, SANFORD, Jul 14 – A six-woman jury on Saturday found neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a racially-charged trial that transfixed the United States.
The trial raised strong passions among those who believed that Zimmerman – whose father is white and whose mother is Peruvian – had racially profiled Martin, and those convinced that the volunteer watchman acted in self defense.
Zimmerman, 29, had been accused of pursuing Martin, 17, through a gated community in Sanford, Florida and shooting him during an altercation in February 2012.
The killing ignited widespread controversy after police initially declined to press charges against Zimmerman.
“Obviously, we are ecstatic with the results. George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense,” said his lead attorney Mark O’Mara.
Defense attorney, Don West, was even more blunt. “I think the prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful,” he said.
Obviously, we are ecstatic with the results. George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense, said his lead attorney Mark O’Mara.
Defense lawyers insisted that Zimmerman acted in self-defense after Martin wrestled him to the ground and slammed his head on the pavement.
Zimmerman smiled briefly but did not appear emotional as the verdict was read. His family was grinning broadly as they sat behind him in the courtroom.
According to Florida’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, people who fear for their lives are authorized to use deadly force without having to flee a confrontation.
Trayvon Martin’s family was not present for the verdict.
Community leaders called for calm after the verdict was read.
“Avoid violence, it will lead to more tragedies. Find a way for self construction not deconstruction in this time of despair,” wrote rights leader Jesse Jackson in a Twitter message.
Another rights activist, Al Sharpton, issued a statement posted on his Facebook account describing Zimmerman’s acquittal as “a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice.”
“We intend to ask the Department of Justice to move forward as they did in the Rodney King case and we will closely monitor the civil case against Mr Zimmerman,” said Sharpton, adding that he was convening “an emergency call with preachers” to “discuss next steps.”
Rodney King was an African-American man who was beaten by Los Angeles police following a car chase in April 1991. The beating was videotaped and aired on television, sparking widespread outrage. When the officers involved in the beating were acquitted in April 1992, widespread rioting broke out in Los Angeles.