Zimmerman trial begins
25 June 2013, 08:33
Sanford - The murder trial of a volunteer neighbourhood watchman who
shot dead an unarmed black teenager, an incident that inflamed racial
tensions across the United States, began on Monday.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty, saying he shot Trayvon Martin,
17, in self-defence on the rainy night of 26 February 2012 after the
teen knocked him to the ground and started bashing his head against the
Martin's supporters accuse Zimmerman of racial
profiling, saying he ignored police advice and pursued Martin, who was
unarmed and had no criminal record.
The case ignited widespread
protests after police initially declined to charge Zimmerman, and
sparked debate over Florida's "Stand Your Ground" gun law, which allows
firing in self-defence even when fleeing is an option.
John Guy sent a jolt through the courtroom as he began his opening
statement with words he said were uttered by Zimmerman in a call to a
police dispatcher as he followed Martin through the gated community.
punks," he said, quoting Zimmerman. He told jurors that the offensive
language revealed the watchman's attitude toward the teen.
Zimmerman saw Trayvon, he didn't see a young man walking home. Instead,
he profiled, pursued and killed Trayvon," he said, as Zimmerman, wearing
a suit and tie, sat impassively in the courtroom.
"He profiled him as someone who was about to commit a crime in his neighbourhood."
Guy insisted Zimmerman's account of what happened that night would prove to be "a "tangled web of lies".
But defence attorney Don West said the shooting, while tragic, was not murder.
evidence will show that there are no monsters here. It is a sad story,"
he said in his opening statement. "George Zimmerman is not guilty of
The six-woman jury - five of whom are white - will decide the case, which is expected to take as long as six weeks.
defence attorney Mark O'Mara insisted that there had been no racial
motive in the shooting. Zimmerman is the son of an American father and a
"We're trying so hard in this case not to make
it what everybody outside the courthouse wants it to be," O'Mara said.
"We will argue the case is simply self-defence."
was on patrol in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, which had seen a
string of recent robberies, when he spotted Martin walking in the rain
in a hooded sweatshirt, called 911 and pursued the young man.
violent confrontation ensued and Martin - who had been staying with a
family friend in the neighbourhood and was returning from a convenience
store after buying Skittles and an iced tea - was shot dead.
initial decision by Florida investigators not to press charges set off
widespread outrage, with Martin's supporters alleging racism.
In protests held across the United States demonstrators wore hooded sweatshirts and waved packs of Skittles and iced tea.
before opening arguments got under way, Martin's mother, Sybrina
Fulton, told reporters that her family was putting its faith in the
hands of America's criminal justice system.
"I ask that you pray
for me and my family. We believe that the evidence is overwhelming to
hold Zimmerman accountable in Trayvon's killing," she said.
the passions aroused by the crime in Sanford, where more than 80% of
its 53 000 residents are white, the National Association for the
Advancement of Coloured People has called a meeting for later on Monday.
discussion with community leaders will be held at a church in a
historically black neighbourhood of the city north of Orlando, some
400km north of Miami.
"We want to give people an opportunity to
talk about what happened, to voice any concerns, but also we are
continuing to advocate the idea of non-violence throughout this whole
process," said Seminole County NAACP president Clayton Turner.
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