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Florida jury acquits George Zimmerman in death of Trayvon Martin

George Zimmerman, right, talks to court security investigator Robert Hemmert during a recess after a jury question in the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford, Fla., Saturday, July 13, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.(AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)

George Zimmerman, right, talks to court security investigator Robert Hemmert during a recess after a jury question in the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford, Fla., Saturday, July 13, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.(AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)

A Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter last night in a case that alternately fascinated and appalled large segments of a spellbound nation.

The saga of Zimmerman’s shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager named Trayvon Martin whittled into the American vernacular, transforming “hoodie” sweatshirts into cultural markers, and provoking a painful re-examination of race relations in this country. Even the racial and ethnic identity of Zimmerman – he has a white father and a Hispanic mother – demanded a reordering of conventional paradigms. He was frequently referred to as a “white Hispanic,” a term that, for some, reflected a newly blended America and, for others, felt like an uncomfortable middle-ground.

Attorneys fought over Zimmerman’s fate in a heavily guarded and windowless fifth-floor courtroom, calling more than 50 witnesses during three weeks of testimony before a sequestered six-woman jury. Afternoon thunderstorms sometimes shook the building, but the participants could see nary a drop of rain as they relived the night in February 2012 when Zimmerman killed Martin after spotting the 17-year-old walking through his gated community in the rain.

A parallel trial seemed to be taking place outside that cloistered space, with running debate on cable television and the internet spurred by live-streaming coverage of the trial that effectively turned millions of Americans into quasi-jurors armed with every minute detail of the case. Others jammed into the small courtroom, lining up each morning for the coveted 24 seats allotted to the public.

Zimmerman, 29, watched with an unshakably neutral expression, sitting in his customary position at the defense table in ill-fitting blazers that an older friend bought for him to wear at the trial on sale at Men’s Wearhouse. Once, he’d dreamed of becoming a police officer or a prosecutor, and at times he seemed to be observing the proceedings with the detachment of a moderately engaged student. Only at breaks – when the jury had left the courtroom – did he sometimes let his blank stare crack a bit. He would circle the defense table giving congratulatory handshakes to his attorneys before being escorted by a bodyguard and court security officers to a waiting room down the hall.

Behind Zimmerman, on the opposite side of the courtroom, sat Martin’s parents – Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. The father, who Martin was visiting in Sanford, Fla., on the night of his death, watched stoically, his emotions measured best by the slowing or accelerating speed of his jaw muscles as he grinded through packs of gum.

The images on the courtroom screen and those painted by the attorneys were sometimes too much to bear. Fulton, her hair pulled tightly into a bun on top of her head, stood and hurried out of the courtroom Friday when Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara showed a photo of her 17-year-old son in death. She often turned away when close-ups of the bullet that pierced her son’s heart flickered onto the screen. She wiped tears during closing arguments.

Zimmerman’s parents were banned from the court during testimony because they were witnesses, but took seats just a few steps away from Fulton across the aisle during closing arguments. (Martin’s parents were also witnesses, but they were allowed to watch each day because they were immediate family members of the deceased.) The two sets of parents had dueled inside the courtroom and outside it. Each parent testified that they heard their son crying for a help in the background of a key 911 call.

On Apr. 11 – the 1-year anniversary of Zimmerman’s arrest – his mother, Gladys Zimmerman, issued an open letter, saying her son had been taken into custody “solely to placate the masses.” She was referring to large racially charged demonstrations, including a “Million Hoodie March,” organized to protest the initial decision of local authorities not to charge Zimmerman with a crime. Martin’s mother responded with a statement calling the assertion of Zimmerman’s mother “disingenuous and disrespectful.’

For all the talk of race outside the courtroom, its role inside the trial was muted – more subtext than central theme. Debra Steinberg Nelson, the stern judge overseeing the case, ruled that prosecutors could say Zimmerman “profiled” Martin, but could not say he “racially profiled” the teen. The decision disappointed some African-American leaders in Florida who had hoped the action inside the courtroom might deepen the national conversation about race that was happening outside the building.

Nelson, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 1999 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, sparred repeatedly with Zimmerman’s defense attorney Don West. In one of the trial’s signal moments, Nelson stormed off the bench shortly before 10 p.m. while West was still talking, abruptly ending a marathon evidence hearing.

Nelson ruled that jurors would not be allowed to see text messages found on Martin’s cell phone about fighting and guns because they could not be authenticated. “Why you always fighting?” a message from one of Martin’s friend’s said, according to a defense expert. West had been eager to introduce the texts to further the defense claim that Martin was the aggressor in the fight and that Zimmerman – who a gym owner described as “soft” and unathletic – was overpowered by the tall and slender teenager.

