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Obama calls for calm reflection after Zimmerman verdict

George Zimmerman. (Source: CNN) George Zimmerman. (Source: CNN)

SANFORD, FL (RNN) –  President Obama released a statement a day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. 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. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that's a job for all of us. That's the way to honor Trayvon Martin."

The jury of six women deliberated for more than 16 hours in the last two days, before coming to a decision.

Martin's parents were not present in the court room, when the verdict was announced.

Family and friends embraced Zimmerman and his attorneys, after the verdict was read.

"To the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe the truth. We believe that we brought out the truth in the case of Trayvon Martin," said Florida State Attorney Angela Corey.

Judge Debra Nelson allowed the jury to consider manslaughter, but not third-degree murder in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder charge.

"I am disappointed as we are with the verdict, but we accept it," said state prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda. "We live in a great country that has a great criminal justice system. It is not perfect, but it is the best in the world and we respect the jury's verdict."

Zimmerman's defense team of Mark O'Mara and Don West were pleased with the verdict.

"We're ecstatic with the results," O'Mara said. "George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense."

O'Mara also gave the jury kudos on how diligently they worked during the trial.

"They were very intent. I mentioned at one point that some jurors you have to wake them up by shouting or dropping a file. Not this jury," said O'Mara. "They listened, took notes they were as engaged as everybody else in the process. And it made for the type of verdict that we had to have which was a verdict that listened to all available facts not all of the facts but all of the available facts."

Don West criticized the state's prosecution and expressed his elation towards the verdict and the jury.

"I think the prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful. I am gratified by the jury's verdict, as happy as I am for George Zimmerman, I'm thrilled that this jury kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty. For that we are eternally grateful," said West. "But it makes me sad, too, that it took this long under these circumstances to finally get justice."

Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy, tweeted a message shortly after the verdict was read.

"Thanks to everyone who are with us and who will be with us as we together can make sure that this doesn't happen again," the elder Martin said.

"Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY," Tracy Martin tweeted.

The Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump spoke on Trayvon Martin's place in history and asked that the family be given privacy.

"Trayvon Martin will forever remain in the annuls of history next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all," said Crump. "This is a very trying time for their family and we ask that you respect their privacy. In conclusion, for Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful."

The national chapter of the NAACP issued a statement shortly after the verdict, noting that they plan on going to the Justice Department to begin a petition to fight for Martin's civil rights.

"We are outraged and heartbroken over today's verdict. We stand with Trayvon's family and we are called to act," said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said. "We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed."

The outspoken brother of Zimmerman, Robert Zimmerman, Jr. gave an exclusive interview on CNN, speaking openly about how his brother is doing, how their family is reacting, and how he feels about his brother's safety.

"There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceived it or be vigilantes in some sense that they think that justice was not served, and they will not respect a verdict no matter how it was reached and they will always present a threat to George and to his family.," said Robert Zimmerman, Jr.

The shooting

On the evening of Feb. 26, 2012, 28-year-old George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Sanford, FL, gated community.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, spotted Martin walking in the neighborhood and called a nonemergency police number to report what he said was a suspicious person in his neighborhood.

In Zimmerman's call, he stated that was following Martin. The dispatcher told him, "We don't need you to do that." Zimmerman continued to pursue Martin and the two had an altercation during which Martin was shot and killed by a single gunshot to his chest.

Police reports from that night show that Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bag of candy, a can of iced tea and a small amount of cash.

Zimmerman was not initially charged with a crime in the shooting incident. According to transcripts from Zimmerman's bond hearing, he was initially interviewed by the Sanford Police within an hour and a half of the shooting, and authorities could find no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claim of self-defense.

Zimmerman's arrest

After public outcry and pressure from Martin's family and the NAACP, the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into the shooting on March 19. Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed State Attorney Angela Corey to investigate.

Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012, and turned himself in to authorities the same day.

According to CNN, an affidavit of probable cause in Florida's case against Zimmerman says he profiled Martin and disregarded the dispatcher's request that he wait for the police to arrive at the scene.

At a bond hearing on April 20, 2012, Zimmerman was released on bail. On April 27, Zimmerman admitted that approximately $150,000 had been raised for his defense. Prosecutors asked the court to readdress Zimmerman's bail on the basis he had knowingly misled the court.

