Published On: Jun 10 2013 12:18:09 PM CDTUpdated On: Jul 15 2013 10:31:31 PM CDT
George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Get up to speed on the key events and issues that have led to this point.
Trayvon Benjamin Martin was a 17-year-old African-American high school student who lived in Miami Gardens, Fla., with his mother, Sybrina Fulton. In February 2012, Martin was visiting his father, Tracy Martin, in Sanford, Fla., after receiving a 10-day suspension from Krop Senior High School. The suspension stemmed from the discovery of drug residue in Martin's book bag.
George Michael Zimmerman was a part-time student at Seminole State College and a neighborhood watch captain at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community in Sanford at the time of the shooting. He is married to Shellie (Dean) Zimmerman and is the son of Robert and Gladys Zimmerman.
On the night of Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman called 911 to report "a suspicious person" in the neighborhood. He is instructed not to get out of his SUV or approach the person. Zimmerman disregarded the instructions. Moments later, neighbors report hearing gunfire. Zimmerman acknowledges that he shot Martin, claiming it was in self-defense. In a police report, Officer Timothy Smith wrote that Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of the head.
The next day, Martin's father, Tracy Martin, filed a missing persons report. Officers with the Sanford Police Department visited Tracy Martin. He was able to identify Trayvon Martin's body using a photo.
Zimmerman insisted he was a victim: Martin attacked him, then they tussled, he said. The teen forced Zimmerman to the ground -- his head hitting the pavement -- and he cried out for help. It was then that Zimmerman, saying he had no other choice, shot Martin.
Records from the Altamonte Family Practice show Zimmerman sustained injuries the night of the shooting: Open wound of scalp, without mention of complication; nasal bones, closed fracture; assault by other specified means. Also, photos of Zimmerman reportedly taken right after the shooting show him with streaks of blood on the back of his head and blood on his nose and lips.
However, Martin's family members say Zimmerman tracked down and sought out Martin, ignoring a 911 dispatcher's directive to stay in his SUV, then shot dead the unarmed teen. Tests made public in May 2012 show Martin never handled the gun he was shot with, and DNA tests didn't show Zimmerman's DNA under Martin's fingernails, which would have suggested a prolonged struggle.
An attorney for Martin's family said Martin was on the phone with a 16-year-old friend at the time of the shooting. The girl says she heard someone ask Martin what he was doing and heard Martin ask why the person was following him, according to attorney Benjamin Crump. The girl then got the impression that there was an altercation in which the earpiece fell out of Martin's ear and the connection went dead. Phone records show the girl was on the phone with Martin. (Close to a year later, the girlfriend admitted she lied under oath when she told court prosecutors she was in the hospital the day of Martin's funeral.)
Zimmerman's family has come to his defense on allegations of racism. His father, George Zimmerman, wrote the Orlando Sentinal a letter in March 2012 saying his son had been unfairly portrayed as a racist, is Hispanic and grew up in a multiracial family.
Sanford officials had a variety of views on what to do with the case. On March 12, 2012, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee said Zimmerman wasn't being charged because there was nothing to disprove his story. Lee temporarily stepped down later that month and was ultimately fired over how he handled the case. The day after his boss's statement, Sanford homicide detective Christopher Serino recommended Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter, saying he "failed to identify himself" and his injuries were "marginally consistent with a life-threatening episode," but Martin didn't use deadly force.
State attorneys investigated the case, and the FBI and Justice Department also launched an investigation. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012. He turned himself in to police and was released 12 days later on $150,000 bond. During the bond hearing, Zimmerman apologized to the family of Trayvon Martin for the loss of their son. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.
On May 3, 2012, The George Zimmerman Defense Fund was established to raise money for his legal, living and security expenses. As of Jan. 2, 2013, which is the last time the fund's site gave an update on totals, just over $314,000 had been raised. That includes $181,000 Zimmerman raised on his own before the fund was established.
On June 1, 2012, a judge revoked Zimmerman's bond, saying he and his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, misrepresented their finances at bond hearings in April. Shellie Zimmerman was arrested a few weeks later and charged with perjury. George Zimmerman's new bond was set at $1 million, and he posted the required 10 percent of that amount and was released July 6.
During the trial, the prosecution painted Zimmerman as untrustworthy, someone who built a mountain of lies to conceal vengeful frustration and powerful determination not to allow someone he had already decided was a criminal to escape.
The defense, though, argued Zimmerman wasn't the aggressor, but it was Martin who stalked Zimmerman and emerged from the darkness to pounce, pin Zimmerman to the ground and slam his head into the sidewalk.
On June 22, Judge Debra Nelson ruled that testimony from the state's audio experts, Tom Owen and Alan Reich, would not be allowed in the George Zimmerman trial. Legal experts consider the ruling to be somewhat of a victory for the defense. On July 8, the judge ruled the defense could present evidence that Martin may have been high on marijuana the night he was shot to death.
On July 11, Nelson granted a request made by the prosecution, saying jurors could consider manslaughter charges in addition to second-degree murder charges. However, Nelson ultimately denied a request that the jury also be able to consider third-degree murder charges.
The jury began to deliberate on the afternoon of Friday, July 12. The jury had three choices: to find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder; to find him guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter; or to find him not guilty. The following night, after 16 1/2 hours of deliberation, they came back with a verdict: George Zimmerman was not guilty.
Zimmerman's family, on the other hand, celebrated the verdict. However, his brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said his brother "is going to be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life," concerned that someone who doesn't agree with the verdict will want to harm him.