O’Mara and West, a former rock-and-roll DJ with a shaved head and an imposing courtroom presence, succeeded in turning many of the state’s key witnesses into assets for the defense. They got John Good, a neighbor, to testify that he saw a figure in dark clothes (Martin’s hoodie was dark) straddling another person and doing a Mixed Martial Arts-style “ground and pound” while “raining down blows.” They also got lead police investigator Chris Serino to testify that he believed Zimmerman’s self-defense account.

Local prosecutors had not pursued the case, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor, naming State Attorney Angela Corey, of Jacksonville, Fla., to oversee it. Corey’s assistants, who argued the case, often seemed to struggle with their own witnesses. Bernie de la Rionda, a veteran prosecutor with a booming voice and a penchant for making fun of his own baldness, tangled repeatedly with Serino. And he struggled with Shiping Bao, a medical examiner and key witness who testified that Martin might have lived for up to 10 minutes after being shot.

The timing was important because Zimmerman had told police investigators that he spread Martin’s arms after the shooting to check for weapons, but the teen was found with his arms under his body. Bao’s assertion allowed the defense to suggest that Martin might have moved his hands in the moments before his death.

In their best moments, prosecutors were able to highlight inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s accounts of the shooting and build a narrative about him as “a wannabe cop” who shot Martin “because he wanted to know not because he needed to.” They had much to work with – the police conducted several taped interviews with Zimmerman and recorded a re-enactment – all without Zimmerman requesting an attorney. Prosecutor John Guy said it would have been a “physical impossibility” for Zimmerman to have reached behind his back for his concealed and holstered Kel-Tec 9mm handgun if he was lying on the ground with Martin on top of him.

Vincent di Maio, a distinguished silver-haired forensic expert who entered the courtroom with a Panama hat in hand, spoke at length about the gunpowder tattoo that formed on Martin’s skin as the bullet entered Martin’s body. The appearance of the tattoo, di Maio testified, were unshakable proof of the defense claim that Martin was leaning over Zimmerman with his sweatshirt failing away from his chest when the shot was fired.

The charges against Zimmerman are serious. Second-degree murder carries a maximum life in prison sentence in Florida and a minimum of 25 years because it was committed with a handgun; defendants convicted of manslaughter can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

Even before the verdict was delivered, O’Mara might have summed it up best, saying two lives were changed forever on that rainy night in The Retreat at Twin Lakes. The question that lingered is whether America was changed, too.

Legacy Comments20

There will be NO further trials for Zimmerman . Alan Dershowitz the acclaimed liberal lawyer says the prosecution should be dis-barred for this political trial

But Sail, the hyper political Holder Justice Department is whooping up the divide and conquer racism charge and pushing for civil rights charges. Can they stay out of everything. Yes, it is a tragedy that Martin was killed, however, we never hear a whisper about crime in Detroit, Philadelphia, New Orleans and other places where black on black killings are a daily occurrence; and of course if it was black on white there is a news black out.

It is a sad commentary when we have a nation awash in gun violence and the commentary we get is off-topic and ill-informed rants or those who think a gun will somehow needed ward off so-called "evil-doers." The funny thing while growing up in a big city, with REAL crime every day of the week, I never felt a need to pack a gun. And you know why? It is something called common sense, keeping alert and knowing how keep out of bad situations, something that too many of our our clueless small town posters here and coddled gated community folks, like a certain Mr. Zimmmerman, refuse to do. As a result, the danger in our society is not from some kid wearing a hoodie, but from frightened, clueless individuals believe the way to react to life's unknowns is to over-react. So what we have are too many individuals who have no business carrying or owning a gun because they believe their world is populated by "hostile" phantoms who either don't share their skin color, economic status or simply don't fit into their notion of Joe and Jane Sixpack.

Well-stated, Nashua Mike.

Welcome back Nashua Mike. Its good to see ya but I don't agree with ya. Gated community folks is a totally wrong assumption few people in NH live in a gated community. If you are looking for answers try statistics and facts.

In Brunswick Ga recently two black kids 17 year old and 14 year old were arrested for shooting and killing a white 13 month old baby that was in a stroller as they robbed her mother. If it was not for the fact that my Godchildren lives there I would never know about it.. Statement from the mother after the kids said they would either get money from her or kill her baby "West continued, "And then, all of a sudden, he walked over and he shot my baby in the face."" Not much on the news at all about it.

I heard about the Black on White Hate Crime but you will never see anything like that get past the left wing bias filter like the Monitor and it's ilk. The Monitor doesn't report the news it shapes the news. If a Monitor reader were to be asked how many black teens were killed in Chicago last month they would come up with a blank stare.

