Anger over Zimmerman trial unabating
SANFORD, Fla. — After a year-and-a-half of living as a hermit, George Zimmerman emerged from a Florida courthouse a free man, cleared of all charges in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
His brother said the former neighborhood watch volunteer was still processing the reality that he wouldn't serve prison time for the killing, which Zimmerman, 29, has maintained was an act of self-defense. Late Saturday night, a jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder and declined to convict him on a lesser charge of manslaughter.
However, with many critics angry over his acquittal, his freedom may be limited.
“He's going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life,” Robert Zimmerman Jr. said during an interview on CNN.
Demonstrators upset with the verdict protested mostly peacefully in Florida, Milwaukee, Washington, Atlanta and other cities overnight and into the early morning Sunday, but some broke windows and vandalized a police squad car in Oakland during protests in four California cities, authorities said. Additional demonstrations were scheduled across the country through the evening.
Churches made note of the verdict, with many leaders speaking about the case and urging peace in the aftermath. Some congregants wore hooded sweatshirts, as Martin had when he died, or shirts with the teen's picture.
Martin's killing in February 2012 unleashed debate across the nation over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice. Protesters nationwide lashed out against police in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, as it took 44 days for Zimmerman to be arrested. Many, including Martin's parents, said Zimmerman had racially profiled the unarmed black teen. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Six anonymous female jurors considered nearly three weeks of often wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated townhouse community where he was staying and where Zimmerman lived.
Jurors were sequestered during the trial, and they deliberated more than 15 hours over two days before announcing that they had reached a verdict. The court did not release the racial and ethnic makeup of the jury, but the panel appeared to reporters covering selection to be made up of five white women and a sixth who might be Hispanic.
After the verdict, police, officials and civil rights leaders urged peace and told protesters not to resort to violence. While defense attorneys said they were thrilled with the outcome, defense attorney Mark O'Mara suggested Zimmerman's safety would be an ongoing concern.
“There still is a fringe element that wants revenge,” O'Mara said. “They won't listen to a verdict of not guilty.”
Those watching reacted strongly when the verdict was announced. Martin's mother and father were not in the courtroom when it was read; supporters of his family who had gathered outside yelled “No! No!” upon learning of the verdict.
Andrew Perkins, 55, a black resident of Sanford, angrily asked outside the courthouse: “How the hell did they find him not guilty?”
“He killed somebody and got away with murder,” Perkins shouted, so angry he shook, looking toward the courthouse.
Trayvon Martin's brother, Jahvaris Fulton, said on Twitter: “Et tu America?” — a reference to the Latin phrase “Et tu, Brute?” known as an expression of betrayal.
In a statement, President Obama called Martin's death a tragedy for America but asked that Americans respect calls for calm reflection.
“I know this case has elicited strong passions,” he said. “And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
The statement reflected the widespread national attention of the case. The White House rarely issues formal responses to trials that do not directly involve the president or federal government.
Obama said the verdict should prompt a discussion on gun violence, but it's unlikely he will use the trial as a way to restart his legislative push for stricter gun control laws. The measures he sought after the December school massacre in Newtown, Conn., failed to pass the Senate.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump acknowledged the disappointment of Trayvon Martin's supporters, ranking the teen alongside civil rights heroes Medgar Evers and Emmett Till in the history of the fight for equal justice. However, Crump said, “for Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful.”
Martin's family maintained the teen was not the aggressor, and prosecutors suggested Martin was scared because he was being followed by a stranger. Defense attorneys, however, said Martin knocked Zimmerman down and was slamming the older man's head against the sidewalk when Zimmerman fired his gun.
Zimmerman also had some supporters outside the courthouse, including Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Cassleberry, and her brother, Chris Bay, 52. Lenzen and Bay — who are white — called the case “a tragedy,” especially for Zimmerman.
“It's a tragedy that he's going to suffer for the rest of his life,” Bay said. “No one wins either way. This is going to be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night.”