Zimmerman found not guilty in fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin

Zimmerman found not guilty in fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin (Image 1)
Zimmerman found not guilty in fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin (Image 1)

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) – Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman
was cleared of all charges Saturday in the shooting of Trayvon Martin,
the unarmed black teenager whose killing unleashed furious debate across
the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.

Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the
verdict was announced. He could have been convicted of second-degree
murder or manslaughter. But the jury of six women, all but one of them
white, reached a verdict of not guilty after deliberating well into the
night. Their names have not been made public, and they declined to speak
to the media.

Martin's mother and father were not in the
courtroom when the verdict was read; supporters of his family who had
gathered outside yelled “No! No!” upon learning of the not guilty
verdict.

The teen's father, Tracy, reacted on Twitter: “Even
though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE
MY BABY TRAY.”

His mother also said on Twitter that she appreciated the prayers from supporters.

“Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have,” she wrote.

The jurors considered nearly three weeks of often
wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy
night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated townhouse
community where he was staying.

Defense attorneys said the case was classic
self-defense, claiming Martin knocked Zimmerman down and was slamming
the older man's head against the concrete sidewalk when Zimmerman fired
his gun.

“We're ecstatic with the results,” defense attorney
Mark O'Mara after the verdict. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of
anything except protecting himself in self-defense.”

Another member of his defense team, Don West, said he was pleased the jury “kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty.”

Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed
him was a “wannabe cop” vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins
in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman
assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands,
prosecutors said.

State Attorney Angela Corey said 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,” Corey said.

As the verdict drew near, police and city leaders
in the Orlando suburb of Sanford and other parts of Florida said they
were taking precautions against the possibility of mass protests or
unrest in the event of an acquittal.

“There is no party in this case who wants to see
any violence,” Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said immediately
after jurors began deliberating. “We have an expectation upon this
announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully.”

O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, said his client is aware he has to be cautious and protective of his safety.

“There still is a fringe element that wants revenge,” O'Mara said. “They won't listen to a verdict of not guilty.”

The verdict came a year and a half after civil
rights protesters angrily demanded Zimmerman be prosecuted. That anger
appeared to return Saturday night outside the courthouse, at least for
some who had been following the case.

Rosie Barron, 50, and Andrew Perkins, 55, both black residents of Sanford, stood in the parking lot of the courthouse and wept.

“I at least thought he was going to get something, something,” Barron said.

Added her brother: “How the hell did they find him not guilty?”

Perkins was so upset he was shaking. “He killed
somebody and got away with murder,” Perkins shouted, looking in the
direction of the courthouse. “He ain't getting no probation or nothing.”

Several Zimmerman supporters also were outside the
courthouse, including a brother and sister quietly rejoicing that
Zimmerman was acquitted. Both thought the jury made the right decision
in finding Zimmerman not guilty – they felt that Zimmerman killed Martin
in self-defense.

Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Casslebury, and her brother,
52-year-old Chris Bay, stood watching the protesters chant slogans such
as, “the whole system's guilty.”

Lenzen and Bay – who are white – called the entire case “a tragedy,” especially for Zimmerman.

“It's a tragedy that he's going to suffer for the
rest of his life,” Bay said. “No one wins either way. This is going to
be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night.”

Meanwhile, authorities in Martin's hometown of
Miami said the streets were quiet, with no indication of problems. The
neighborhood where Martin's father lives in Miami Gardens was equally
quiet.

Zimmerman wasn't arrested for 44 days after the
Feb. 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.

Martin's parents, along with civil rights leaders
such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, argued that Zimmerman –
whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic – had racially
profiled their son. And they accused investigators of dragging their
feet because Martin 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, many wearing hoodies like the one Martin
had on the night he died. They also carried Skittles and a can of iced
tea, items Martin had in his pocket. President Barack Obama weighed in,
saying that if he had a son, “he'd look like Trayvon.”

Despite the racially charged nature of the case,
race was barely mentioned at the trial. Even after the verdict,
prosecutors said the case was not about race.

“This case has never been about race or the right
to bear arms,” Corey said. “We believe this case all along was about
boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries.”

One of the few mentions of race came from witness
Rachel Jeantel, the Miami teen who was talking to Martin by phone
moments before he was shot. She testified that he described being
followed by a “creepy-ass cracker” as he walked through the
neighborhood.

Jeantel gave some of the trial's most riveting
testimony. She said she overheard Martin demand, “What are you following
me for?” and then yell, “Get off! Get off!” before his cellphone went
dead.

The jurors had to sort out clashing testimony from 56 witnesses in all, including police, neighbors, friends and family members.

For example, witnesses who got fleeting glimpses of
the fight in the darkness gave differing accounts of who was on top.
And Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the
person heard screaming for help in the background of a neighbor's 911
call was their son. Numerous other relatives and friends weighed in,
too, as the recording was played over and over in court. Zimmerman had
cuts and scrapes on his face and the back of his head, but prosecutors
suggested the injuries were not serious.

To secure a second-degree murder conviction,
prosecutors had to convince the jury that Zimmerman acted with a
“depraved” state of mind – that is, with ill will, hatred or spite.
Prosecutors said he demonstrated that when he muttered, “F—— punks.
These a——-. They always get away” during a call to police as he
watched Martin walk through his neighborhood.

To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

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