Jury deliberates for second day in Zimmerman case
Dozens of protesters flocked to the Florida courthouse where a jury huddled on Saturday to decide the fate of George Zimmerman for killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, in a case that sparked debate over racial profiling and gun violence.
The panel of six women, sequestered since the trial began last month, is discussing for a second day the options of second-degree murder, manslaughter, or acquittal for Zimmerman, who says he shot the teen in self-defense.
The jurors went to the deliberation room on Friday after 12 days of testimony and two days of closing arguments in the trial of Zimmerman, 29, who claimed Martin attacked him on the night of February 26, 2012 in the central Florida town of Sanford.
Prosecutors contend Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator in his gated community, was a “wannabe cop” who tracked down the teenager and shot him without justification.
Although small compared to the protests that erupted after the killing last year, about 100 demonstrators braved the blistering Florida sun to gather outside the Seminole County courthouse. Only a handful, including one brandishing a sign that read “George You Got Hit, You Must Acquit”, appeared to support Zimmerman.
Carrying placards with slogans such as “Jail the Killer” and “Justice 4 Trayvon,” many called for a murder conviction. Some wore black T-shirts with an image of Zimmerman in the crosshairs of a gun, with the words “Yes Sir … Creepy Ass Cracker” on the back.
“Creepy ass cracker” were the words Martin’s friend Rachael Jeantel told the court he used to describe Zimmerman on a cell phone call moments before he was shot.
In an interview on CNN, defense attorney Mark O’Mara said Zimmerman supporters had sent contributions to help pay his legal costs, which have topped $1 million.
“We got a lot of $5 contributions, a lot of $100 contributions, a few thousand dollar contributions,” he said.
Donations identified as coming from white supremacists or obvious racists were not accepted, O’Mara said.
ILL WILL, SPITE OR HATRED
To convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, which could lead to a sentence of life in prison, the jury must find he acted with ill will, spite or hatred. The jury could opt for manslaughter, which has a lesser burden of culpable negligence and carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Judge Debra Nelson said she will allow the jurors to set their own working hours. The panel worked through lunch on Saturday.
Ronald Fulton, 50, Martin’s wheelchair-bound uncle who was close to the slain 17-year-old, described waiting for the verdict as difficult.
“It’s like everybody wants to know the next step of what’s happening, and that’s why it’s so tense,” Fulton told Reuters in a phone interview from his Miami home.
“If he is acquitted … what would be the recourse from that?” Fulton asked. “These things are weighing on me heavily.”
The jurors, who must reach a unanimous verdict, so far have asked the judge no questions about the case or the law. The only word from them has been a request on Friday for a full inventory of evidence in the case.
The saga began on the rainy February night when Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious person in his neighborhood. That was Martin, visiting the home of his father’s fiancee.
In the fight that ensued Zimmerman suffered several head injuries and he shot Martin once through the heart with a Kel Tec 9 mm pistol loaded with hollow-point bullets.
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, believing his account of self-defense. That provoked demonstrations, which spread nationwide, accusing Zimmerman of racial profiling and demanding his arrest.
The case drew the attention of President Barack Obama, who said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Zimmerman was arrested 45 days after the shooting, after the Sanford police chief stepped down and the governor appointed a special prosecutor who pressed second-degree murder charges.
Officials confirmed on Saturday that the office of the special prosecutor fired her information technology director, who had testified he found evidence on Martin’s cell phone that defense lawyers say the state never turned over.
Ben Kruidbos received a letter of termination from the State Attorney’s office on Friday, saying he was “completely untrustworthy” and that he could never again “step foot in this office.”
Kruidbos testified last month that he found embarrassing photos on Martin’s phone that included pictures of a clump of jewelry on a bed, underage nude females, marijuana plants and a hand holding a semiautomatic pistol.
Defense attorneys alleged the data was not turned over to them in the evidence exchange process, known as discovery. The state’s attorney’s office rejected any alleged wrongdoing or withholding of evidence in the letter dismissing Kruidbos.