Deliberations Continue Saturday in Zimmerman Trial
By Greg Botelho and Michael Pearson
(CNN) — Will George Zimmerman walk, or will he be walked handcuffed to prison?
Six women on a Florida jury could decide that as early as Saturday morning, when they resume deliberations in Zimmerman’s trial in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
The jury officially got the case around 2:30 p.m. Friday, after 14 days of testimony punctuated by at times dramatic closing arguments over the past two days.
Judge Debra Nelson read off 27 pages of instructions that outlined the jury’s three options: convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder in Martin’s death, convict him of manslaughter or find him not guilty. She approved the manslaughter option on Thursday, over the defense’s vehement objection.
“All of us are depending on you to make a wise and legal decision,” Nelson told the jurors.
About two hours later, the judge noted the jury’s request for an inventory of the evidence presented — something that they got delivered to them at about 5 p.m. But the jurors only deliberated for an hour longer, at which point they asked to cut off talk for the night.
They’ll be back at it Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.
Hanging in the balance is what happens to Zimmerman, and beyond that a verdict’s inevitable impact on the many others nationwide who have been moved by the case.
Some feel passionately that he did nothing wrong and killed Martin only to save his own life. Others blame Zimmerman for, in their view, profiling the unarmed 17-year-old, ignoring a 911 dispatcher’s direction not to follow him and shooting him without justification.
The story stirred vigorous debate about gun violence and race: Martin was black, while Zimmerman is Hispanic. And it still does, so much so that authorities in Seminole County and elsewhere steeled for the possibility of violent reactions to the verdict.
“As Americans, we entrust our fellow citizens with a solemn duty,” Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger said moments after the jury got the case. “At times, as individuals, we may not agree with this verdict. But as communities within our country, we respect the rule of law.”
All this emotion traces back to the evening of February, 26, 2012. Martin was walking back to his father’s fiancee’s house from a Sanford convenience store — where he’d bought Skittles and a drink — the hood of his sweatshirt raised as rain fell. The Miami teen was spotted by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who called police and, at one point, got out of his car.
The now 29-year-old Zimmerman never denied shooting Martin, following an altercation between the two. The question is why.
Prosecutor: Zimmerman ‘had hate in his heart’
Since opening arguments on June 24, dozens testified on everything from what they heard that night, what they saw or believed happened, and whose panicked voice they think can be heard screaming on a pivotal 911 call. Both sides presented extensive info — the gun, pictures, interviews that Zimmerman conducted and more — for the jury to consider.
Instructing the jury Friday afternoon, Judge Nelson told the six women that Zimmerman didn’t have to prove anything. The prosecution does, however, have to convince them he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, she said.
She told the jury not to use Zimmerman’s decision not to testify against him and to be cognizant of the specific charges. She told them “your memory should be your asset” — among other pieces of advice.
“It is up to you decide which evidence is reliable,” Nelson said. “You should use your common sense.”
Attorneys made their cases before jurors began their deliberations.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda went first Thursday, characterizing Zimmerman — the only one of the two involved in the altercation who the prosecutor said is still able to make his case — as untrustworthy. De la Rionda picked apart interviews Zimmerman had given to police and in the media.
Why would a scared man get out of his car and walk around after being told by a 911 dispatcher not to follow the victim, the prosecutor asked in his closing argument? Did Zimmerman walk toward Martin, or did Martin come after him? Should Zimmerman have had more than a bloody nose and scratches on his head if he’d had his head slammed on the ground by the victim?
Zimmerman “always has an excuse, or they catch him in a lie,” de la Rionda said.
The prosecution got one last chance to present its case Friday, when Assistant State Attorney John Guy rebutted the defense’s own closing argument.
Guy echoed many points de la Rionda had made, characterizing Zimmerman as a frustrated wannabe police officer who took the law into his own hands. He had decided Martin was one of the criminals who had been victimizing his neighborhood, Guy argued, then trailed him against the advice of police dispatchers and wrongly shot him to death.
“The defendant didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to,” Guy said. “He shot him because he wanted to. That’s the bottom line.”
