Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

July 14, 2013

Jury: Zimmerman not guilty

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Jurors have found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The six-member, all-woman jury deliberated for more than 15 hours over two days before reaching their decision Saturday night.

They had been given the chance to convict Zimmerman of manslaughter but did not do so, despite asking for a clarification of the charge earlier in the evening.

After hearing the verdict, Judge Debra Nelson told Zimmerman he was free to go.

Jurors heard two different portraits of Zimmerman and had to decide whether he was a wannabe cop who took the law into his own hands or a well-meaning neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense because he feared for his life.

Jurors asked Saturday for clarification on the charge of manslaughter — a possible indication they were considering the lesser charge instead of second-degree murder.

They also asked for dinner, an apparent sign they planned to deliberate for at least an hour or more beyond the eight hours they already had put in during their second day.

“May we please have clarification on the instructions regarding manslaughter,” Judge Debra Nelson read from the six-member, all-woman jury’s note before a courtroom that had rapidly filled up with lawyers, reporters and members of the families of Martin and Zimmerman.

As jurors awaited an answer, Nelson talked to lawyers at the bench and after a half-hour recess, they agreed to send a note back asking the jurors to elaborate.

“The court can’t engage in general discussion but may be able to address a specific question regarding clarification of the instructions regarding manslaughter,” the note said. “If you have a specific question, please submit it.”

Zimmerman, 29, was charged with second-degree murder but jurors also had the options of finding him guilty of manslaughter or not guilty. He had pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense.

To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors had to show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification. To win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors had to convince jurors Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred or spite toward Martin.

Zimmerman faced a maximum prison sentence of life for second-degree murder and 30 years if convicted of manslaughter, due to extra sentencing guidelines for committing a crime with a gun.

The jury started deliberating Friday afternoon. At the time jurors asked their question about manslaughter Saturday, they had been deliberating for a total of 11  1/2 hours over two days. On Friday, they asked their first question: a request for a list of all the evidence.

Jurors were being sequestered, and their identities are kept anonymous — they are identified only by number.

As jurors deliberated for a second day, there was little understanding between two camps assembled to support Martin and Zimmerman outside the Seminole County Courthouse.

“He deserves some respect and appreciation,” Casey David Kole Sr., 66, shouted about the former neighborhood watch leader. “It’s a tragedy.”

Patricia Dalton, 60, yelled back: “It’s a tragedy that could have been avoided!”

Dalton, like most of the 100 or so people at the suburban Orlando courthouse, says she’s there in support of the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen from Miami who Zimmerman fatally shot last year.

The supporters stayed peaceful for most of the day until in the afternoon when sheriff’s deputies had to separate a Zimmerman supporter from a pro-Martin demonstrator after a heated exchange. There was no physical contact made and no one was arrested.

The atmosphere quickly cooled down. Two Orlando sisters, dressed in colorful African-print clothing and walking on stilts, sang “Lean on Me” with the crowd as a man strummed a banjo and people waved signs.

“We’re just here for peace and love,” said stilt walker Bambi Loketo.

Prosecutors and Trayvon Martin’s family say Zimmerman profiled Martin because of the teen’s race. Those allegations, and a 44-day delay before police arrested Zimmerman, sparked nationwide protests involving leading national civil rights leaders and spurred emotional debates about gun control, self-defense laws, race, and equal justice under the law.

The jury had not reached a verdict as of press time.

In Saturday’s strong Florida sun, some people at the courthouse wore hoodies, as Martin had when he died. One woman lay in the grass, her arms spread, in a re-creation of Martin’s death. Those in the smaller pro-Zimmerman camp held small signs, saying things like “We love you George” and “George got hit you must acquit.”

Joseph Uy of Longwood was among an even smaller group: the few who said they had no opinion on whether Zimmerman was guilty. He said he came because he was “just curious.”

“I’m neutral,” he said, while cradling his three tiny Chihuahuas in his arms.

By mid-afternoon, people rallied in the heat and chanted slogans as a looming thundercloud threatened a downpour.

“Justice for Trayvon,” some shouted. Others yelled, “Convict George Zimmerman.”

Police and civic leaders have pleaded for calm in Sanford and across the country after the verdict.

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