George Zimmerman,the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin,an unarmed black teenager,igniting a national debate on racial profiling and civil rights,was found not guilty late Saturday night of second-degree murder. He was also acquitted of manslaughter,a lesser charge.
After three weeks of testimony,the six-woman jury rejected the prosecutions contention that Zimmerman had deliberately pursued Martin because he assumed the hoodie-clad teenager was a criminal and instigated the fight that led to his death.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin on February 26,2012,in self-defense after the teenager knocked him to the ground,punched him and slammed his head repeatedly against the sidewalk. In finding him not guilty of murder or manslaughter,the jury agreed that Zimmerman could have been justified in shooting Martin because he feared great bodily harm or death.
The jury,which had been sequestered since June 24,deliberated 16 hours and 20 minutes over two days. The six female jurors entered the quiet,tense courtroom,their faces drawn and grim. After the verdict was read,each assented,one by one,quietly,their agreement with the verdict.
The case began in the small city of Sanford as a routine homicide but soon evolved into a civil rights cause examining racial profiling and its consequences and setting off a broad discussion of race relations in America.
Saturday night when the verdict was read,Zimmerman,29,smiled slightly. His wife,Shellie,and several of his friends wept,and his parents kissed and embraced.
George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense, defence attorney Mark OMara said after the verdict.
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin,who lost their son a few weeks after his 17th birthday,were not in the courtroom. In a statement released early Sunday,their attorney,Benjamin Crump,said the family was heartbroken,and that they thanked people around the world for their support.
Trayvon Martins brother,Jahvaris Fulton,said simply: Et tu America? a reference to the Latin phrase Et tu,Brute? known as an expression of betrayal.
Protesters had taken to the streets late Saturday and into Sunday morning in Florida and other states,largely heeding the advice of officials and others who urged them not to resort to violence.