Jury to resume Zimmerman deliberations today
A Florida jury on Saturday resumed deliberating the fate of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, a case that has sparked debate in the U.S. public for more than a year.
The jury of six women, sequestered since the trial began last month, deliberated for more than three hours on Friday without reaching a decision of second-degree murder, manslaughter or acquittal for Zimmerman, who says he shot the teen in self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
Zimmerman, 29, says Martin attacked him on the rainy night of February 26, 2012, in the central Florida town of Sanford. Prosecutors contend Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop” who tracked down the teenager and shot him without justification.
The jury, which must reach a unanimous verdict, heard 12 days of testimony and two days of closing arguments under the eyes of Seminole County Judge Debra Nelson.
Ronald Fulton, Martin’s wheelchair-bound uncle who was close to the slain 17-year-old, said on Saturday that waiting for a verdict was one of the hardest things to do.
“It’s like everybody wants to know the next step of what’s happening, and that’s why it’s so tense,” the 50-year-old 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 judge said she will let the jurors set their own working hours.
On Friday, the jury sent a note to the judge asking for a full inventory of evidence in the case, which has dominated U.S. media, sparked street demonstrations and raised questions about race and guns in America.
Zimmerman’s family appealed for calm, whatever the verdict, saying they had complete trust in the U.S. justice system.
“As we await a verdict we will remain hopeful and ask for the public to remain peaceful no matter the outcome,” they said in a statement to CNN. “The judicial system has run its course, pray for justice, pray for peace, pray for our country.”
In Sanford’s black neighborhood of Goldsboro, a group of about a dozen people gathered Friday evening at a memorial set up for Martin, holding signs reading “Justice 4 Trayvon” and singing hymns.
The case began when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator for his gated community, called police to report a suspicious person. That turned out to be Martin, who was visiting the home of his father’s fiancée.
A fight ensued and, after Zimmerman suffered several head injuries, he shot Martin once through the heart with a Kel Tec 9 mm pistol fully loaded with hollow-point bullets.
In closing arguments on Friday, lead defense lawyer Mark O’Mara attempted to shift the blame to Martin, saying he was the aggressor who attacked Zimmerman after lying in wait.
The jury could opt for manslaughter, which has a lesser burden of culpable negligence and carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
In a final rebuttal, prosecutor John Guy told the jury: “The defendant didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him because he wanted to. That’s the bottom line.”
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, believing his account of self-defense. That provoked demonstrations accusing Zimmerman of racial profiling and demanding his arrest. He was charged with second-degree murder 45 days after the shooting.
The case drew the attention of President Barack Obama, who said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
In Sanford, officials said on Friday they were prepared for demonstrations after the verdict but expected calm.
“We will not tolerate anyone who uses the verdict as an excuse to violate the law,” Sheriff Donald Eslinger told reporters.