With a hoodie-wearing teenager circling his truck, frustrated neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman called police — and then did something that didn’t make sense under Zimmerman’s version of events, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
“Why does this defendant get out of his car?” prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda asked jurors during the first day of closing arguments in Zimmerman’s highly publicized murder trial.
He answered his own question: “Because he’s got a gun. He’s got an equalizer. He’s going to take care of it. He’s a wannabe cop. Police are taking too long to respond. ‘I’m going to take care of it.’”
De la Rionda spent about two hours Thursday poking holes in Zimmerman’s explanations of the confrontation with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, as the racially-charged trial winds to a close. Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder for shooting Trayvon in the chest during a scuffle in a gated Sanford community that drew worldwide headlines.
Zimmerman cooperated with police and claimed self-defense. Police did not arrest him for weeks, leading to protests — in Florida and across the country — by Trayvon’s family and supporters of the slain teen.
Zimmerman’s defense attorney will present his closing argument Friday, but prosecutors will get the last word because they split their closing arguments into two sections. Then the case will go to a six-person, all-female jury that has been sequestered for weeks. When a verdict has been reached, the court will let the public and media know via Twitter.
Thursday’s dramatic closing argument by the state came on the 21st day of trial in this Central Florida town, with de la Rionda by turns mocking and histrionic.
He repeatedly wondered aloud how many hands Trayvon would have needed to smother Zimmerman, punch him and reach for his gun, as the defendant claimed in police interviews. At one point, he placed a mannequin on the courtroom floor that had been used as a demonstrative aid throughout the trial, straddling it to help show jurors how the struggle could have occurred.
Zimmerman, he said, had even botched a softball interview with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.
“He can’t even get that right,” De la Rionda said.
In the Hannity interview, de la Rionda told jurors, Zimmerman said Trayvon hadn’t really run away that night — as he had claimed in a call to police dispatch shortly before the shooting — as much as he had “skipped.”
Then De la Rionda flailed his arms and skipped before the jury with a sing-song, “tra-la-la.”
The closing argument covered a broad range of points, with de la Rionda contending that Trayvon’s death had its roots in events that came months before, when Zimmerman, frustrated by neighborhood break-ins, organized a neighborhood watch.
That night of the shooting, Trayvon was not breaking the law when he walked to the nearby convenience store to buy Skittles and a soft drink. “He was wearing a hoodie,” de la Rionda said. “Last I heard, that’s not against the law.”
As the prosecutor weaved the evidence into the state’s theory of the case, Trayvon’s mother sat in the courtroom, wiping tears from her face. Trayvon’s father kept his head down.
De la Rionda repeatedly stressed that Zimmerman “profiled” Trayvon and “assumed” he was a criminal. But the teen was the one scared for his life, he said.
He recalled the testimony from a key witness, Miami friend Rachel Jeantel, 19, who was on the phone with Trayvon moments before he died. She told jurors that Trayvon told her a strange man was following him and she said she heard Trayvon ask the person why he was being followed.
De la Rionda did not shy away from mentioning Jeantel’s often inarticulate speech, especially evident during hours of combative cross-examination. Instead, he told jurors her youth and “colorful language” lent credibility to her account.
He invoked civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in a slide show presentation: “I have a dream,” it read, that Jeantel would be judged “by the content of her testimony.”
In his interviews with police, Zimmerman repeatedly “exaggerated” the fight with Trayvon, de la Rionda said. But while acknowledging Zimmerman suffered some injuries to the face and head, de la Rionda said: “Who suffered the most serious injury of all?”
De la Rionda also needled Zimmerman for perceived inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s accounts to police — including a point when the neighborhood watchman seemed to acknowledge approaching the teen, before backtracking and claiming Trayvon came at him.
Earlier in his closing, de la Rionda pointed at Zimmerman, who stared straight ahead.
“A teenager is dead. He’s dead through no fault on his own,” he said. “He’s dead because another man made assumption...because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin is no longer walks on this earth.”
When jurors begin deliberating, they will be considering both the second-degree murder charge and the less-serious charge of manslaughter with a firearm, under a ruling by Seminole Circuit Judge Debra Nelson Thursday.
But Nelson declined to allow jurors to consider another charge: third-degree felony murder under the theory that Zimmerman committed child abuse on Trayvon Martin.
“I just don’t think the evidence supports that,” Nelson said.
Zimmerman is facing up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm. Manslaughter with a firearm is punishable by up to 30 years in prison; the same charge without a firearm can draw up to 15 years in prison.