By Jana Curry
George Zimmerman, 29, was accused of second-degree murder in the February 26, 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old from Miami. Martin was staying with his father in Zimmerman’s Sanford, Florida, neighborhood where the tragic event took place. The incident provoked a national debate over the role of guns and race in the nation. Zimmerman pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming he acted in self-defense in the fatal shooting of Trayvon. The jury also considered the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Following the untimely death of Martin, there was a great deal of public outcry. This uproar was caused by the fact that the Sanford Police department decided not to arrest Zimmerman without conducting a thorough investigation. Because of the outcry, the governor appointed a special prosecutor to conduct a more comprehensive investigation. This prosecutor brought charges against Zimmerman after an in-depth investigation.
The trial began June 10, 2013, as 6 women were chosen to be the jury. The prosecuting and defense attorneys referred to the jury members as five white women and one black or Hispanic woman. Four alternate jurors, two women and two men, heard the case as well. Because of the approximated duration of the trial, by the defense and prosecution, and heightened national attention, Judge Debra Nelson ruled that the six-member jury and four alternates would be anonymous and sequestered, isolated by the court away from their families and their homes. Jurors are rarely sequestered for a second-degree murder trial. But suspicious testimonies by potential jurors, during the jury selection process, triggered fear of a tainted jury pool.
The story that was told by the jury was that Zimmerman, who worked at a fraud-detection company and was the neighborhood watch volunteer, was driving to Target, according to his father. Zimmerman spotted Martin and called 911, saying that there had been a rash of burglaries in the area and that there was “a guy . . . walking around, looking about.” Zimmerman continued to say, “This guy looks like . . . he’s on drugs or something.”
Before police arrived, Zimmerman and Martin encountered each other in a grassy area between the back yards of two rows of townhouses. Zimmerman says Martin punched him in the face, knocked him down and slammed his head against the pavement. He has maintained that he was defending himself when he pulled a black Kel-Tec 9mm and shot Martin at close range in the chest after the teenager tried to take the gun. When officers arrived, they found Martin dead in a pool of blood in the grass and Zimmerman bleeding from his nose and the back of his head.
Authorities in Sanford decided not to charge Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is a reasonable belief of a threat and which does not require people to retreat. Allowing Zimmerman to go free prompted a wave of protests across the country, led in part by Martin’s parents.
During the trial, prosecutors aimed to prove that Zimmerman profiled Martin as a criminal and followed the teen through the community before confronting him and shooting him. Defense attorneys argued that Zimmerman, who had called to report Martin as a suspicious person in his neighborhood, was “viciously attacked” by Martin and shot in self-defense.
In a dramatic and emotional closing speech by lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda, the jury was urged to use their “God-given common sense” to find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, because his misplaced opinion that Martin may have been a criminal was at the heart of the tragedy. “A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions … Unfortunately, because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks on this earth,” said de la Rionda.
Combing through some of the witnesses and evidence that has been presented, he focused first on that of Rachel Jeantel, 19, who was talking with Martin by cellphone when the incident occurred and testified that she heard her friend ask Zimmerman, “Why are you following me?” before the line went dead.
De la Rionda also produced the Kel-Tec 9mm semiautomatic pistol that fired the fatal bullet, waving it in the air as he questioned Zimmerman’s claim that Martin had attempted to grab it from his waistband that night, and that that was why he drew it first and shot. The night was dark and rainy de la Ronda explained. “How did he [Martin] see this gun? Or is it just another lie that he [Zimmerman] tells?” In an interview, Zimmerman described the gun being holstered on his back side, which would make it hard for anyone to see it if he was laying on the ground. The Prosecution explains that it would only mean that he drew his gun out and Martin did not attempt to reach for it as Zimmerman claims he did.
The court was again played video of Zimmerman’s first interview with Sanford police after the incident, which de la Rionda said proved that he had exaggerated, lied, and changed his story several times. In the police interview, Zimmerman said that Martin had run from him—which prosecutors say proves that the teenager was scared and being pursued; in a subsequent Fox television interview, he described it less damningly as the boy having skipped. They also discussed the inconsistencies with who approached who first. In one interview Zimmerman said Martin jumped from the bushes, in another interview he said Martin approached him, and in different interview Zimmerman said he approached Martin. So what is true?
He told the jury: “There’s only two people who really know what happened out there and he made sure that other person couldn’t come to this courtroom and tell you what happened. He, the defendant, silenced Trayvon Martin, but I would suggest to you that even in silence, his body provides evidence as to this defendant’s guilt.”
In the defendant’s closing statements, Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara urged jurors not to “fill in the gaps” in the state’s case. He asked the jurors what evidence the state had presented them to suggest that Zimmerman continued to follow Martin through the community after the non-emergency dispatcher told him not to.
“They may want you to assume…this neighborhood watch guy was some crazy guy walking around the neighborhood looking for people to harass. Except that’s an assumption without any basis in fact whatsoever,” said O’Mara. O’Mara portrayed Zimmerman as a man concerned about his community, who did have aspirations to be a police officer, something he called a “noble profession,” and suggested that it was appropriate for him to be concerned with the “rash” of burglaries that were happening in his neighborhood.
Just before a break, O’Mara highlighted what he portrayed as another inconsistency in the state’s case, a time gap between the time when Trayvon Martin was on the phone with his friend Rachel Jeantel, telling her he was running, and the altercation. Right before they took a recess, he silenced the court for four minutes, a lengthy amount of uncounted time.
