Monday, March 10, 2014
By AUDRA D.S. BURCH, EVAN S. BENN and DAVID OVALLE/The Miami Herald
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday in the shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin after a wrenching five-week trial that provoked a national discussion around the thorny issues of race, profiling, self-defense laws and gun control.
George Zimmerman, right, speaks with defense counsel Don West after the jury leaves the courtroom for more deliberations Saturday in the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman later was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
The Associated Press
The neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot Martin in the heart during a violent struggle 17 months ago smiled slightly after a court clerk read the verdict aloud in Seminole County courtroom 5D with Zimmerman’s family present. Martin’s parents were not in the courtroom.
On the single count of murder in the second degree: Not guilty, the clerk of court announced. Had he been convicted, Zimmerman faced the possibility of life in prison.
After almost three weeks of testimony, more than 50 witnesses on both sides and 60 pieces evidence, the jury – five whites, one Hispanic, mostly mothers – deliberated for about 16 hours over two days. Though Zimmerman did not take the stand, they concluded that he rightfully defended himself when he shot the teen in a Sanford townhouse complex on Feb. 26, 2012.
“From a legal perspective, the jury believed that George Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force, that he was in danger of great bodily harm or death in the altercation with Trayvon Martin,” said David Edelstein, a Miami criminal defense attorney. “They believed he was simply responding with the force necessary to protect himself. They may also have concluded this was a tragic accident.”
But for Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin – whose unyielding fight to hold their son’s killer accountable became a national cause that included coast-to-coast protests and a petition with more than 2 million signatures – the verdict was an unjust end.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, who helped train the media spotlight on the case, said: “All the evidence was there to convict George Zimmerman. This family is heartbroken that the killer of their son is not going to be held accountable. It makes no sense that in 2013 you can follow and shoot an unarmed teenager walking home with nothing other than candy and a drink, and go free.”
The random encounter between Zimmerman, now 29, and Martin, 17, riveted and divided the nation – at times along both racial and political lines – in one of the highest profile cases of last year, and left a landscape of collateral damage: the suburb in the northern shadows of Orlando became a dateline for hate and social unrest; its police chief was fired for mishandling the case; Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law came under scrutiny, and the circumstances of the shooting came to embody the ever-widening gap between gun control supporters and guns rights advocates.
Those few seconds of violence that led to a teenager’s death also galvanized strangers across the nation with a singular message: arrest the man responsible for Martin’s death. Equally passionate supporters of Zimmerman fought to restore his badly bruised name and undo allegations that painted him as a racist who hunted and killed an unarmed black teen wearing a hoodie. Contributions to an online Zimmerman’s defense fund reached nearly $400,000.
The verdict is the last chapter in a saga that started with distraught parents mourning the death of their son and grew into a national movement, powered largely by social media and a chorus of civil rights leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
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