Closing arguments start in Zimmerman trial
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — George Zimmerman profiled 17-year-old Trayvon Martin assuming he was up to no good, and that led to the Miami teen’s death, a prosecutor said Thursday in closing arguments of the neighborhood watch volunteer’s second-degree murder trial.
“A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own,” prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told jurors. “He is dead because a man made assumptions … Unfortunately because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks this earth.”
De la Rionda told the jury that Zimmerman wanted to be a police officer and that’s why he followed Martin through his neighborhood even though the teen wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“He assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal. That is why we are here,” de la Rionda said.
Zimmerman showed ill will and hatred when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cell phone while following Martin, said de la Rionda as he urged jurors to hold Zimmerman accountable for his actions. In order to get a second-degree conviction, prosecutors must show Zimmerman showed ill will, hatred or spite.
“The law doesn’t allow people to take the law into their own hands,” de la Rionda said.
De la Rionda dismissed defense claims that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, accusing the neighborhood watch volunteer of lying about what happened. The prosecutor also showed jurors a headshot photo of Martin taken from his autopsy. Jurors trained their eyes on de la Rionda, barely taking notes.
Prosecutors began their closing arguments after the judge presiding over the trial ruled that jurors can consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, but she denied a request for the jury also to consider third-degree murder after a defense attorney called the proposal “outrageous.”
Prosecutor Richard Mantei argued that instructions for third-degree murder should be included on the premise that Zimmerman committed child abuse when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin because Martin was underage.
But defense attorney Don West called the proposed instruction “a trick,” and he accused the prosecutor of springing it on the defense at the last minute.
“Just when I didn’t think this case could get any more bizarre, the state is alleging child abuse?” West said. “This is outrageous. It’s outrageous the state would seek to do this at this time.”
Judge Debra Nelson denied the third-degree murder instruction, saying she was exercising caution since she was unsure if prosecutors could prove intent.
“I just don’t think the evidence supports that,” Nelson said.
The judge, however, agreed with the prosecution that jurors could consider manslaughter as a lesser charge.
West said he wanted the six jurors to only consider the second-degree murder charge or not guilty.
“The state has charged him with second degree murder. They should be required to prove it,” West said. “If they had wanted to charge him with manslaughter … they could do that.”
Jurors could begin deliberating as early as Friday. Prosecutors were expected to give closing arguments Thursday afternoon, followed by the defense closing on Friday morning.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. On the night of the fatal scuffle in February 2012, Martin was visiting his father and his father’s fiancee at the same townhome complex where Zimmerman lived.
Zimmerman observed Martin while driving in his neighborhood, called police and the fight ensued after the neighborhood watch volunteer got out of his vehicle. Zimmerman claims Martin was slamming his head into the concrete pavement when he fired his gun.
Some civil rights activists argued that a delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin’s race, and protests were held around the nation in the 44 days between the fatal fight and Zimmerman’s arrest. Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.