SANFORD, Fla.--The defense in the George Zimmerman murder trial made its closing arguments Friday morning, reminding the jurors that the state has the burden of proof of showing that the neighborhood watch volunteer committed murder when he shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara began his last attempt to convince the jury of six women with an explanation of reasonable doubt and explained that a presumption of Zimmerman’s innocence always exists. He also promised to show that Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot Martin during a confrontation in this Florida town.
“The state carries a burden of proving to you without a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman did not act in self-defense,” O’Mara said. “George Zimmerman is not guilty if you have a reasonable doubt.”
[Updated 8:59 a.m.: O’Mara spoke more than three hours, continuously planting seeds of doubt about the state’s case and warning jurors that if there was no proof, they should decide to acquit Zimmerman. He also presented an affirmative argument, trying to show that Zimmerman must have acted in self-defense.
Using charts, posters, props and even an animated version of the events, O’Mara urged jurors not to connect the dots of the state’s case to make it seem like there was proof of murder. The state had the burden of proof and failed to meet it, he said.
Describing a hypothetical verdict form, O’Mara said it should have “guilty, not guilty and completely innocent.
“You’d have to check that one,” O’Mara said of the last option.]
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin, 17, at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community, on Feb. 26, 2012. Martin was returning from a convenience store where he had purchased candy and a soft drink when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who called police to report a suspicious person walking in the rain.
The prosecution maintains that Zimmerman profiled and tracked Martin, which led to a confrontation and the death of Martin. Zimmerman has admitted that he fired a single shot from his 9-millimeter gun and killed Martin, but says he acted in self-defense.
During the trial, which began June 10 with jury selection, the sides argued over what exactly happened on that rainy night in Sanford. O’Mara insisted that the prosecution simply hadn’t proven that Zimmerman had committed murder. Prosecutors have built a case based on hypotheticals, a case full of “could’ve beens” and “maybes,” O’Mara argued.
“If it hasn’t been proven, it’s just not there,” O’Mara said. “You can’t fill in the gaps. You can’t connect the dots. You’re not allowed to.”
The jury will likely begin deliberations later on Friday after it receives the legal instruction from Judge Debra S. Nelson. The judge has already ruled that jurors can consider a manslaughter charge in addition to second-degree murder, a victory for the prosecution. Second-degree murder has a higher standard of proof, requiring ill will, spite and hatred. The defense maintains there is no evidence of such animus between Zimmerman and Martin, who had never met before the fateful night.
Displaying charts that show the quotes from various emergency calls, O’Mara reminded the jury not to assume a motive that hasn’t been established. “Focus on where this ill will, spite and hatred comes in,” said O’Mara, adding later, “They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. They just haven’t.”
The jury paid close attention as O’Mara spoke, scrutinizing the posters. Zimmerman’s father sat behind the defendant in the front row of the packed courtroom, while on the other side of the room Trayvon Martin’s parents sat side by side in the second row.
Zimmerman chose not to take the stand during the trial, though jurors have heard his voice in a variety of recorded statements to police. In all statements, Zimmerman has maintained he acted in self-defense but gave different details.
O’Mara on Friday presented an animated version of the defense’s theory of what happened. The video, which is not in evidence, shows Zimmerman and Martin in a confrontation with Martin on top. Zimmerman was injured with a bloody nose and lacerations to the back of his head and Martin was shot.
O’Mara conceded that the animation was a theory, but he said it accounted for the evidence from witnesses, forensic experts and documents and shows that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. It is “at least consistent with the evidence presented,” O’Mara said. “It shows the probability if not the exact certainty” of the defense case.
“Prove it, believe it,” O’Mara said. “Don’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.”
One of the more dramatic episodes was when O’Mara just had jurors wait silently, seconds ticking off as he walked back to the defense table. He consulted his watch and announced: “That’s how long Trayvon Martin had to run -- four minutes.”
“Do you have a doubt what Trayvon Martin was doing?”
After O’Mara finishes his closing, the prosecution gets an hour for rebuttal.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Sanford and Muskal from Los Angeles.