The prosecutor argued Zimmerman built a mountain of lies to conceal vengeful frustration and powerful determination not to allow someone he had already decided was a criminal to escape.
And, Guy contended, his under-his-breath commentary, captured on a police recording, about “f***ing punks” — apparently directed at Martin — revealed Zimmerman’s hatred and ill-will toward the teenager.
That’s important because under Florida law, a conviction on second-degree murder requires jurors to find that Zimmerman shot Martin out of “ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent.”
“Common sense tells you it’s the person talking like the defendant who had hate in his heart,” Guy said.
“What is that when a grown man, frustrated, angry, with hate in his heart, gets out of his car with a loaded gun and follows a child? A stranger? In the dark? And shoots him through him heart? What is that?”
It was, defense attorney Mark O’Mara argued, nothing more than self-defense.
Defense: Case against Zimmerman full of ‘what ifs’
“How many ‘coulda beens’ have you heard from the state in this case,” O’Mara asked Friday. “How many ‘what ifs’ have you heard from the state in this case? They don’t get to ask you that. No, no, no.”
“Do not give anybody the benefit of the doubt except for George Zimmerman,” the lawyer said.
O’Mara tried to discredit the prosecution’s portrayal of Zimmerman as a frustrated, spiteful vengeance-seeker.
His client wasn’t the aggressor, the defense argued, contending it was Martin who stalked Zimmerman and emerged from the darkness to pounce. There, O’Mara said, the teenager pinned Zimmerman to the ground and slammed his head into the sidewalk.
The defense attorney lugged a heavy block of cement to show jurors what, he said, Zimmerman had struck.
“And that is not an unarmed teenager with nothing but Skittles trying to get home,” said O’Mara. “That was somebody who used the availability of dangerous items, from his fist to the concrete, to cause great bodily injury against George Zimmerman.”
Guy ridiculed the argument that Zimmerman had suffered substantial injuries, saying repeated blows against concrete would have caused more damage than the rivulets of blood and bumps seen in photographs from the night of the shooting.
Authorities brace for post-verdict reaction
While this drama played out in a Sanford courtroom, authorities — in that central Florida city and elsewhere around the state and the country — braced for what might happen when or if the jury makes its decision.
In the weeks after Martin’s death, tens of thousands attended rallies demanding Zimmerman’s arrest and castigating authorities for their handling of the case. Some of them wore hoodies, as did Martin the night he was killed, in support of his family.
Zimmerman moved out of his home after receiving death threats, his father Robert had said, then stayed at an undisclosed location awaiting trial.
His defenders have been passionate as well, especially about a person’s right to defend himself with a gun when attacked. Debate swirled over Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows those who believe they are in imminent danger to use deadly force to protect themselves.
Soon after the jury got the case, Zimmerman’s family released a statement urging people to accept the verdict, whatever it is.
“Though we maintain George committed no crime whatsoever, we acknowledge that the people who called for George’s arrest and subsequent trial have now witnessed both events come to pass,” the family said. “We hope now that as Americans we will all respect the rule of law, which begins with respecting the verdict. The judicial system has run its course — pray for justice, pray for peace, pray for our country.”
Authorities similarly appealed for calm — and took steps in case some did not heed those appeals.
The sheriff’s office in Broward County, in the Miami area, said it had made a contingency plan to respond to incidents tied to a verdict, as it used a public service announcement to urge people to refrain from violence or destruction.
“Freedom of expression is a constitutional right,” the sheriff’s office said. “While raising your voice is encouraged, using your hands is not.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr., a prominent civil rights leader, was among those who urged people not to react with violence.
“If Zimmerman is convicted there should not be inappropriate celebrations, because a young man lost his life, and if he is not convicted we should avoid violence because it will only lead to more tragedies,” Jackson said.
But O’Mara, for one, said that whatever the outcome, his client will not feel safe.
“There are a percentage of the population who are angry, they’re upset, and they may well take it out on him,” he said.
HLN’s Grace Wong, Graham Winch, Amanda Sloane, Jonathan Anker and Anna Lanfreschi and CNN’s Faith Karimi, Chelsea J. Carter, John Couwels and Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.