SANFORD, Fla -- After a dramatic final day of closing arguments, the six-woman jury in the George Zimmerman trial adjourned for the day at 6:00 pm ET Friday after deliberating for about three and a half hours. They will continue deliberations beginning at 9:00 am ET Saturday.
Following a three-week televised trial, the jurors are deciding whether to find Zimmerman, a 29-year-old volunteer neighborhood watchman, guilty or not guilty of second degree murder when he shot an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, dead in a scuffle in a nearby gated community the night of February 26, 2012. They may also find Zimmerman guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Before the fatal encounter, Zimmerman had called the local police to alert them that Martin looked suspicious and then pursued him against the advice of the non-emergency dispatcher. What happened after that has made up the heart of the trial: whether Martin attacked Zimmerman or the other way around. Zimmerman has acknowledged shooting Martin but said he did so in self-defense.
The case ignited a national debate over gun ownership and race—Martin is black, Zimmerman is half white and half Hispanic—prompting marches and demonstrations around the country.
Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara made a lengthy final argument defending his client Friday morning, at one point dragging in a chunk of concrete and placing it in front of the jury to make the point that Martin was not “unarmed” because he allegedly slammed Zimmerman’s head against the concrete walkway during their fight.
O’Mara said Zimmerman, not Martin, was the victim that rainy February night, and insisted that following someone in public is not a crime.
Assistant District Attorney John Guy countered in his closing remarks that Zimmerman had “hate in his heart” when he left his vehicle to pursue Martin against the dispatcher’s advice. He said Martin had been afraid of Zimmerman, and called it every “child’s” worst nightmare to be pursued in the dark by a strange man.
For the jury to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, the prosecution would have to prove that Zimmerman had “a depraved mind without regard for human life” when he shot Martin. The law says Zimmerman would be justified in killing Martin if he could prove he had a “reasonable” belief that his own life was in jeopardy or that he could suffer bodily harm.
About two hours into deliberations, the lawyers filed back into the courtroom for a jury question. The jurors requested an itemized list of all the evidence that had been submitted over the course of the trial, which was given to them. An hour and a half later, Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson announced that the jury had requested to adjourn for the evening, to reconvene on Saturday morning. Nelson reminded jurors not to discuss the case with anyone, watch or read news about the case, or even monitor social media streams that might mention it.
A few dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse Friday afternoon, most of them peacefully demonstrating in support of Martin. A handful of protesters showed up in defense of Zimmerman, and occasionally the two factions shouted at each other over whether Martin's death was treated less seriously by the police because of his race. Alma Pinkney, a 70 year-old electronics worker, said she showed up to protest because two of her grandsons used to live in the same subdivision where Martin was shot. "It could have been one of them," Pinkney, who is black, said. "Justice has not been served for Trayvon." Meanwhile, pro-Zimmerman protesters said his actions were legal under the state's self defense law, and that the police's initial decision not to charge him had nothing to do with race.
In a press conference shortly after the jurors began deliberations, Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith and Sanford Sheriff Don Eslinger jointly called for a peaceful reaction to the verdict. Law enforcement officers in Tampa and other Florida communities have also said they are on the lookout for violence after the verdict.