A Florida jury said in the early hours of Sunday that it had found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose death sparked a furious debate in the US about racial profiling and self-defence.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Saturday night was acquitted of all charges in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager whose killing in Florida last year sparked an emotionally charged national debate about racial profiling and self-defence.
Zimmerman, 29, who is Hispanic, could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But the all-female jury, all but one of them white, reached a not-guilty verdict after two days of deliberation.
Martin’s mother and father were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Meanwhile, supporters of his family gathered outside, yelling “No! No!” upon hearing the news.
Martin’s father, Tracy, reacted on Twitter: “Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY.”
Lawyers argue vigilante violence vs. legitimate self-defence
The jurors heard nearly three weeks of dramatically conflicting testimonies from 56 people over who attacked whom on February 26, 2012, the night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where he was staying and where Zimmerman lived.
None of the witnesses who took the stand had a clear view of their encounter.
Defense attorneys portrayed the case as classic self-defence, claiming Martin knocked Zimmerman down and was slamming the older man’s head against the concrete sidewalk when Zimmerman fired his gun.
“We’re ecstatic with the results,” defence attorney Mark O’Mara said after the verdict. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defence.”
Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed him as a “wannabe cop” who was angry over robberies in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands, prosecutors said – even after the police operator Zimmerman phoned upon spotting Martin advised him to stop following the teen.
To secure a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury that Zimmerman acted with a “depraved” mindset – with ill will, hatred, or spite, in other words.
But to win a manslaughter conviction, the prosecution only had to convince the jury that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification – a task considerably complicated by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force if they feel they are in danger of death or bodily harm.
A case of racial profiling?
As the verdict drew near, police and city leaders in the Orlando-area suburb of Sanford and other parts of Florida said they were taking precautions against the possibility of mass protests or unrest in the event of an acquittal.
Issuing a statement from New York, African-American civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton called the not-guilty verdict “a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice”.
Martin’s parents, along with civil rights leaders such as Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, argued that Zimmerman had racially profiled their son, accusing investigators of dragging their feet because Martin was a black teenager.
US President Barack Obama weighed in at the time, noting that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon”.
Philip Crowther, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Washington, called the case “complex”, because many felt it was not just about gun violence and self-defence, but about race. “There are those who thought this was a case of racial profiling: the case of a black teenager wearing a hoodie being shot dead by an armed Hispanic man,” Crowther said.
Despite the racially charged nature of the case, the prosecution mostly avoided the subject.
“This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms,” Angela B. Corey, the state attorney who brought the charges, said in her closing arguments. “We believe this case all along was about boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries.”
The jury disagreed.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-07-14