*After 14 days of witness testimony and arguments on both sides, the fate of George Zimmerman now rests with six women.
These jurors began their deliberations around 2:30 p.m. Friday, after Judge Debra Nelson read a lengthy list of instructions. They have three options: convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder in Trayvon Martin’s death, convict him of manslaughter or find him not guilty. The judge 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.
Both sides in the George Zimmerman trial presented impassioned pleas during closing arguments Friday, with defense attorney Mark O’Mara remaining silent for four minutes to illustrate what he called a key gap in the State’s case, and prosecutor John Guy repeatedly referring to Trayvon Martin as a “child” and Zimmerman as a “grown man” to illustrate the age difference between the two.
Delivering the rebuttal closing argument after a nearly three-hour speech by O’Mara, the prosecution’s John Guy focused on what was going on in the minds — and hearts — of Zimmerman and Trayvon that fateful night in Sanford, Florida.
“What was in Trayvon Martin’s heart? Was it not fear? Was that child not in fear when he was running from that defendant? Isn’t that every child’s worst nightmare? To be followed on the way home in the dark, by a stranger? Isn’t that every child’s worst fear? That was Trayvon Martin’s last emotion,” Guy said.
Guy urged jurors to use their “common sense” to piece together the facts in the case.
“I’m asking you to use your common sense, use your heart, use what you know is real,” said Guy.
He also said the case was not about race but about “right and wrong.” Guy asked jurors to reverse the roles and imagine Zimmerman walking home in the rain with a hoodie and imagine Martin with “hate in his heart” driving around in the car.
“If it was Trayvon Martin who had shot and killed George Zimmerman, what would your verdict be? That’s how you know, it’s not about race. To the living, we owe respect, but to the dead, we owe the truth.”
He also reiterated the argument he made in opening statements: “The defendant didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to, he shot him because he wanted to. That’s the bottom line.”
Law enforcement officials and religious leaders held a press conference this afternoon calling for calm in the event jurors acquit Zimmerman.
“This is a trying time for all of us,” Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith, who joined Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger at a news conference immediately after the jury got the case Friday. But, he said, “I’d like to remind everyone that the city of Sanford is a peaceful location and it has been since that time 17 months ago.”
Pastor Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church in Titusville, told Florida Today his congregants will focus on prayer rather than protests regardless of the verdict. But he said the African-American community is still seething over the way the case was handled following the Feb. 26, 2012 incident.
“For so many of the youth, I think you have to understand that the way this case was handled seems like a slap in the face. How could Zimmerman shoot Trayvon and by his own admission be free to leave 12 hours later? You’ve also had Trayvon demonized.”
In Chicago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged calm, too.”We seek justice not revenge from the American judicial system,” Jackson said. “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. Self-destruction is not the road to reconstruction.”
For months, officials in Sanford and South Florida have been working with pastors, youth coaches, community activists and summer camp counselors to stress a non-violent approach if Zimmerman walks free. At the same time, police say they have quietly been making plans for dealing with any potential emotional flare-ups that could quickly turn into storefront-smashing, car-burning riots.
“It’s all right to be vocal, but we don’t want to be violent,” said the Rev. Walter T. Richardson, a longtime pastor and chairman of Miami-Dade County’s Community Relations Board, which has been holding town hall-style meetings about the case. “We’ve already lost one soul and we don’t want to lose any more.”
CNN reported an estimated 25 people demonstrating outside the courthouse in Sanford, Fla. this afternoon. They have signs that say “Justice for Trayvon” and “Zimmerman Guilty.” They are chanting “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” Earlier a Black Panther group had a press conference with about 6 to 7 people attending.