July 14, 2013

George Zimmerman found not guilty

An all-woman jury declines to convict him of either second-degree murder or manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin.

By AUDRA D.S. BURCH, EVAN S. BENN and DAVID OVALLE/The Miami Herald

(Continued from page 2)

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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.

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In the weeks after the shooting, complicated portraits of both Martin and Zimmerman emerged. Zimmerman was portrayed as an overzealous neighborhood watch captain, an aspiring cop who had recklessly taken the law into his own hands. His parents and supporters said Zimmerman was far from that; he was a former altar boy who had mentored black children and collected clothes for the homeless.

Some of the first images of Martin that emerged were of a younger, more innocent-looking boy, making the shooting seem all the more heinous. He was described a good student with an interest in fixing or flying planes. It was later revealed that he also had run into some trouble, facing disciplinary action at school and posting profanity-laced messages on Twitter. The contrasting views of the two key figures furthered the divide.

The garment Martin wore the night of his death, a simple charcoal-colored hoodie, emerged as an unlikely symbol of solidarity as dozens of protests and marches erupted nationwide. Thousands posted, shared and tweeted photos of themselves wearing the hooded jackets, supporters as disparate as the Miami Heat players, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. And others adopted the teen’s image – black and white portrait of him staring ahead – as their own.

From a historic church in Atlanta to a sprawling garden square in London, from a downtown outdoor mall in Iowa City to Union Square in New York City and Bayfront Park in Miami, thousands of demonstrators protested at marches and rallies, many donning hoodies. In late March 2012 before Zimmerman’s arrest, students walked out of 41 South Florida schools to protest the killing. That same day, President Obama famously waded into the story noting that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon” – words that fueled the race narrative and garnered scathing criticism by conservatives who said his comments were divisive.

And in Sanford, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson led rallies and cast the community as the 21st-century version of civil rights hotspots like Selma or Birmingham if it did not hold Zimmerman accountable. With the speeches also came extremist threats ranging from the New Black Panther Party offering a $10,000 bounty for the capture of Zimmerman to a Detroit-based neo-Nazi group pledging to descend on Sanford to protect local white citizens from alleged racial violence. Even Gainesville Pastor Terry Jones, famous for burning a Quran, led a rally in the city.

As the controversy roared, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed special prosecutor Angela Corey, a Jacksonville-based state attorney to review the case. In making the decision to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder – a first-degree felony – Corey insisted she did not bow to growing public pressure.

In the six weeks following Zimmerman’s arrest, he raised more than $200,000, from supporters who believed he was being railroaded and unfairly judged. And he had other troubles: A Seminole County judge set Zimmerman’s bail at $150,000 in April, 2012, then revoked it three months later after Zimmerman misled authorities about a stash of $135,000 raised online and a second passport he had, raising the specter that he was getting ready to run with his wife, Shellie. He spent 30 days in jail and his wife was charged with perjury. Her case is still pending in Seminole courts.

And last September, Zimmerman’s friend, federal air marshal Mark Osterman, released a book, "Defending Our Friend: The Most Hated Man in America," which revealed Zimmerman had stayed with Osterman after the shooting. Proceeds from sales were to go to the defense fund, but Zimmerman’s lawyers distanced themselves from the controversial book.

In the lull between the charges and the trial, Sanford worked to return to normalcy. The charming Central Florida town had become a racially-charged battleground, dividing the community. For many African Americans, the marches for Martin had tapped into lingering distrust and resentment of the Sanford Police Department. The police chief had already been fired in the aftermath of the shooting, but the wounds were still fresh. With the help of the U.S. Justice Department, a coalition of city and community leaders and pastors ushered in a plan to help the city heal as they prepared for a trial that begun with selecting a jury from a pool of 500 Seminole County residents.

It took two weeks to select jurors who had been unswayed by the relentless media coverage and the question of race that hung over the case. In the end, the six women exonerated Zimmerman.

 

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Today's poll: Zimmerman trial

Do you agree with the jury finding George Zimmerman not gulity?

Yes

No

View Results