘going to be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life’.
‘Now the jury has spoken, and we are exonerated as a family,’ he told CNN. ‘And more importantly, George is exonerated.’
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Martin family, acknowledged the disappointment of Trayvon’s supporters, as he ranked the teenager alongside civil rights heroes Medgar Evers and Emmett Till in the history of the fight for equal justice.
But he urged them not to resort to violence. ‘For Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful,’ he said.
It took the jury five weeks to see more than 200 pieces of evidence and hear 56 witnesses in a trial that has gripped the nation, the jury heard two very different accounts of what happened on that fateful rainy night of February 26, 2012.
After the verdict, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said he was disappointed but respected the jury’s decision.
‘We respect the verdict but I’m disappointed. This is only the second murder case I lost. I thought he was guilty,’ he told a press conference.
Pressure: George Zimmerman wipes perspiration from his face after arriving in the courtroom for his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida July 12, 2013
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey added that they had wanted to ‘get all the facts before the jury because we felt everyone had the right to know everything’.
‘To the living we owe respect, to the dead the truth. We believe we have brought out the truth.’
She added: ‘This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms. But there is no doubt Trayvon was profiled to be a criminal.’
Ms Corey added after the verdict that she believed second-degree murder was the appropriate charge because Zimmerman’s mindset ‘fit the bill of second-degree murder’.
‘We charged what we believed we could prove,’ Ms Corey said.
Ultimately, it was the defense team who won. They praised the jury, who Mr O Mara said ‘listened, took notes [and were] as engaged as everyone in the process’.
‘We are ecstatic with the results. George Zimmerman was not guilty of anything except protecting himself in self defense,’ he added after the verdict.
He said that they would seek immunity if someone decided to try to sue Zimmerman.
Don West, who was criticized for his opening Knock Knock joke and photos of him on Twitter eating ice cream with his daughters during a break early on in the trial said he would not respond to his critics or talk about the alleged threats made against his family.
‘This trial is about George ZImmerman, not about ice creams,’ he said. ‘I still think the joke was funny but I wish I’d told it better.’
Mr O Mara said: ‘Nothing can bring back Trayvon Martin. Whenever a young life is lost it is a tragedy’ adding that he extended his sympathy to the teenager’s family.
He added however: ‘None of [the evidence] shows George Zimmerman as an aggressor.’
The prosecution had started the case with a powerful and graphic opening statement and it was in this vein they proceeded with their case.
Injuries: Photos of cuts to the back of Zimmerman’s head and his face were included in the evidence
Zimmerman wasn’t arrested for 44 days after the February 26, 2012, shooting as police in Sanford insisted that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law on self-defense prohibited them from bringing charges. Florida gives people wide latitude to use deadly force if they fear death or bodily harm.
Trayvon’s parents, along with civil rights leaders such as the Rev Jesse Jackson and Rev Al Sharpton, argued that Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, had racially profiled their son.
They also accused investigators of dragging their feet because Trayvon was a black teenager.
Before a special prosecutor assigned to the case ordered Zimmerman’s arrest, thousands of protesters gathered in Sanford, Miami, New York and elsewhere. President Obama also added to the case, saying that if he had a son, ‘he’d look like Trayvon’.
The Rev Al Sharpton continued to campaign after the verdict, saying: ‘The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice.’
According to AP, he added: ‘We intend to ask the Department of Justice to move forward as they did in the Rodney King case and we will closely monitor the civil case against Mr. Zimmerman. I will convene an emergency call with preachers tonight to discuss next steps and I intend to head to Florida in the next few days.’
The race element could become the legacy of the trial. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed responded to the verdict by saying: ‘The death of Trayvon Martin shows that we must all work harder to shed the dangerous stereotypes that can have devastating consequences for individuals, families and our society.’
Celebrities from Will.I.am to Miley Cyrus also took to Twitter to announce their shock at the verdict.
Will.i.am tweeted: ‘What’s wrong with the world mama!!! #whereIStheLOVE #zimmermanVSamerica.’
Sophia Bush added: ‘The wind is more than knocked out of me… My heart aches for this boy’s family. Justice System? I don’t think so,’ and Miley Cyrus tweeted to say the verdict made her ‘feel sick’.
