George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, a jury decided just now in Florida. The six-person, all-woman jury had deliberated for 15 hours; the Orlando Sentinel reports, "Zimmerman hugged his family after the verdict was read. George's wife, Shellie, smiled and cried."
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, said, "All the evidence was there to convict George Zimmerman. This family is heartbroken that the killer of their son is not going to be held accountable. It makes no sense that in 2013 you can follow and shoot an unarmed teenager walking home with nothing other than candy and a drink, and go free."
In February of 2012, Martin, a black 17-year-old, was walking through a gated townhouse community in Sanford, Florida, which is just outside of Orlando. Zimmerman saw Martin and called the police, telling them, "There's a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something." Zimmerman was told he didn't need to follow the teen, but he did anyway. Martin had been headed to his father's girlfriend's home when he was fatally shot by ZImmerman, a captain of the volunteer neighborhood watch. The teen was not armed, and was found to be carrying Skittles and iced tea.
Florida has a "Stand Your Ground" law that allows people essentially a free license to shoot others if they feel threatened. After much outcry, charges were eventually brought against Zimmerman by the Florida State Attorney's office, who charged him with second-degree murder. Jurors were also allowed to consider a manslaughter charge. According to the NY Times:
From the start, prosecutors faced a difficult task in proving second-degree murder. That charge required Mr. Zimmerman to have evinced a “depraved mind,” brimming with ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent, when he shot Mr. Martin.
Manslaughter, which under Florida law is typically added as a lesser charge if either side requests it, was a lower bar. Jurors needed to decide only that Mr. Zimmerman put himself in a situation that culminated in Mr. Martin’s death.
But because of Florida’s laws, prosecutors had to persuade jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. A shortage of evidence in the case made that a high hurdle, legal experts said.
Even after three weeks of testimony, the fight between Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman on that rainy, dark night was a muddle, fodder for reasonable doubt. It remained unclear who had started it, who screamed for help, who threw the first punch and at what point Mr. Zimmerman drew his gun. There were no witnesses to the shooting.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said it was an "atrocity" and "a sad day in this country."
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda was forceful in a press conference, "What you have is a 17-year-old wearing a hoodie minding in own business… followed by an individual who wants to be a cop," emphasizing that he believes Zimmerman is guilty. He added, "I respect the jury's verdict... But I'm disappointed," noting he's tried 80-something cases, and "This is only the second murder case I've lost."
State Attorney Angela Corey said, "This case has never been about race. Nor has it been about the right to bear arms. But Trayvon Martin was profiled. There is no doubt." She also asked for peace—perhaps referring to the group of supporters for Trayvon Martin who gathered outside the courthouse— and privacy for Trayvon's family.
BREAKING: Zimmerman acquitted on all charges.We will update you as we work to pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman through the DOJ.
— NAACP (@NAACP) July 14, 2013
One of Zimmerman's lawyer, Don West, told reporters, "I thought the prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful. I am gratified by the jury's verdict. As happy as I am for George ZImmerman, I'm glad this jury kept this tragedy from being a travesty... It makes me sad that it took this long and under these circumstances to get justice." And defense lawyer Mark O'Mara said, "If George Zimmerman was black, he never would have been charged with a crime."
O'Mara said the legal system failed him because there was no evidence for second-degree murder charges—and pointed out Zimmerman made numerous voluntary statements with the police and cooperated extensively. He also blasted the media for believing the narrative that Trayvon Martin was the victim, "You guys ran with a story fed to you and you ran with it and you ran it over."
Lawyers for Trayvon Martin's family thanked supporters and the prosecution. They mentioned how they were saddened by the verdict but accepted it, and also how "heartbroken" his parents are. Benjamin Crump said, "For Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful." Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, Tweeted, "Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!"