A prosecutor told jurors in opening statements on Monday that a Miami-area neighborhood watch volunteer fatally shot a black teenager “because he wanted to,” not because he had to, while the defendant’s attorney said the shooting was carried out in self-defense.
The opposing attorneys squared off on the first day of testimony in a trial that has attracted international attention and prompted nationwide debates about gun control, race and equal justice under the law.
Included among the millions likely to be following the case are civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson Jr and the Reverend Al Sharpton, who joined national protests in the weeks before prosecutors filed second-degree murder charges against George Zimmerman 44 days after the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman is pleading not guilty, claiming self-defense.
On Feb. 26 last year Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated townhome community where Zimmerman and the fiancee of Martin’s father lived. There had been a rash of recent break-ins and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.
The two eventually got into a struggle and Zimmerman allegedly shot Martin in the chest with his 9mm handgun.
Zimmerman, 29, who identifies himself as Hispanic, has denied that the shooting had anything to do with race. His mother was born in Peru. His father is a white US citizen.
However, 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 the evidence is overwhelming to hold George Zimmerman accountable for killing Trayvon Martin,” Crump said.
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: “Fucking punks. These assholes. They always get away.”
Zimmerman was profiling Martin as he followed him through the gated community, 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 did not have to shoot Martin, Guy said: “He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to,” he said.
Defense attorney Don 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,” West said, after showing jurors photographs taken by Zimmerman’s neighbors of a bloodied and bruised neighborhood watch volunteer.