George Zimmerman's Murder Trial Begins In Florida
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
In a courtroom in Sanford, Florida, today, two very different stories about what happened on the night of February 26, 2012. George Zimmerman stands accused of killing an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. Prosecutors said Zimmerman profiled Martin, followed him and shot him, quote, "not because he had to but because he wanted to." And the defense is telling Martin started the fight and Zimmerman was forced to act in self-defense.
From Sanford, NPR's Greg Allen has our story.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Today, in opening statements, prosecutors forcefully laid out their case against Zimmerman. Assistant State Attorney John Guy began by quoting Zimmerman in a call he made to police that February night.
JOHN GUY: (Bleep) punks. These (bleep), they always get away. Those were the words in that grown man's mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy who he didn't know.
ALLEN: In his opening statement, Guy concisely described the events when Trayvon Martin was on his way home from a nearby 7-Eleven with Skittles and a drink. That's when Zimmerman saw him and called police, saying he spotted someone in his neighborhood who he thought looked suspicious. A few minutes later, there was a fight that ended with the teenager dead from a single gunshot.
Prosecutor John Guy called Zimmerman a vigilante who profiled Martin and pursued him despite a request by a police dispatcher not to do so. And he previewed the testimony of a key prosecution witness, a young woman who was on the phone with the 17-year-old when the fight began.
GUY: Rachel Jentell(ph), that girl in Miami, heard Trayvon Martin say: What are you following me for? And then Trayvon Martin's phone went dead. And Trayvon Martin went dead.
ALLEN: Guy told jurors there's also evidence that shows it was Zimmerman, not Martin, who was the aggressor. Zimmerman told police the teenager beat him, put his hands over his nose and mouth and pounded his head on the concrete. But Guy says investigators found only a little of Zimmerman's blood on Martin's shirt and no blood or DNA on his hands.
In his opening statement, Donald West, one of the lawyers representing George Zimmerman, dismissed the fact there was no blood or DNA on Trayvon Martin's hands, blaming crime scene technicians for not taking steps to preserve that evidence. West also played for the jury one of the most important pieces of evidence in the case, a 911 call made by a neighbor that captured sounds from the fight and the fatal gunshot.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So you think he's yelling for help?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: All right, what is your...
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh, my god.
ALLEN: West told jurors that the top experts in the field said science couldn't determine whose voice is heard in the call. But West said there is a witness, a neighbor, John Good, who came out of his home while the fight was going on.
DONALD WEST: George Zimmerman cried out for help, looked at him, looked at John Good and said, help me, help me. And Trayvon Martin kept on hitting.
ALLEN: West told the jury that at 5-foot-11, 158 pounds, Trayvon Martin wasn't skinny but had a medium build, a former football player who knew how to give a hit and take a hit. And West told the jury that despite appearances to the contrary, when he began fighting Zimmerman, the 17-year-old wasn't unarmed.
WEST: Trayvon Martin armed himself with the concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head. No different than if he'd picked up a brick or bashed a head against a wall. That is a deadly weapon.
ALLEN: Outside the courthouse today, there was no sign of protesters or supporters gathered for either side. Inside the courthouse, however, tempers flared after prosecutors asked the judge to remove Zimmerman's parents from the courtroom because they may be called as witnesses. Trayvon Martin's parents may also be called to testify, but the law allows them to remain.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.
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