SANFORD, Fla. -- Before the jury in the George Zimmerman murder case brought back its verdict the judge warned those in the courtroom against any untoward displays of emotion or outbursts.
Zimmerman stood at the defendant’s table with his lawyers, and the verdict of not guilty was read.
He seemed not to move a muscle until the jurors were taken out of the courtroom with the judge’s thanks.
Then, like a deflating balloon, the tension drained out of his face. A small smile began at the corners of his mouth and very slowly spread. Within seconds, he turned to shake the hands of his defense team, Mark O’Mara and Don West. Zimmerman, who has been free on bail, looked up at the judge.
“Your bond will be released,” Judge Debra S. Nelson told him. “Your GPS monitor will be cut off and you have no further business with this court.”
Then the defendant’s side of the courtroom exploded in hugs. Zimmerman hugged his wife, Shellie, and friends who have waited during the long trial that began with jury selection last month. Zimmerman’s parents, Robert Zimmerman Sr. and Gladys Zimmerman, hugged each other. Gladys Zimmerman reached over to hug attorney West and O’Mara, who broke out in smiles.
“I think it will take a while for the emotions to set in for George,” O’Mara told reporters afterward.
Zimmerman, 29, had been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford in central Florida. He had always maintained that he shot Martin in self-defense when the teenager attacked him. Prosecutors argued that he had profiled and stalked Martin, who was returning from a convenience store after buying candy and a soft drink.
On the other side of the courtroom, Martin's family was seen leaving, some members shedding tears.
About 100 people gathered outside the courthouse through much of the long Saturday deliberations. They stood stunned as the verdict was announced.
Tonnetta Foster of Sanford threw her hands up as the jury announced it had acquitted Zimmerman. “I give up,” she said.
Crying, she embraced Erika Rodger of Enterprise, Fla. Rodger, who is white, and Foster, who is black, had met outside the courthouse.
“I’m just heartsick,” Rodger said. “I have a 20-year-old son. I would hate for this to happen to him. That’s why we have police, not individuals that think they can take the law into their own hands."
Cathy Cole, another woman who watched from the small park in front of the courthouse, also spoke as a parent.
“I have two sons of my own,” she said. “I think the child was murdered.”
The dominant reaction by the crowd to the verdict was not anger but shock. People strained to hear the verdict over their phones. When it became clear that Zimmerman would leave the courthouse a free man, the crowd was mostly silent.
Denica Crawford, from Sanford, and her cousin Jekeem Burk held a phone between them to hear the verdict. When it was announced, they cried.
About 30 law-enforcement officers kept watch over them and others, some of whom eventually broke into chants of “No justice, no peace” and called for a nationwide protest.
But less than an hour after the verdict, much of the crowd has dispersed; only 50 or so were still in the park.
The special prosecutor, Angela B. Corey, told reporters afterward that her team had done its best.
“To the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe the truth,” she said. “We have done our best to assure respect to all involved. We believe we assured the truth to Trayvon Martin.”
“Of course our hearts as always go out to our victim’s family,” said Corey, who was appointed after weeks of demonstrations by civil rights leaders.
The jury began its deliberations after lunch on Friday and met for 3 1/2 hours. They returned to the courthouse at 9 a.m. and deliberated throughout the day, asking for lunch and dinner. In all, the jurors discussed the case for about 16 1/2 hours.
At 9:47 p.m., court officials announced there was a verdict and journalists who had been pacing about during the day moved into the overflow room.
The six jurors entered at 9:57 p.m. at gave their verdict.
By 10:01 p.m. they were headed back to their lives.
Muskal reported from Los Angeles and Cole from Sanford. Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Sanford contributed to this report.