Zimmerman's bond was revoked on June 1, 2012, and he was put in jail two days later because he and his family knowingly lied about how much money he had access to. On July 5, Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. granted Zimmerman bail and set Zimmerman's bond for $1 million, under several conditions including electronic monitoring and a curfew.

Judge Lester granted bond because Zimmerman didn't commit any crimes while previously on bail and because he believed that Zimmerman didn't pose a threat to the community.

The trial

Jury selection for the trial began on June 10, 2013, and was completed on June 20 when six jurors and four alternates were selected.

The trial began on June 25 with the prosecution's opening statements that used the same language Zimmerman used when he was talking the police dispatcher just before his confrontation with Martin. The prosecution also claimed that Zimmerman, frustrated by crime in his neighborhood, shot Martin simply because he wanted to.

The defense's opening statement began with a knock-knock joke intended to show how difficult it was to select a jury in a case that has nationwide attention.

"Knock. Knock," said defense attorney Don West.

"Who is there?"

"George Zimmerman."

"George Zimmerman who?"

"All right, good. You're on the jury."

West went on to state that "there are no monsters" in the case and asserted that Zimmerman only shot Martin because he was being brutally attacked.

The prosecution

The prosecution's witnesses included members of the Sanford Police Department, a Sanford Fire Department EMT, a police dispatcher, a neighborhood watch coordinator and neighbors who had witnessed the shooting.

Over the course of the trial, the neighbors' testimony served to help Zimmerman's self-defense claim. Legal analysts noted that the prosecution was struggling to meet the burden of proof for the second-degree murder charge.

Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Trayvon Martin, was initially expected to be a star witness for the prosecution. Jeantel was on the phone with Martin on the night of the shooting, talking to him just before the confrontation.

The prosecution also called in Hirotaka Nakasone, a voice-analysis expert, who testified that the recording of the screams on the 911 call were of poor quality and didn't provide enough quality audio to be properly analyzed.

The state rested its case against Zimmerman on Friday, July 5, 2013.

The defense tried to have the case thrown out after the state rested, claiming that the state failed to meet its burden to proceed. Nelson denied the motion.

The defense

The Defense began presenting its case on July 8, 2013

The first witness called by the defense was Gladys Zimmerman, George's mother, who testified that it was her son heard screaming on the 911 recording. Other relatives and friends of Zimmerman who were called to testify confirmed that they believed they heard George Zimmerman's voice on the 911 recording.

Another neighbor, Olivia Bertalan took the stand to describe how she spoke with George Zimmerman after she was the victim of a home invasion that happened before the incident with Martin. She described him as being helpful to her in the aftermath of the break-in.

Adam Pollock, the owner of a kickboxing gym that George Zimmerman had attended, testified that Zimmerman was overweight and not particularly athletic or strong.

The defense brought in Dr. Vincent DiMaio, a forensic pathologist and gunshot-wound expert. He testified that the gunshot wound Martin received was consistent with George Zimmerman's assertion that Martin was on top of him. He also noted that George Zimmerman's head injuries were consistent with his story of having his head banged on a sidewalk.

During cross examination, he said that the evidence is also consistent with Martin pulling away from George Zimmerman.

Dennis Root, a former law enforcement officer and trainer, testified that George Zimmerman's injuries were "consistent with a fight, a physical fistfight."

The defense's last witness was Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., who briefly testified that he was certain he heard his son's voice on the 911 recording.

George Zimmerman chose not to testify in his own defense. During the course of the trial jurors saw videos in which Zimmerman told his story to investigators.

The defense rested its case on July 10, 2013.

Closing arguments

The prosecution began its closing arguments on July 11, 2013.

State Attorney Bernie De La Rionda's closing arguments reiterated that Trayvon Martin died through no fault of his own, because Zimmerman had essentially profiled Martin and took matters into his own hands. He also called Zimmerman a liar.

The defense began its closing arguments on July 12, 2013.

During Mark O'Mara's closing arguments, he asked the jury to use their common sense and stick with facts while deliberating. He used a chunk of concrete to impress upon the jury that the sidewalk was Martin's weapon.

John Guy gave the state's rebuttal, reminding the jury that if Zimmerman had simply stayed in his car that night, and waited on the police, no one would be there in the courtroom.

The jury deliberates

Judge Debra Nelson gave the jury extensive instructions and the jury began its deliberations on Friday, shortly after the state presented its rebuttal.

The jury deliberated for approximately two hours before asking the judge for a comprehensive list of the evidence presented at the trial.


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