Zimmerman Jury Deliberates
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A six-person jury in Sanford, Fla., is deliberating today in the murder trial of George Zimmerman. He's the neighborhood watch volunteer who's charged in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. After three weeks of testimony and more than 50 witnesses, the jury heard closing arguments from prosecutors and defense yesterday.
George Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, told the jury that the evidence and testimony shows his client was justified in his use of deadly force when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRIMINAL TRIAL)
MARK O'MARA: The state carries the burden, without question, of proving to you beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman did not properly act in self-defense.
SIMON: NPR's Greg Allen has been covering the trial, and joins us from Sanford. Greg, thanks for being with us.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: We've heard about Florida's self-defense law, called Stand Your Ground, since this shooting occurred a year and a half ago. Is that law what this case comes down to?
ALLEN: Well, it's interesting. You know, Zimmerman's lawyer - Mark O'Mara - he and Zimmerman made the decision not to ask for a separate Stand Your Ground hearing. But that said, it was still very much part of the case. In his closing yesterday, O'Mara repeatedly went back to the issue of self-defense. And Florida's Stand Your Ground law is included in the instructions that were given to the jury.
So under that law, as long as Zimmerman was in fear of death or great bodily harm, use of deadly force is justified. And as O'Mara says, George Zimmerman doesn't need to have any injuries; he just had to have had a reasonable fear of injury or death.
SIMON: Does that mean that also, in a sense, then the jury has to decide what kind of young man Trayvon Martin was? Was he a credible threat or not?
ALLEN: That's true. And you know, in his closing argument, Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara - you know, he worked to present his client as a community-minded neighbor. But then in his closing argument, he went a little further talking about Trayvon Martin, saying the real questions about what happened that night lay with that 17-year-old, young man from Miami.
He said there's a four-minute gap that night when it's not clear what Trayvon Martin was doing, and O'Mara suggested that Martin may have even been plotting and laying in wait for Zimmerman. Then we had a rebuttal from prosecutor John Guy, and he painted a much different picture of Trayvon Martin. He said those four minutes, those were Martin's last four minutes on earth; and he was just trying to get home while he was being followed by George Zimmerman. And here's some of the audio of how he described it to the jury.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRIMINAL TRIAL)
JOHN GUY: Isn't that every child's worst nightmare - to be followed on the way home in the dark, by a stranger?
SIMON: Greg, this case has been so emotional; watched so closely by people all across the country, generated so much passion. Do you feel that inside the courtroom?
ALLEN: Yeah. Outside, it's somewhat of a media circus here but inside, the jurors have been sequestered. And the judge has been very diligent about warning not to, you know, watch the news or use social media. But, you know, with that said, Trayvon Martin's parents have attended the trial every day. And there's been some tough times - the repeated playing of the 911 tape, which has the gunshot that took Trayvon Martin's life; and maybe even worse were the medical examiner's photos, which showed their son, you know, after he was dead.
Interestingly, in his closing argument, prosecutor John Guy tried to reach some of that emotion. It was a very dramatic closing, which he told jurors the key to this case lay in the human heart. He asked jurors to use their common sense in weighing the case. In Trayvon Martin's heart, he said, there was fear. In George Zimmerman's heart, he said, there was ill will and spite; which is important because that's a necessary condition for second-degree murder, some kind of anger or ill will or spite. And Zimmerman also faces a lesser charge of manslaughter.
SIMON: Is there a concern there in Sanford, Greg, about community reaction to a verdict, especially if Zimmerman is acquitted?
ALLEN: Well, officials here in central Florida and also down in Miami, where Trayvon Martin was from, have been making preparations for weeks. They've been holding meetings, making plans for tighter security after a verdict. Here in Seminole County, the sheriff, Donald Eslinger, held a news conference in which he said there's plenty of emotion about the case, but he doesn't believer there's really any tension.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)
SHERIFF DONALD ESLINGER: And we have every expectation, upon the announcement of this verdict, that our community and its visitors will continue to act peacefully.
SIMON: Greg, looks like the jury will deliberate through the weekend?
ALLEN: That's right, Scott. It's a jury of six women - some with young children - who've been away from their families, now, for five weeks; all of which suggests they're going to work hard to come to a decision here.
SIMON: NPR's Greg Allen in Sanford, Fla. Thanks so much.
ALLEN: You're welcome.
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