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How Trayvon Martin gunman aided neighbor after a break-in

SANFORD, Fla. -- For many Americans, George Zimmerman has become the face of barbarous vigilante justice. For Olivia Bertalan, he was the face of compassion — a neighbor of consummate graciousness and low-key gallantry.

Roughly six months before Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in his gated Florida townhouse complex, he was standing in Bertalan’s doorway, asking what he could do to help her. A group of young men had just broken into Bartalan’s townhouse as she and her infant cowered in a locked bedroom. The intruders had stolen a $600 camera and a laptop.

After the police had come and gone, the doorbell rang, and there was Zimmerman: 5-foot-9, in a shirt and tie, his body a little doughy, his demeanor gentle. He introduced himself. He gave her a list of phone numbers where she could reach him at any time. He gave her a heavy-duty lock to bolster the sliding-glass door that the suspects had forced open. He told her she could go stay with his wife down the street if she ever felt scared again.

“That first impression was really sweet,” Bartalan, 21, told the Los Angeles Times. “It really does break my heart how they’re portraying him as coldblooded murderer.”

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This is the impression of Zimmerman shared by a number of neighbors and acquaintances, one that only compounds the complexity and tragedy in the case of Trayvon Martin, whom Zimmerman gunned down Feb. 26 in a suburban side yard.

Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense, has not been arrested, and outraged observers have impugned the 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, and the justice system, as racist. Friends and family have argued that Zimmerman, who is half-Peruvian, has many black friends and even family members, and was not motivated by prejudice.

The case continues to prompt debate and protests nationwide.

On Wednesday a Democratic congressman from Illinois, Bobby Rush, wore a gray hoodie when he spoke from the House floor asking for justice for Martin and his family. “Racial profiling has to stop…. Just because someone is a young black male and wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum,” Rush said. Rush was gaveled out of order for violating rules prohibiting wearing hats on the House floor.

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Also, the Miami Herald is reporting that early in the investigation into the shooting, the Sanford Police Department did consider arresting Zimmerman in what was categorized as a “homicide/negligent manslaughter.”

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