Self defense vs. murder
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Despite three weeks of evidence, attorneys and witnesses were unable to definitively say how the two came face to face. Neighbors reported hearing an argument then a fight then screams for help.
Zimmerman said he shot the teenager in self-defense, that Trayvon had punched him in the nose, breaking it and knocking him to the ground then climbed on top and begun hammering his head against a sidewalk.
After the verdict, lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said, “Am I disappointed? Yes because I thought he was guilty.”
His boss, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, said her office had not over-reached by charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Paraphrasing prosecutor John Guy’s closing statements in the case, Corey said: “To the living we owe respect. To the dead, we owe the truth. We have shown respect to the living, and we believe we have brought out the truth on behalf of Trayvon Martin.”
At trial prosecutors faced an insurmountable obstacle: They could not prove who threw the first punch.
Two days before they put on their first witness, Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson tossed out one of their most damaging pieces of evidence, an analysis by two audio experts who had independently concluded that Trayvon was the one screaming for help in the background of a neighbor's 911 call.
That left them with a mish-mash of neighbor-witnesses who gave conflicting accounts, a series of statements by Zimmerman that had some variations but were mostly consistent, inconclusive physical evidence and Rachel Jeantel.
She is the 19-year-old Miami woman still in high school and unable to read cursive writing who was on the phone with Trayvon moments before he was shot.
She told jurors Trayvon was worried about a “creepy-ass cracker” who was following him and had suddenly reappeared.
The two exchanged words, she said, then she heard a bump, “grass sound,” then Trayvon say, “ 'Get off. Get off.' “
Case marked by racial tension
The case was one that deeply divided the nation over the issue of race.
In the weeks after the shooting, while Sanford police persisted in their decision not to arrest Zimmerman, thousands of protesters took to the streets, not just in Sanford but in major cities across the country as well as Europe.
Civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and the Rev. Al Sharpton, came to Sanford and led thousands of people in marches and rallies in March 2012, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. He was arrested and charged in April 2012.
Both Jackson and Sharpton released statements after the verdict.
“The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice,” Sharpton wrote in a statement. “We intend to ask the Department of Justice to move forward as they did in the Rodney King case and we will closely monitor the civil case against Mr. Zimmerman.”