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A full day after getting case, jury still deliberating Zimmerman's fate

Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 3:51pm

For more than 11 hours, six women have sat in a room trying to answer one question: Is George Zimmerman guilty?

The Florida jury has been deliberating since shortly after 2:30 p.m. Friday, with no indication as to which way it is leaning. Jurors decided to keep talking straight through lunch Saturday, for instance -- which could mean there's a sense of urgency to reach a verdict soon -- or it could mean absolutely nothing at all.

Jurors can make one of three decisions: Find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder, find him guilty of manslaughter, or find him not guilty. The manslaughter charge was approved Thursday by Judge Debra Nelson, over the defense's vehement objection.

One of 1,009 fatal shootings in Florida in 2012, Trayvon Martin's death stood out -- the various threads of the story helping to capture the public imagination.

There was, for instance, the fact that an adult had fired on an unarmed teen, soon after police told him not to follow the 17-year-old. And there was the accusation of racial profiling: that Zimmerman -- the son of a Peruvian mother and a white American father, who identifies as Hispanic -- had singled out Martin, at least in part, because the teenager was black.

On the other side of the debate were those standing by Zimmerman. If a person comes under attack and fears for his life, they argue, a person has a right to use a gun to protect himself.

Many of those threads made their way into the trial, which began in earnest June 24, while others did not. For instance, the prosecution did not accuse Zimmerman of being racist, though it did claim he wrongly profiled Martin as a suspected criminal. Still, the case has already stirred heated debate and all but guarantees that the verdict will reverberate nationwide.

As she read off 27 pages of instructions Friday, Judge Nelson took pains to tell jurors to follow the law, consider the testimony and evidence they find most relevant, and use their common sense as they weigh Zimmerman's fate.

"All of us are depending on you to make a wise and legal decision," she said.

The fateful night

The story starts the night of February 26, 2012, as Martin walked back to his father's fiancee's house through the rain from a Sanford, Florida, convenience store, where he'd bought snacks.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, spotted him and called police. A 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman that officers were on the way and not to follow the person he thought was suspicious.

Zimmerman got out of his car, nonetheless, later telling police that he'd just wanted to get a definitive address to relay to authorities.

Sometime after that, Zimmerman and Martin got into a physical altercation. During that, neighbors began to take notice: On one 911 call, anguished cries for help can be heard.

The now-29-year-old Zimmerman never denied shooting Martin. The question is why.

And who was yelling for help that night, Martin or Zimmerman?

Zimmerman was 'wannabe police officer'

Since opening statements, dozens testified as both sides presented extensive information -- the gun, pictures, interviews Zimmerman conducted and more -- for the jury to consider.

Nelson told the jurors that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman is guilty.

"Your memory should be your asset," she told the jurors, among other pieces of advice.

"It is up to you to decide which evidence is reliable," Nelson said. "You should use your common sense."

During 14 days of testimony and arguments, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda characterized Zimmerman as untrustworthy. He picked apart interviews Zimmerman gave to police and the media.

Why would a scared man get out of his car and walk around after being told by a 911 dispatcher not to follow the victim, the prosecutor asked in his closing argument. Did Zimmerman walk toward Martin, or did Martin come after him? Should Zimmerman have had more than a bloody nose and scratches on his head if he'd had his head slammed on the ground by the victim?

The prosecution got one last chance to present its case Friday, when Assistant State Attorney John Guy rebutted the defense's closing argument.

Guy characterized Zimmerman as a frustrated wannabe police officer who took the law into his own hands. He had decided Martin was one of the criminals who had been victimizing his neighborhood, he said, then trailed him against the advice of police dispatchers.

"The defendant didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to," Guy said. "He shot him because he wanted to. That's the bottom line."

Zimmerman, the prosecution said, had a powerful determination not to allow someone he had already decided was a criminal to escape.

"What is that when a grown man, frustrated, angry, with hate in his heart, gets out of his car with a loaded gun and follows a child? A stranger? In the dark? And shoots him through his heart? What is that?" Guy asked.

It was nothing but self-defense, defense attorney Mark O'Mara argued.

'Many coulda beens,' defense says

"How many 'coulda beens' have you heard from the state in this case?" O'Mara asked Friday. "How many 'what ifs' have you heard from the state in this case? They don't get to ask you that. No, no, no.

"Do not give anybody the benefit of the doubt except for George Zimmerman," the lawyer said.

O'Mara tried to discredit the prosecution's portrayal of Zimmerman as frustrated, spiteful and seeking vengeance.

His client wasn't the aggressor, the defense argued.

It was Martin who stalked Zimmerman and emerged from the darkness to pounce, the defense said. The teenager pinned Zimmerman to the ground and slammed his head into the sidewalk, according to O'Mara.

"That was somebody who used the availability of dangerous items, from his fist to the concrete, to cause great bodily injury against George Zimmerman," he said.

Guy ridiculed the argument that Zimmerman had suffered substantial injuries.

Repeated blows against concrete would have caused more damage than the rivulets of blood and bumps seen in photographs from the night of the shooting, he said.

Race still a hot topic, over a year after shooting

While this drama played out in a Sanford courtroom, Florida authorities braced for the outcome.

In the weeks after Martin's death, tens of thousands attended rallies demanding Zimmerman's arrest and castigating authorities for their handling of the case. Some of them wore hoodies, as did Martin the night he was killed, in support of his family.

A lawyer for the late teenager's family said that while he wouldn't call Zimmerman a racist, "this case in its totality has a racial undertone to it."

Daryl Parks told CNN's Anderson Cooper that the defendant surmised Martin was a criminal like those who'd struck in his neighborhood before -- at least one of whom was black.

"The problem, in this case ... is that Trayvon was not one of those people," Parks said.

The defense has strongly rejected accusations that Zimmerman is racist. O'Mara cited his client's work as a mentor to black children and his taking a black girl to his prom as evidence of his non-racist beliefs.

His defenders have been passionate as well, especially about a person's right to defend himself with a gun when attacked. Debate swirled over Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows those who believe they are in imminent danger to use deadly force to protect themselves.

Calls for peace

Zimmerman's family is urging people to accept the verdict, whatever it is.

"Though we maintain George committed no crime whatsoever, we acknowledge that the people who called for George's arrest and subsequent trial have now witnessed both events come to pass," the family said. "We hope now that as Americans we will all respect the rule of law, which begins with respecting the verdict. The judicial system has run its course -- pray for justice, pray for peace, pray for our country."

Authorities appealed for calm as well and took steps in case some did not heed those appeals.

The sheriff's office in Broward County, in the Miami area, said it had made a contingency plan to respond to incidents tied to a verdict.

"Freedom of expression is a constitutional right," the sheriff's office said. "While raising your voice is encouraged, using your hands is not."

Civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. was among those who appealed for peace.

"If Zimmerman is convicted, there should not be inappropriate celebrations, because a young man lost his life, and if he is not convicted, we should avoid violence, because it will only lead to more tragedies," Jackson said.

But O'Mara said that whatever the outcome, his client will not feel safe.

"There are a percentage of the population who are angry, they're upset, and they may well take it out on him," he said.


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