SANFORD, Fla. • A prosecutor told jurors in opening statements Monday that George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin "because he wanted to," not because he had to, while a defense attorney said the neighborhood watch volunteer shot the teen in self-defense to stop him from smashing Zimmerman’s head into a concrete sidewalk.
The opposing attorneys squared off on the first day of testimony in a trial that has attracted international attention and prompted nationwide debates about racial profiling, vigilantism and the laws governing the use of deadly force.
Defense attorney Don West used a joke in his opening statements to illustrate the difficulty of picking a jury amid such widespread publicity.
"Knock. Knock," West said.
"Who is there?"
"George Zimmerman who?"
"Ah, good. You’re on the jury."
Included among the millions likely to be following the case are civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who joined national protests in the weeks before prosecutors filed second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman. The charges came 44 days after the shooting.
Zimmerman, 29, who identifies himself as Hispanic, has denied that his confrontation with Martin before the shooting had anything to do with race. His mother was born in Peru. His father is a white American. Martin was black.
But just before opening statements began, Martin’s parents sent out an urgent plea to their supporters to pray with them for justice, while their family attorney, Benjamin Crump, described the case as clear cut.
"There are two important facts in this case: No. 1: George Zimmerman was a grown man with a gun, and No. 2: Trayvon Martin was a minor who had no blood on his hands. Literally no blood on his hands. ... We believe that the evidence is overwhelming to hold George Zimmerman accountable for killing Trayvon Martin."
Prosecutor John Guy’s first words to jurors recounted what Zimmerman told a police dispatcher in a call shortly before the fatal confrontation with Martin: "F------ punks. These a-------. They always get away."
Zimmerman was profiling Martin as he followed him through the gated community where Zimmerman lived and Martin was visiting, Guy said. He said Zimmerman viewed the teen "as someone about to a commit a crime in his neighborhood."
"And he acted on it. That’s why we’re here," the prosecutor said.
Zimmerman didn’t have to shoot Martin, Guy said.
"He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to," he said.
West told jurors a different story: Zimmerman was being viciously attacked when he shot Martin, he said. He was sucker-punched by Martin, who then pounded Zimmerman’s head into the concrete sidewalk.
"He had just taken tremendous blows to his face, tremendous blows to his head," said West, after showing jurors photos taken by Zimmerman’s neighbors of a bloodied and bruised neighborhood watch volunteer.
Later, West said it was not true that Martin was unarmed.
"Trayvon Martin armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman’s head," West said.Next Page >
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