Others, including Wyclef Jean and Mandy Moore extended their sympathies to Trayvon’s family and friends.
A tweet from Jesse Williams read: ‘Verdict emblematic of a culture rooted in bloodthirsty cowardice.’
The first words in the trial, from state attorney John Guy, had been: ‘F***ing punks, these a**holes always get away,’ words that were repeated to the jury several times in the three weeks of testimony.
Words, they said, that proved George Zimmerman acted with ill will, spite and hatred when he followed Trayvon Martin as he was walking home from a 7/11 and after a scuffle, shot him through the heart.
They portrayed Zimmerman as a ‘vigilante’, a ‘wannabe cop’, a man filled with hatred and frustration after a spate of burglaries in the community he felt he was responsible for protecting.
On Friday, the prosecution appealed to the emotions and the hearts of the all-women jury and in a powerful rebuttal, John Guy said: ‘Trayvon Martin was a son, a brother and a friend and the last thing he did on this earth was to try to get home.
‘George Zimmerman didn’t shoot the teen because he had to, he shot him because he wanted to,’ repeating words he used in his opening statement.
In contrast, the defense took a more methodical, conversational and almost calm approach in their delivery. Mr West included his ‘Knock Knock’ joke in his opening statement, though it failed to have the desired effect.
They called only 18 witnesses to the state’s 38 and dedicated a lot of time trying to hammer home to the jury that George Zimmerman feared for his life and was merely defending himself from a vicious MMA-style beating at the hands of Trayvon Martin.
Mark O’Mara pointed out again and again in his closing argument the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that murder in the second-degree occurred.
‘Pure and unadulterated innocence’, he said. ‘In fact, George Zimmerman committed no crime at all.
‘My client is not guilty of anything but protecting his own life,’ he told the jury.
Central to the case and played numerous times by both legal teams over the last three weeks was the 911 call from a resident of the Retreat at Twin Lakes community.
Terrified and piercing screams for help can be heard in the background before a shot rings out, silencing them instantly.
The prosecution’s last witness was Sybrina Fulton, a mother who lost her only son. She took the stand and said unequivocally the cries for help belonged to her son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin.
On the same day, the defense called their first witness Gladys Zimmerman, and she – just like Sybrina – told the court it was her son George calling for help.
Next up was Zimmerman’s uncle, retired sheriff Jorge Meza, who acted as a powerful witness to the defense, revealing he was not played the 911 call but only heard it on TV and knew instinctively who it was.
‘That voice just came and hit me. Not only did I hear the scream but I felt it. I know it was my Georgie, I felt it,’ he said while fighting back tears.
The defense also called witness after witness – neighbors, colleagues and friends of Zimmerman – who also unwaveringly testified that it was the neighborhood watch volunteer shouting for help.
Another point of contention was – who attacked who at the gated community? Who was the aggressor and who was the victim? Whose life was in danger that night?
The state said Zimmerman had been training at an MMA gym three times a week over the past year.
This would match the description of neighbor John Good, who said the person on top, the aggressor, was straddling the person on the bottom, the victim, in a ‘pound and ground’ move.
Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon’s friend, who was on the phone to the teen right before he was shot, told the court her friend was frightened because a man was following him. She told him to go home.
The last thing she heard Trayvon say was: ‘Why are you following me?’ before the phone went dead. She also claimed it was Zimmerman who approached Trayvon saying, ‘What are you doing around here?’
The defense highlighted the physical differences between the 17-year-old and the then 28-year-old. That at around six foot tall, Trayvon towered over Zimmerman, a mere 5’8″ who was considered to be ‘soft’ and borderline obese at 200 pounds.
They said Travyon was not a scared young boy who feared for his life, but a strapping young man who pounced on Zimmerman and started beating him.
Possibly one of the best witnesses to take the stand in the whole trial was a forensic pathologist who is an expert in gunshot wounds.
Dr Vincent di Maio told the jury that the way the powder marks were formed around the bullet wound shows the gun would have been two-to-four inches away from the teen’s body when the shot was fired, indicating he was leaning forward at the time.
‘The physical evidence is consistent with George Zimmerman’s account that Mr Martin was over him,’ he said.
He later testified that Zimmerman’s head injuries could have been caused by coming into contact with concrete, even if there were no serious injuries to show this.