SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman is a free man.
After nearly 16 hours of deliberations over two days, a six-member jury — all women, five of them white — acquitted Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer charged with murdering Trayvon Martin in what became one of the most racially charged criminal cases in the country.
Jurors on Saturday found that 29-year-old Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, on Feb. 26, 2012, as the two fought on the ground near Zimmerman’s home.
Zimmerman, 29, showed no emotion when the verdict was read. His wife, Shellie, sitting in the gallery behind him, began crying quietly.
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“Obviously we are ecstatic with the results,” defense attorney Mark O’Mara said moments after the verdict was read.
Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin,
were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read, but they had sat side-by-side through nearly every other day of his five-week trial — including two weeks of jury selection — seldom showing emotion.
Seconds after the verdict was read Saturday, Tracy Martin took to Twitter:
“God blessed Me & Sybrina with Tray and even in his death I know my baby proud of the FIGHT we along with all of you put up for him GOD BLESS,” he tweeted.
About an hour after the verdict was read, attorneys for Trayvon Martin’s family said they — and the family — were urging people to remain calm after the verdict.
“For Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful,” said attorney Benjamin Crump. “The whole world was looking at this case for a reason. We need to move forward from this tragedy and learn from it.”
Dozens of protesters turned out Friday on the Seminole County criminal courthouse lawn as word spread that deliberations had begun. On Saturday, their numbers grew to 200 people; the overwhelming majority wanted a conviction. And crowds gathered late into the night, after the verdict was read, at the courthouse and in the historic Goldsboro area of Sanford.
In Seattle, a group of about 50 people gathered Saturday at Westlake Center shortly after the verdict was announced, chanting “Justice for Trayvon” and “Zimmerman was guilty.”
Monique Hendrix said Trayvon Martin could have been her child, so she and her daughter, Ava, 5, went to the Dollar Store to get posters then walked to Westlake Center, where Ava held a sign that said: “I am Trayvon.”
“I have trust in the justice system, but this was unreal,” said Hendrix, who lives in North Seattle. “This is a humanitarian thing, not a race thing. It’s an injustice.”
In Florida after the verdict, lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said, “Am I disappointed? Yes because I thought he was guilty.”
His boss, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, said her office had not overreached by charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Paraphrasing prosecutor John Guy’s closing statements in the case, Corey said: “To the living, we owe respect. To the dead, we owe the truth. We have shown respect to the living, and we believe we have brought out the truth on behalf of Trayvon Martin.”
In March 2012, civil-rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and the Rev. Al Sharpton, came to Sanford and led thousands of people in marches and rallies, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. He was arrested and charged in April 2012.
Both Jackson and Sharpton released statements after the verdict.
“The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice,” Sharpton wrote in a statement. “We intend to ask the Department of Justice to move forward as they did in the Rodney King case and we will closely monitor the civil case against Mr. Zimmerman.”
Jackson, meanwhile, took to Twitter.
“Avoid violence, it will lead to more tragedies. Find a way for self construction not deconstruction in this time of despair. #ZimmermanTrial,” Jackson tweeted.
About an hour after the verdict was read, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, posted a message on Twitter that captured her grief.
“Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!”
Seattle Times staff writer Paige Cornwell contributed to this story: 206-464-2517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.