SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - Trayvon Martin spent four long minutes preparing to attack George Zimmerman, time when he lay in wait before throwing the first punch in a confrontation that ended in his death, Zimmerman’s defense lawyer said in closing arguments on Friday.
Lead defense lawyer Mark O’Mara attempted to shift the blame to Martin, the unarmed, black 17-year-old whom Zimmerman shot dead last year. O’Mara told the jury there was “factual and undeniable evidence” that Zimmerman should be found not guilty.
With the defense concluding its closing arguments, the case, which has captivated and divided much of the U.S. public, now goes to the jury.
Six anonymous women from central Florida’s Seminole County, sequestered since the trial began last month, will try to settle a case that has dominated U.S. media, sparked street demonstrations and raised questions about race and guns in America.
After reading instructions, Judge Debra Nelson was to send the jurors off to reach a unanimous verdict on one of three options: second-degree murder, manslaughter or acquittal. A deadlocked jury would result in a mistrial, possibly leading to the whole courtroom drama unfolding once again.
Zimmerman, 29, says he shot Martin in self-defense after he was attacked on the rainy night of February 26, 2012. Prosecutors contend Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop” who tracked down the teenager and shot him without justification.
It all began when Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator, called police to report a suspicious person in his neighborhood. That turned out to be Martin, a guest in the home of his father’s fiancée, who lived inside the gated community.
What exactly happened afterward remains unclear because only the defendant and the dead teenager had a clear view. There was some type of fight that left Zimmerman with a bloody nose and head injuries. Martin had a scrape on his left hand. The fight ended when Zimmerman fired one shot from his 9mm pistol into Martin’s heart.
To convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, a charge that could lead to a sentence of life in prison, the jury must find he acted with ill will, spite or hatred.
The hateful person that rainy night was Martin, not Zimmerman, O’Mara told the jury.
“Somebody decided they were angry. Ticked off. Ill will, spite or hatred,” O’Mara said. “It wasn’t some cop wannabe.
“The person who decided this was going to continue, was going to become a violent event, was the guy who didn’t go home when he had a chance to. It was the guy who decided to lie in wait,” O’Mara said
The jury can also opt for manslaughter, which has the lesser burden of culpable negligence. That carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Since he took the case last year, O’Mara has sought to be sensitive to Martin’s grieving parents, who have attended the whole trial, but on Friday he seized the opportunity to blame Martin with initiating the confrontation.
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, walked out of the courtroom, followed by two of her lawyers, when O’Mara started discussing her son’s dead body. They later returned.
Earlier, O’Mara warned jurors against filling in holes in the prosecution’s case, cautioning against making presumptions and assumptions.
Yet he invited them to form their own conclusions about Martin, particularly in the four-minute gap that O’Mara said passed between Zimmerman’s losing sight of Martin and when Martin attacked.
He dramatized that length of time by pausing for four minutes, leaving the courtroom silent.
“Four minutes. You get to figure out what Trayvon Martin was doing,” O’Mara told the jury. “Four minutes to do what? To run home. To walk home.”
Instead, O’Mara said, Martin attacked Zimmerman.
Prosecutors had one final rebuttal, when John Guy told the jury, “The defendant didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him because he wanted to. That’s the bottom line.”
At the time of the encounter, Martin was on the phone with a friend from Miami who testified that she heard him ask, “What are you following me for?” Guy contended it was Martin who then feared for his safety.
“Was that child not in fear when he was running from that defendant? Isn’t that every child’s worst nightmare to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger? That was Trayvon Martin’s last emotion,” Guy said. (Additional reporting by Kevin Gray in Miami; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Bernadette Baum and Leslie Gevirtz)