SANFORD – George Zimmerman is a free man.
After nearly 16 hours of deliberations over two days, a six-member jury - all women, five of them white – acquitted Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer charged with murdering Trayvon Martin in what became one of the most racially-charged criminal cases in the country.
Jurors found that 29-year-old Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot Trayvon, an unarmed black 17-year-old, on Feb. 26, 2012 as the two fought on the ground near Zimmerman's home.
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Zimmerman, 29, showed no emotion when the verdict was read at 10 p.m. Saturday. His wife, Shellie, sitting in the gallery behind him, began crying quietly.
“Obviously we are ecstatic with the results,” defense attorney Mark O'Mara said moments after the verdict was read. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything.”
Co-counsel Don West, though, was defiant and angry.
“I think the prosecution of George Zimmerman was despicable,” he said. “I'm glad this jury kept this tragedy from being a travesty.”
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The verdict was a heart-breaking outcome for Trayvon's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who had spent the last year-and-half campaigning first for Zimmerman's arrest then his conviction.
They were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read, but they had sat side-by-side through nearly every other day of his five week-long trial - including two weeks of jury selection - seldom showing emotion.
The rare exception was when Sybrina Fulton would wipe away a tear or leave the courtroom to spare herself the details of her son's autopsy or from having to hear a recording of screams and the gunshot that killed him.
Both testified briefly, identifying those screams as coming from their son.
Seconds after the verdict was read Saturday, Tracy Martin took to Twitter:
“God blessed Me & Sybrina with Tray and even in his death I know my baby proud of the FIGHT we along with all of you put up for him GOD BLESS,” he tweeted.
About an hour after the verdict was read, attorneys for Trayvon’s family said they — and Trayvon’s family — were urging people to remain calm in the wake of the verdict.