Volunteer neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman, on trial for the murder of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martlast year, killed him “because he wanted to” not in self-defence, a Florida prosecutor said at the start of Zimmerman’s murder trial on Monday.
In a fiery opening statement to the jury, Assistant State Attorney John Guy said the evidence would show that Zimmerman, 29, had spun “a tangled web of lies” about the shooting in a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford.
The killing triggered nationwide protests because Zimmerman was not immediately arrested and walked free for six weeks, after claiming he acted in accordance with Florida’s self-defence laws when 17-year-old Martin attacked him.
Zimmerman’s lawyer Don West, in his opening statement in Seminole County Court, repeated many of the claims that have already been heard from Zimmerman, his family and lawyer.
“There are no monsters here,” West said, contesting Guy’s description of his client as a would-be cop who was trained in martial arts and kick boxing and used “hate-filled” speech to describe an innocent young man.
Zimmerman, who is part Hispanic, was the neighbourhood watch captain in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford at the time of the killing on February 26, last year. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder and could face life imprisonment if convicted.
Martin was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the homeowners in the Retreat at Twin Lakes. He was walking back to the residence after buying snacks at a nearby convenience store when he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with Zimmerman.
Much of what happened during Martin’s fatal encounter with Zimmerman is still a mystery. Neighbors who witnessed the scuffle and the fatal shot, albeit on a rainy night, are expected to testify during the trial.
“George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had too. He shot him for the worst of all reasons, because he wanted too,” said Guy, the prosecutor, during a 33 minute-long opening statement.
As he spoke, Zimmerman, who is out on bail and appeared in court wearing a charcoal gray suit, showed no emotion as he look straight ahead and away from the prosecutor.
The prosecutor spoke of “irrefutable physical evidence” to prove that Martin was not the aggressor. Guy also said that Zimmerman’s description to police of what happened was “physically impossible.”
There is a high bar for the prosecution, which has the burden of proof in a case that will centre on Florida’s aggressive self-defence laws.
Zimmerman’s lawyer focused on that during his opening statement to the jury of six and four alternates.
“George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder,” West said. “He shot Trayvon Martin in self-defence after being viciously attacked.”
Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which was approved in 2005 and has since been copied by about 30 other states, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it is possible.
In instructions on “justifiable use of deadly force,” that Circuit Judge Debra Nelson read to jurors, she noted that anyone in fear of grievous bodily harm or death is entitled to shoot and kill an assailant rather than back down.
“The danger facing the defendant need not have been actual,” Nelson said, suggesting that mere perception of “danger” was enough to make it reality.
“If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity, and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and a right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed that it was necessary do so,” Nelson said.