Martin Murder Trial Set to Start Before Florida Jury
By Andrew Harris & Christopher Boyd – Jun 24, 2013 12:01 AM ET
Six Florida women are set to start hearing evidence today in the trial of George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer accused of murdering teenager Trayvon Martin in what he told police was an act of self-defense.
The jury, chosen after nine days of selection, will hear opening statements in a Sanford, Florida, courtroom as state prosecutors and defense lawyers offer their versions of the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting that garnered national attention. Zimmerman’s attorney said the trial is expected to last as long as three weeks.
Martin, 17, was walking that night through a gated community to his father’s girlfriend’s condominium, carrying a can of iced tea, a bag of Skittles candy and $40, when he fatally encountered Zimmerman, 29.
Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder, the unlawful killing of a human being without premeditation, faces as long as life in prison if he’s found guilty.
The shooting of an unarmed black youth by a man whose father is white and mother Hispanic prompted rallies and protests across the U.S. and elicited a comment from President Barack Obama that if he had a son, that child would have looked like Martin.
Tensions were further stoked by the refusal of then-Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee to arrest Zimmerman, who claimed he acted in self-defense after Martin punched him in the face, knocked him to the ground and threatened to kill him.
The murder charge was announced April 11, 2012, by special prosecutor Angela Corey. “We did not come to this decision lightly,” she told reporters at the time.
The state’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows individuals to use deadly force in a public place if they “reasonably” believe they face “great bodily harm,” prevented police from making an arrest in the case, officials said at the time. Before the law was adopted in 2005, people were expected to retreat from a threatening situation if possible.
Zimmerman opted not to request a hearing on whether the law applies in his case, though his lawyers can still argue during the trial that it gave him immunity for his decision to shoot Martin.
There were no eyewitness to the killing.
Sanford, site of the shooting and the trial, is a city of about 54,000 people approximately 20 miles north of Orlando.
Prosecutors will likely use Zimmerman’s own comments to police to portray him as a vigilante whose story about what happened the night of the shooting can’t be believed, Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor, said before jury selection began on June 10.
“If the jury walks away thinking the guy wanted to be a cop and had no business being out there creating the situation he now wants to rely upon for his defense, that’s problematic,” McRae, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Los Angeles who’s not involved with the case, said in an interview.
Brian Tannebaum, a trial attorney who is past president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the prosecution will want to keep the trial as simple as possible in order to avoid character comparisons between Zimmerman and Martin. Their case needs to be about “someone with a gun and someone without a gun,” he said in an interview.
Prosecutors have submitted a list of 85 possible witnesses, including Zimmerman’s father and Martin’s parents. One witness is a woman who said she was on the phone with Martin at the time of his confrontation with Zimmerman. The woman, who prosecutors haven’t identified, said Martin told her he was being followed by a stranger and was scared.
Zimmerman said he was driving to a store around 7 p.m. when he saw Martin walking in the rain through the Retreat at Twin Lakes, according to recording of a police interview.
Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious person, describing Martin as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.
“Are you following him?” a dispatcher asked Zimmerman, according to the recording.
“Yeah,” Zimmerman responded.
“OK, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said.
“OK,” Zimmerman responded.
During the call, Zimmerman made references to people he said had committed crimes in his neighborhood and not been caught.
Zimmerman later told the police he’d gotten out of his vehicle to look for a street name to give the dispatcher. As he walked back to his SUV, he said, Martin approached from behind and asked whether he had a problem. Zimmerman said he told him he did not. Martin said, “Well, you do now,” and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to a recording of Zimmerman’s Feb. 26, 2012, interview with police.
Zimmerman told officers he fell and that Martin got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk. A police report said Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of the head. Zimmerman said he began yelling for help “but no one would help me,” according to the incident report.
Zimmerman told police that Martin covered his nose and mouth with his hands. Martin then told him “You’re going to die tonight,” and reached for the Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm pistol that Zimmerman had holstered around his waist, according to Zimmerman.
Zimmerman said he got to the gun first and fired the hollow-point bullet into Martin’s chest.
Martin, who lived in Miami Gardens, Florida, was staying at the home of his father’s girlfriend in the neighborhood, according to police.
The case is State of Florida v. Zimmerman, 1712FO4573, Florida Circuit Court, 18th Judicial Circuit, Seminole County (Sanford).
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse email@example.com; Chris Boyd in the Sanford, Florida, courthouse
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org