It is pretty sad that you feel compelled to spread you commentary that some might say borders on racist paranoia not only in this newspaper but also the Nashua Telegraph. Maybe if you spent a bit less time online spreading this anomalous tale and more time with real people, you might find the world is not as hostile as you make it out to be.

Progressives and others just can't wait for the opportunity to cry "racism". Although they claim to embrace diversity and unity, etc., they are the first to pit one group against another. The press has called Zimmerman a "white Hispanic", what is the reason for that? Politics is the answer. Those on the Left never admit the truth and that is that most of this issue is about the attitude of certain groups and not about skin color. You hear very little about Asian on Asian crime or anything from the Left about Asians. But you always hear about African Americans and yet, progressives completely overlook the culture of the community and the behavior of the community, whether it be people reliving the 1800's and being angry about a past in which they never lived or the hip hop, rap culture. Black on black crime in Chicago is horrifying but we never hear much about that. We do hear about Hispanic gangs, African American gangs but we never hear about Swedish gangs or French gangs. But always, the press and progressives make excuses and use "race" as the excuse and skin color as the motive. Will there ever be any intellectual honesty returned to us by the press? It is so obvious and so contrived that they are pitting group against group to divide and conquer.

Now that is a great post ITSA. You are correct, the progressives will never own up to injecting race into everything. I believe it was them that started the race baiting when anyone disagreed with the policies of this President. Yet how many folks did vote for him who are not Black. Once all of the evidence that has been hidden, comes out, I believe many will have egg on their faces on how this case was handled. The media, politics, race and corruption with the DA's office in Florida has a lot to own up to. I always find it quite amazing how folks who do not know the facts, are the first ones to rush to judgement. That sadly includes our President. The justice system only works if it based on evidence, not politics, race, emotion or the lies the media feed to us.

Last year a black woman in Florida fired warning shots against her abusive husband whom she had a restraining order and she was sentenced to 20 years. Go figure. Florida some place. Isn't that where Anthony went free too?

I agree with you, warning shots are not enough to put someone away for 20 years, remember when it happened to the man here in NH and some crazy woman accused him of holding a shot gun when she trespassed and he went to jail for awhile. Casey Anthony? Yes, she was definitely guilty and she has to live with that. Remember, what goes around comes around.....she will get her payback in some way.

What a great country! In most countries you would have to be wealthy or politically connected in order to kill someone and then be set free. In America, all you have to do is kill a black person and you wil be set free. I feel less safe in America now than at any time in my 60 years. We are less civil and less safe. Zimmerman killed an innocent kid. He disobeyed police and instigated this tragedy. I hope his life is miserable.

Unbelievable, they only reason you feel less safe is because Obozo is Commander in Chief and that is a scary thought with all the mistakes he has made. The only reason why Zimmerman is free is because 6 Brave Woman did their due diligence and reviewed all the evidence and made a decision of Not Guilty based on facts and not emotion.

Not quite. I really don't see an Obama connection here. Try to be civil. I feel less safe because republican legislatures are empowering people like Zimmerman to take the law into their own hands. We should all be afraid of this new course. They disregard the concerns of police departments and reasonable citizens. I own a gun and so far have not felt the need to carry it with me when i walk through my neighborhood or go shopping. Am worried that I my need to change my thinking just to protect myself. Again, I hope Zimmerman has a miserable life.

Try to be civil, lets look at fact. Places that have strict gun laws like Washington DC, Detroit, and Chicago (all run by Democrats) have more crime that places that have Concealed Carry Laws. But if you don't want to be civil you can avoid the facts and falsely blame Republicans.

"I hope Zimmerman has a miserable life".....now that is "civil". So I hope that Obama and his family have a miserable life....same thing isn't it???

How many times does the President of the US call up parents who lost a child due to violence? How many times does a President make statements about a Harvard Professor getting arrested by a white cop? And how many times does a President do this without knowing the facts? Then make statements about racial profiling, stating the cop acted wrong etc? There was a connection in this trial in my eyes. Justice is suppose to be blind, you get accused and a jury weighs their verdict based on evidence. This case was tried in the media, politics was inserted, etc, even before day one of the trial. The idea that self defense might actually be justified was never considered. The media played it up like it was all about race. They even hid facts. The DA also hid facts that had anything to do with Zimmerman looking good and Martin looking bad She is being investigated.. The judge was biased also. Look at the facts. Look at the fact that the prosecutors presented witnesses that benefited the defense. The jury had the facts, they evidently did what they were suppose to do, they came to a verdict based on the evidence, not on emotion, politics or race.

Rabbit, absolutely correct as usual!!!

Only a poor excuse for a President would do such things. Obama has trashed the honor and stature of the presidency. It will take a man, a real man, a real leader to rebuild that.

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