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Zimmerman cleared; attorney says safety a concern
The statement reflected the widespread national attention of the case. The White House rarely issues formal responses to trials that do not directly involve the president or federal government.
Obama said the verdict should prompt a discussion on gun violence, but it's unlikely he will use the trial as a way to restart his legislative push for stricter gun control laws. The measures he sought after the December school massacre in Newtown, Conn., failed to pass the Senate.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous started a petition calling for the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman. "The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin," Jealous wrote in the petition, posted on the website MoveOn.org and addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump acknowledged the disappointment of Trayvon Martin's supporters, ranking the teen alongside civil rights heroes Medgar Evers and Emmett Till in the history of the fight for equal justice. However, Crump said, "for Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful."
Martin's family maintained the teen was not the aggressor, and prosecutors suggested Martin was scared because he was being followed by a stranger. Defense attorneys, however, said Martin knocked Zimmerman down and was slamming the older man's head against the concrete sidewalk when Zimmerman fired his gun.
Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed him as a "wannabe cop" vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands, prosecutors said.
State Attorney Angela Corey said after the verdict that she believed second-degree murder was the appropriate charge because Zimmerman's mindset "fit the bill of second-degree murder."
"We charged what we believed we could prove," Corey said.
Zimmerman also had some supporters outside the courthouse, including Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Casslebury, and her brother, 52-year-old Chris Bay, who stood watching others chant slogans such as, "the whole system's guilty."
Lenzen and Bay — who are white — called the entire case "a tragedy," especially for Zimmerman.
"It's a tragedy that he's going to suffer for the rest of his life," Bay said. "No one wins either way. This is going to be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night."
Before a special prosecutor assigned to the case ordered Zimmerman's arrest, thousands of protesters had gathered in Sanford, Miami, New York and elsewhere, many wearing hoodies like the one Martin had on the night he died. They also carried Skittles and a can of iced tea, items Martin had in his pocket. Obama also had weighed in, saying that if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon."
Despite the racially charged nature of the case, race was barely mentioned at the trial.
"This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms," Corey said. "We believe this case all along was about boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries."
One of the few mentions of race came from witness Rachel Jeantel, the Miami teen who was talking to Martin by phone moments before he was shot. She testified that he described being followed by a "creepy-ass cracker" as he walked through the neighborhood.
Jeantel gave some of the trial's most riveting testimony. She said she overheard Martin demand, "What are you following me for?" and then yell, "Get off! Get off!" before his cellphone went dead.
The jurors had to sort out clashing testimony from 56 witnesses in all, including police, neighbors, friends and family members.