Jury Begins Deliberations In George Zimmerman Case
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. A jury in Sanford, Florida is beginning deliberations in the electric and closely watched trial of George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. He's pleaded not guilty. He said he acted in self defense. We have two reports now on the trial and preparations outside the courtroom.
In closing arguments today, Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, reminded the six members of the jury, all women, that the burden of proof rests with the state.
MARK O'MARA: You look at these facts, you look at all this evidence and you have to say, I have a reasonable doubt as to whether or not the state convinced me he didn't act in self defense.
CORNISH: NPR's Greg Allen is at the courthouse in Sanford and joins us now. And Greg, that argument from the defense makes it sound so simple, right, for the jury. But is it?
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, that's right, Audie. That's the way that Mark O'Mara, the attorney for George Zimmerman, sees it. And what he's really talking about here is Florida's self defense law. It's a very strong law that people might be familiar with known as stand your ground. Under that law, deadly force is justified if you're in fear of your life in that kind of situation. You don't have to be injured. He made that point over and over again.
George Zimmerman doesn't have to show that - any injuries - just that he was in fear of his life. And, you know, his screams on the 911 call, O'Mara said that was Zimmerman - he says that's evidence of that. But O'Mara knows that this is an emotion case. In his closing he asked the jury not to act out of sympathy. He knows that public opinion, much public opinion looks at this and says that something went wrong here.
At one point he asked the jurors to not use their common sense but go to a higher standard that's demanded in court. He said they should adhere to the facts of the case and assume that Zimmerman is innocent unless the state can show beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn't act in self defense. And he maintains that they didn't.
O'Mara said the evidence shows that Zimmerman was nothing more than a helpful neighbor and a concerned citizen when he called police that night and reported Trayvon Martin as being suspicious. At one point he even said that Trayvon Martin himself was doing something that was unclear what was going on there, suggesting that Trayvon Martin for a four-minute period, might have been plotting and lying in wait for Zimmerman.
CORNISH: Now the state prosecutor delivered a rebuttal to the jury after Zimmerman's lawyer was done. What did he say?
ALLEN: Well, assistant state attorney John Guy, he delivered a much more dramatic closing argument. Guy really worked to appeal to all the jurors' emotions. He started by telling them that this trial is all about the human heart. You should look to the human heart as a guide to understanding what's going on in the case. And he talked about what was in Trayvon Martin's heart. He said it was fear. And he said that he thinks that what was in George Zimmerman's heart that night was some ill will, spite and hatred.
And that's an important point because that's necessary for this to be a second degree murder conviction. They have to show ill will, some kind of anger or hate. And as evidence prosecutors repeatedly pointed to profane comments that Zimmerman made in his calls to a police dispatcher that night, you know, where he talked about the kids - the people always get away, that kind of thing. So that's where he's trying to show this ill will and spite.
CORNISH: Greg, talk to us a little bit more about the jury and their options. What charges will the jury consider?
ALLEN: Well, there were some lesser charged considered but now there's only one lesser charge along with the main charge. The main charge is second degree murder, which can carry a penalty up to life in prison. And then the other penalty, the lesser penalty is manslaughter. That can carry up to 30 years in prison.
Zimmerman's lawyer has talked to the jury about that and said that they have an easy job here because all they have to do is assume that Zimmerman acted in self defense. He says, that's what the law says, that the prosecution has to show he didn't act in self defense. And he said, if you find that Zimmerman acted in self defense then you're done with your job. It means that he's not guilty of either charge, either murder or manslaughter. And if the jury sees it the way that Mark O'Mara laid it out for them, it could be a short period of deliberations.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Sanford, Florida. Greg, thank you.
ALLEN: My pleasure.