Trayvon Martin

Not guilty verdict sets Zimmerman free but divides community

A not guilty verdict in the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin sets George Zimmerman free but leaves a divided community

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 10:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 4:38am

Before the jury in the George Zimmerman murder case brought back its verdict, the judge warned those in the court against any untoward displays of emotion or outbursts.

Zimmerman stood at the defendant's table with his lawyers, and the verdict of not guilty was read. He seemed not to move a muscle until the jurors were taken out of the courtroom with the judge's thanks.

Then, like a deflating balloon, the tension drained out of his face. A small smile began at the corners of his mouth and very slowly spread. Within seconds, he turned to shake the hands of his defence team, Mark O'Mara and Don West. Zimmerman, who had been free on bail, looked up at the judge.

"Your bond will be released," Judge Debra Nelson told him. "Your GPS monitor will be cut off and you have no further business with this court."

Then the defendant's side of the court exploded in hugs. Zimmerman hugged his wife, Shellie, and friends who have waited during the long trial that began with jury selection last month.

Zimmerman's parents, Robert and Gladys Zimmerman, hugged each other. Gladys Zimmerman reached over to hug lawyers West and O'Mara, who broke out in smiles.

"I think it will take a while for the emotions to set in for George," O'Mara said.

On the other side of the court, Trayvon Martin's family was seen leaving, some members shedding tears.

About 100 people gathered outside the courthouse through much of Saturday's long deliberations. They stood stunned as the verdict was announced.

Tonnetta Foster of Sanford threw her hands up as the jury announced it had acquitted Zimmerman. "I give up," she said.

Crying, Forster, who is black, embraced Erika Rodger, who is white and who she had met outside the courthouse.

"I'm just heartsick," Rodger said. "I have a 20-year-old son. I would hate for this to happen to him. That's why we have police, not individuals that think they can take the law into their own hands."

The dominant reaction by the crowd to the verdict was not anger but shock. People strained to hear the verdict over their phones. When it became clear that Zimmerman would leave the courthouse a free man, the crowd was mostly silent.

Denica Crawford, from Sanford, and her cousin Jekeem Burk held a phone between them to hear the verdict. When it was announced, they cried.

About 30 law enforcement officers kept watch over them and others, some of whom eventually broke into chants of "No justice, no peace" and called for a nationwide protest.

But less than an hour after the verdict, much of the crowd had dispersed; only 50 or so were still in the park.

The special prosecutor, Angela Corey, said afterwards that her team had done its best.

"To the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe the truth," she said.

"We have done our best to assure respect to all involved. We believe we assured the truth to Trayvon Martin."

The jury began its deliberations after lunch on Friday and met for 31/2 hours. They returned to the courthouse at 9am and deliberated throughout the day, asking for lunch and dinner. In all, the jurors discussed the case for about 161/2 hours.

At 9.47pm, court officials announced there was a verdict and journalists who had been pacing about during the day moved into the overflow room.

The six jurors entered at 9.57pm and gave their verdict.

By 10.01pm they were headed back to their lives.



Casey Anthony: Television viewers were transfixed by a seven-week murder trial in 2011 of 25-year-old Casey Anthony, accused of the 2008 killing of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee. The jury found Anthony not guilty, sparing her a possible death penalty and triggering a public outcry.

Conrad Murray: Michael Jackson's personal doctor was accused of giving him a fatal dose of the powerful anaesthetic propofol - normally used in surgery - that was ruled the main cause of the singer's death on June 25, 2009. Prosecutors argued Murray was grossly negligent in administering the propofol to help Jackson sleep.

Martha Stewart: During a six-week jury trial, the home design guru was accused of insider trading for her December 2001 sale of 4,000 shares of a pharmaceutical company's stock worth US$79 million. She served five months in prison and nearly six months of house arrest starting in October 2004.

Phil Spector: The trial of Spector, an eccentric music producer, in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson, 40, was another spectacle. Clarkson died of a shot to the mouth, fired from Spector's gun in his home outside Los Angeles on February 3, 2003. Spector was sentenced to 19 years in prison in May 2009.

Rod Blagojevich: Television cameras were trained for months on the disgraced Illinois governor, including his impeachment trial proceedings and his trial on corruption charges for trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by then president-elect Barack Obama and for using his office to extort campaign contributions and jobs for himself and his wife. Blagojevich was convicted of multiple corruption counts and sentenced in December 2011 to 14 years in prison.