SANFORD -- After five weeks of trial and 56 witnesses, few legal observers believed prosecutors came close to proving Sanford neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman committed second-degree murder when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
So for many legal analysts, it was no surprise that jurors rejected even a lesser compromise verdict of manslaughter, acquitting Zimmerman outright of all criminal charges and deciding he acted in a reasonable way to protect his own life.
The acquittal was a stinging blow for prosecutors and their decision to file the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman, who was not initially arrested by Sanford police after claiming self-defense. And it was a resounding embrace of the defenses strategy during closing arguments not just to establish that prosecutors hadnt proven Zimmerman guilty, but also to show he was absolutely innocent.
Justifiable use of force is one of the most difficult areas of the law, State Attorney Angela Corey acknowledged Saturday after Zimmermans acquittal. Make no mistake, Trayvon Martin had every right to be on the premises as did George Zimmerman ... thats what makes this case unique.
Zimmerman defense attorney Don West Zimmerman defense attorney called the prosecutions case a disgrace.
We proved that George Zimmerman was not guilty, he said.
Jude M. Faccidomo, the former president of Miamis Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the jury clearly believed in the right to self-defense: Especially when cases are so gray, like this one was, self-defense really resonates because people can associate with being afraid.
And while some also have questioned the state attorneys office acceptance of a mostly white jury, a more diverse panel would have returned the same verdict, lawyers who have watched the case believe.
After seeing the quality of the evidence presented by the state, the diversity of the jury really didnt matter in the end, said Larry Handfield, a prominent African American Miami criminal defense lawyer. But it would have helped the community in giving more credibility to the decision to acquit Zimmerman.
By now, the basic outline of the confrontation between the 29-year-old volunteer watch coordinator and the 17-year-old Miami Gardens student have become familiar through wall-to-wall television coverage and thousands of news stories.
Prosecutors said Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, who was returning from a nearby convenience store and was walking through the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood where he was staying with his father.
Zimmerman called a non-emergency police number to report Trayvon as suspicious. A violent struggle followed on rain-slicked grass and a concrete walkway. During the confrontation, Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon at point-blank range.
A look at the evidence shows why the jury rejected the states case. For prosecutors intent on proving the more serious charge, proving the ill-will, hatred or spite needed to convict on second-degree murder hinged on painting Zimmerman as a frustrated, would-be cop fed up with intruders in his gated Sanford community.
To do so, they focused on Zimmermans past over defense objections introducing evidence of his interest in law enforcement including a ride-along with Sanford police, a class on criminal justice, an unsuccessful application to a Virginia police department.