O’ Mara argued that the prosecution did not address the 4 minute lapse of time stating, “Since this is the state’s case, and not mine, did they show you, tell you, explain to you, give you any insight whatsoever what Trayvon Martin was doing four minutes before that fight started at the T intersection? Do you have a doubt as to what happened and what Trayvon Martin was doing, and what he must have been thinking for four minutes?”
After a short recess, O’Mara honed in on the time gap, arguing that it shows Martin was the aggressor in the confrontation. “The person who decided this was going to become a violent event was the guy who didn’t go home when he had the chance to,” O’Mara said.
George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter the night of Saturday, July 13,2013. The verdict is the culmination of a case that captured the nation’s attention and will undoubtedly be imprinted in America’s history.
The not guilty verdict means the jury of six women, after deliberating for more than 15 hours over two days, found that Zimmerman justifiably used deadly force. They determined that he reasonably believed that such force was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself, Florida’s definition of self-defense. The unidentified jurors decided Zimmerman didn’t “intentionally commit an act or acts that caused death” or demonstrate a “depraved mind without regard for human life,” Florida’s definitions of manslaughter and second-degree murder, respectively.
As many expected, the immense reaction to the verdict spread across the country rapidly, as Americans who wanted justice for Trayvon Martin’s death, rallied, marched, and mourned the verdict. Supporters in Times Square blocked traffic after marching for Martin in Union Square. Demonstrators protested on the 10 Freeway stopping traffic in Los Angeles. People gathered holding up signs in front of the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. Protesters congregated in front of the Department of Justice in DC. Celebrities reacted to the trial with hash tags of prayer, tweets of disbelief, and high emotions on social media outlets from shock to outrage. All across the country, white, black, Hispanic, Asian people of all ages reacted together in disbelief.
One key highlight, which provided crucial testimony during the state’s case, were neighbors, friends and relatives of George Zimmerman who said they heard him screaming on the background of a contested 911 call placed by a neighbor the night of the altercation. The call was a crucial piece of evidence in the case. Though an FBI analyst was not able to scientifically analyze the tape, he said family members may have a “better chance” of identifying the screaming voice. Martin’s family members said the screams belonged to the teen, but the defense team also called a string of witnesses to the stand who identified the voice as Zimmerman. But what did the jury think?
One juror, still known only by her court designation as juror B-37, is a white, middle-aged woman from Seminole County who works as a chiropractor, according to notes from the jury selection process. She is the daughter of an Air Force captain, has two adult children and has been married to an attorney for 20 years. She is the first juror to speak publicly about the case.
On Sunday, the day after the verdict, she agreed to write a book about the trial, co-authoring with her attorney husband. She signed with a literary agency to write a book about the trial. Juror B-37 and her husband reached out to Sharlene Martin, president of Martin Literary Management. Juror B-37 also had quickly staked out a high profile in the case after the verdict, appearing on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday, June 15, 2013.
“It’s a tragedy this happened. But it happened,” the juror said. “And I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think both of them could have walked away. It just didn’t happen.” “If anything, Zimmerman was guilty of not using “good judgment,” the juror said. “When he was in the car, and he had called 911, he shouldn’t have gotten out of that car,” she said.
She also said she believes Martin threw the first punch in the confrontation that followed. “I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him … and I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him,” she explained. “Zimmerman felt his life was in danger before shooting Martin; and it was his voice that was heard screaming for help in 911 calls”, the juror said she believes. “He had a right to defend himself,” she said. “If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him, or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.”
In regards to her book, the juror said to Anderson Cooper, “Now that I am returned to my family and to society in general, I have realized that the best direction for me to go is away from writing any sort of book and return instead to my life as it was before I was called to sit on this jury.” The next day, her literary agent, Sharlene Martin, tweeted the juror’s change of plans Tuesday, June 16, 2013.
The juror also explained that the initial vote was divided. She explained that one juror believed Zimmerman was guilty for second- degree murder, two jurors believed that Zimmerman was guilty for manslaughter, and the three remaining believed he was not guilty. Juror B37 was among those who believed he was not guilty from the start. “There was a couple of them in there that wanted to find him guilty of something and after hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law, and reading it over and over and over again, we decided there’s just no way, other place to go,” she said. I guess the public will never know how the decision of the verdict was played out since B-37 has decided not write the book, but what now for Zimmerman?
Current and former Justice Department officials said Monday, July 15, 2013, that bringing civil rights charges against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin would be extremely difficult and may not be possible. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vowed to continue a federal investigation of the matter. In a speech, Attorney General Holder said that Martin’s killing was a “tragic, unnecessary shooting death. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion and also with truth. We will never stop working to ensure that, in every case, in every circumstance and in every community, justice must be done.”
As for Zimmerman right now, “He’s in hiding,’ O’Mara said on The View. Similarly, Zimmerman’s parents said that because of “an enormous amount of death threats,” they, too, have remained in hiding and still don’t feel safe enough to return to their home in Orlando. “Under the circumstances, we have not been able to talk to him,” Gladys Zimmerman told Barbara Walters on Nightline. “To tell you the truth, we don’t trust anything, not even the phones,” they said. “I don’t think he ever walks the street again without thinking the person walking at him, or behind him, has the anger that we now see in some of the tweets … there is so much emotion attached to this case,” O’Mara said.