Jurors were shown a video re-enactment of the fight that ended in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin on Friday as George Zimmerman’s lawyer blamed the teenage victim for having started the violent confrontation that led to his own death.
During the closing speech by defense counsel Mark O’Mara at the end of the three-week trial in Sanford, Florida, the court sat through four minutes of silence as he demonstrated the length of time that he says Martin would have been free to run from the armed neighborhood watch volunteer after the two came face to face on the night of February 26, 2012.
“The reality of what happened is very straightforward, and it proves absolute innocence, because for four minutes Trayvon Martin did something that led to his confronting George Zimmerman,” said O’Mara. Not that he was suggesting that Martin “did something bad,” he said, but “I’m not going to allow you or the state to ignore the realities of what happened that night.”
That reality, he said, was that Zimmerman came away with injuries that proved his story; that Martin punched him on the nose and then dragged him to the ground, wrestled and pummeled him until he was left with no option but to shoot in self-defense.
“The person who decided this was going to continue, who decided this was going to become a violent event, it was the guy who didn’t go home when he had the chance to.”
“This is a serious, serious matter for Mr. Zimmerman and it’s an utterly serious matter for you.”
Zimmerman came away with a bloody nose and wounds to his head that O’Mara said were consistent with his claim that Martin was the aggressor. “The only one who was injured at all—except for the gunshot—was George Zimmerman,” he said.
Jurors took many notes as they were played a brief animation depicting what Zimmerman says happened that night, and what certain witnesses said they saw. The video showed a hooded figure—Martin—straddling a larger man, Zimmerman, on the ground, but then, after the fatal shot was fired, the larger man straddling Martin.
Zimmerman was seen on top by one resident who gave evidence for the prosecution at trial, but that scenario only occurred after the shooting, said O’Mara, as the gunman clambered out from underneath the body.
O’Mara told jury “not to make assumptions”—as the prosecution Thursday accused Zimmerman of having done when he saw Martin, a black teenager wearing a hoodie and wandering through his gated community, profiled him as “suspicious” and followed him.
“What you have to do is be absolutely vigilant, diligent, in looking at this case,” O’Mara told the jury.
Whereas lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda had invoked Martin Luther King Jr. in his closing speech Thursday, O’Mara turned to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, made in 1789: “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
O’Mara told the jury: “You guys are it. You are living the Constitution. This is a solemn matter. You don’t take this lightly…This is a serious, serious matter for Mr. Zimmerman and it’s an utterly serious matter for you.”
Zimmerman was characterized by the prosecution as a “wannabe cop,” a phrase that, before the trial began, O’Mara had asked for the judge to ban, asserting that it was “inflammatory.” The judge ruled against him.
In closing, O’Mara turned the phrase around to present it as a virtue.
“He did want to be a cop. He also wanted to be a prosecutor and a lawyer and he wanted to continue his education and help his community…he wanted to be involved,” he said.
Mimicking de la Rionda’s voice and the prosecution’s characterization of Zimmerman as an aggressor driven by rage, he roared: “‘Anger, frustration, hatred, ill will, and spite. Get out here and get these guys, I hate these young black males.’ Don’t allow [the prosecution] to give their words to you as George’s. Listen to what he said. Determine whether the frustration in Mr Zimmerman’s voice is appropriate or inappropriate.”
Any frustration, he suggested, might well have been appropriate given the backdrop to the incident: The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated neighborhood in Sanford where Martin’s father lived with his girlfriend, in which residents had endured a number of burglaries. That did not mean that Zimmerman was a “neighborhood watch cop wannabe, crazy rider…walking the neighborhood looking for people to harass,” said O’Mara.
The prosecution had failed to prove that Zimmerman killed out of ill will, hatred or spite, he said. “They have to say ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Hi, we are the state, we have proven this case to you beyond a reasonable doubt’…and they just didn’t,” he said.
“They’re supposed to use words like ‘certainty’ and ‘definite’ and ‘without question’, ‘beyond a doubt’ and ‘no other explanation.’ These are the words and phrases of good prosecutors.”
Instead, he said, the prosecution has summarized its case with language such as “maybe, what if, I hope so, you figure it out, could have been,” he said.
Martin, who was on his way to his father's house after buying a bag of Skittles candies and a can of drink, was not unarmed, said O'Mara. He was armed with a concrete sidewalk, on which he slammed Zimmerman's head.
"That's not an unarmed teenager with nothing but Skittles, trying to get home. He was somebody that used the availability of dangerous items, from his fist to the concrete, to cause great bodily injury against George Zimmerman," and the suggestion by the state of anything otherwise was "disgusting," he said.
During the prosecution's closing rebuttal, state attorney John Guy addressed evidence that Martin had no injuries from the fight that preceded the shooting.
"Trayvon Martin may not have the defendant's blood on his hands but George Zimmerman will forever have Trayvon Martin's on his. To the living, we owe respect. But to the dead we owe the truth. On behalf of the state of Florida, I submit to you that Trayvon Benjamin Martin is entitled to the truth—and it didn't come from the defendant's mouth...He told so many lies."
Martin, he said, was the one in fear for his safety that night.
"Trayvon Martin, a child, had every right to be where he was. That child had every right to be doing what he was doing, walking home. That child had every right to be afraid of a strange man following him...and did that child not have the right to defend himself from that man?"
The jury should take its clues from looking into the hearts of the accused and the victim, said Guy. In Zimmerman's heart was the belief that Martin was a "fucking punk"—words he used on a call to a police despatcher, referring to troublemakers in his neighborhood. "If ever there was a window into a man's soul it was the word's from the defendant's mouth," said Guy.
"What was in Trayvon Martin's heart?" he said, saying that based on the account of prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone to Martin when he reported that he was being followed, it was fear.
"Is that not every child's worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger. Is that not every child's worst fear? That was Trayvon Martin's last emotion," said the prosecutor. "There's only two people on this Earth who know what really happened. One of them can't testify—and the other one lied."
After shooting Martin dead, Zimmerman spread out the boy's arms to "make him look menacing, violent, threatening." He did not call an ambulance, or try to render First Aid.
Guy told jurors that a conviction is what Martin, as the victim, deserves. "It's not a case of self-defense, it's a case of self-denial," he said, berating the defense for having used a cardboard cutout of Martin in its closing argument. "He was not, and will never be, a piece of cardboard," complained Guy.
"Your verdict is not going to change the past," he added. "But it will forever define it."
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, a charge that carries a life sentence, claiming that he shot in self defense after Martin jumped him and thrashed his head on the street. He chose not to testify in his own defense. Jurors will also consider an alternative charge of manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years, when they are handed the case this afternoon.