Jury selection in the second-degree murder trial for the killing of an unarmed black teen by a multi-racial neighbourhood-watch captain – officially listed as Hispanic in his voter registration card – in late February of last year in Sanford, Florida has begun on Monday.
500 potential jurors are being questioned and a final six will be selected to serve as the main jury; with likely 2 alternates – since in Florida, it’s only a capital case that requires 12 jurors.
Trayvon Martin, 17, and unarmed, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman (then 27), as he walked from a convenient store in a gated community; holding an ice tea drink and a packet of candy (skittles), reports had indicated.
Zimmerman lived in the gated community where Martin and his father had gone to visit his father’s fiancée. He had visited there several times prior to this day on February 26th, 2012.
There had been prior reported break-ins and suspicious activities in the community so when Zimmerman (who was driving) spotted Martin, he called the police non-emergency line to report the sighting and alighted from his vehicle.
“Hey, we’ve had some break-ins in my neighbourhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle. Um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about,” he told a dispatcher on the phone.
“Okay. And this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?” the dispatcher asked and Zimmerman replied that he looks black.
The dispatcher further queried if he saw what the suspicious man was wearing?
“Yeah. A dark hoodie; like a grey hoodie and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes,” he replied.
Zimmerman continued to observe Martin and explaining each movement the teen was taking. He then told the dispatcher that Martin was running away and gave a description of where he was running towards.
“The back entrance; fucking…,” the words that followed in this statement by Zimmerman were unintelligible and are being enthusiastically disputed, since the killing incident occurred and as it goes to trial.
Many believed it was a racial slur uttered by Zimmerman but others say the contrary; and an FBI voice analysis came back as undetermined.
“Are you following him?” the dispatcher asked Zimmerman who replied affirmatively but was told: “Okay, we don’t need you to do that.”
He was asked to wait for the police to arrive but when they arrived later, Martin was found dead with a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Police report indicated that Zimmerman had bruises on the back of the head and a broken nose; and photos – vividly showing traces of blood – were released to back up this assertion.
What happened between the phone call to the police dispatcher and the apparent confrontation remains the enigma.
Zimmerman maintains that he was attacked by Martin who punched him in the face and repeatedly bashed his head on the sidewalk; and tried to grab his gun away from him as he did so.
He initially claimed ‘stand-your-ground’ law – a law in Florida that allows a person to justifiably use deadly force in self-defense when someone reasonably believes an unlawful threat is being directed at them, without a responsibility to retreat first. His attorney had since intimated that they are going to use a self-defense argument.
The police arrested Zimmerman who was placed in a police cruiser and transported to the station for questioning; but later released.
As the days progressed, the family of the slain teen claimed the police were biased and trying to cover up the murder of their son.
A massive protest then ensued with people demanding justice for the teen and damning Zimmerman as being racist and the police as an accomplice.
The Sanford police department had a reputation of being biased against the blacks in that part of Florida.
Notable dignitaries like Reverend Al Sharpton, sided with Martin’s family in their quest to seek justice and held protests that attracts thousands of people.
The protests quickly spread across the country and rallies were held in many parts of the United States with participants wearing hooded clothing – making the point that wearing a hoodie does not make you a criminal and should not be a reason for a person to be killed.
President Barack Obama – after an initial silence – responded and remarked that: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.”
The county state attorney’s office failed to press charges against Zimmerman, claiming they had no evidence to dispute his version of events.
But as the protests continued and pressure mounts, Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor – Angela Corey – and asked the Florida department of law enforcement to investigate the shooting.
Corey and her team, after interviewing witnesses in their investigation, finally charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman could face a minimum of 25 years in jail – because a firearm was used in the murder - or a maximum of life imprisonment if convicted, according to Florida criminal laws.
He entered a not guilty plea and is out on $1M bail. As part of the bail conditions, he is electronically monitored, should reside in Seminole County, have no bank accounts or passport and observe a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
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