RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News, I'm Rachel Martin. It took more than 16 hours of deliberations but last night, a jury in Sanford, Fla., pronounced George Zimmerman not guilty. Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year, faced two charges - second-degree murder and manslaughter. The jury's verdict came nearly 17 months after that February night when Zimmerman and Martin had a confrontation that ended with the teenager dead from a single, fatal gunshot.
The jury's verdict came nearly 17 months after that February night when Zimmerman and Martin had a confrontation that ended with the teenager dead from a single, fatal gunshot. NPR's Greg Allen begins our coverage this morning from Sanford, Fla.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The shooting death of Trayvon Martin first become national news after police delayed arresting and charging the man responsible, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, and authorities weren't sure they had a strong enough case. That sparked a series of marches and protests in Sanford and around the nation.
More than a year later, some of those same supporters of the Martin family gathered outside the courthouse last night while the jury deliberated. After a long day that stretched into the evening, the six-person jury - all women - notified the judge they'd reached a verdict. It was announced by the court clerk.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: State of Florida versus George Zimmerman. Verdict: We the jury find George Zimmerman not guilty.
ALLEN: In the courtroom standing, Zimmerman showed no emotion, his face a blank. His mother and wife cried and hugged. Trayvon Martin's parents, who had been at the trial every day, weren't there. Their lawyer said they were going back to Miami, to attend services today in their home church. Afterwards, special prosecutor Angela Corey said she was proud her team had made good on a promise she made when she took the case.
ANGELA COREY: That we would get all of the facts and details of this very difficult case before a jury, and that we chose to do it that way because we felt that everyone had a right to know everything about this case.
ALLEN: Corey's assistant, Bernie de la Rionda - the lead prosecutor in the case - took the verdict a little harder. He said he accepted it but was disappointed. When asked if he had second thoughts about the case and the jury's apparent belief that it was Martin who started the fight, de la Rionda reacted.
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: It boils down to - is, you've got a 17-year-old kid who is minding his own business, wearing a hoodie; and gets accosted, gets followed by an individual who wants to be a cop.
ALLEN: When asked about Florida's strong self-defense law know as Stand Your Ground, both de la Rionda and Corey downplayed its significance. They both said they'd tried many cases under the law, and that they supported Florida's self-defense law and the right to bear arms. Jurors remained anonymous throughout the trial, and didn't make themselves available to the media afterwards.
Zimmerman also didn't talk to the media after his exoneration, but his lawyers did. For well over a year, Zimmerman's lead attorney, Mark O'Mara, battled with judges. He had two previous judges removed before Judge Debra Nelson was appointed to the case. He also battled with prosecutors, charging them with ethics and other violations, even seeking legal sanctions. Here's what he said about it last night.
MARK O'MARA: Was if fair? You know, it was a little bit David and Goliath, but we won.
ALLEN: Asked if he had a message for Trayvon Martin's parents, O'Mara repeated something he said to them before; that their son's loss is a tragedy, that it's always a tragedy when a young person dies.
O'MARA: But I'm not going to shy away from the fact that I think that the evidence supported that George Zimmerman did nothing wrong, and that he was battered and beaten by a 17-year-old who for whatever reason - we won't know - thought that he had to lash out and attack violently.
ALLEN: O'Mara had harsh words for prosecutors who, he said, tried to bring a case of murder against his client that they couldn't prove. He said that was personally devastating to Zimmerman. But at a news conference after the verdict, O'Mara said his client was also devastated by how he was treated by the news media.
O'MARA: He was like a patient in an operating table where mad scientists were committing experiments on him, and he had no anesthesia. He didn't know why he was turned into this monster but quite honestly, you guys had a lot to do with it. You just did.
ALLEN: The only reaction to the verdict from Trayvon Martin's parents came via social media. Sybrina Fulton Tweeted a prayer, thanks to supporters, and "I love you, Trayvon." Tracy Martin said: Even in death, you knew Trayvon was proud of the fight we, along with all of you, put up for him.
Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for the Martin family, spoke to the media afterwards. He said he believes the 17-year-old will be remembered alongside civil rights-era heroes Medgar Evers and Emmett Till, as a symbol of the fight for equal justice.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: We'll be intellectually dishonest if we didn't acknowledge the racial undertones in this case, so we have to have very responsible conversations about how we get better as a country, and move forward from this tragedy and learn from it.
ALLEN: After the verdict, the NAACP legal defense fund said it would push the Department of Justice to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, has maintained from the beginning, this case was about self-defense not civil rights. Trying to make it so, he said, did a disservice not just to Zimmerman, but also those who want to start a national conversation about how young, black men are treated by the justice system.
O'MARA: Because that conversation needs to be had and now, it may not be had because we have sort of artificially separated the two camps, if you will, over this verdict. This verdict still has nothing to do with civil rights.
ALLEN: Following his acquittal last night, the judge ordered Zimmerman's GPS restraint removed. And for the first time in more than 16 months, he left court as a free man. Outside the courthouse, justice looked differently to Martin family supporters. They were chanting: System has failed.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Fla.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.