Zimmerman called 'wannabe cop' whose errors got Martin killed

SANFORD, Florida Thu Jul 11, 2013 10:24pm EDT

1 of 5. George Zimmerman wipes his brow before the state's closing arguments in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida July 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary W. Green/Pool

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SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - "Wannabe cop" George Zimmerman wrongly profiled Trayvon Martin as a criminal, followed him with a gun and provoked him into a fight that resulted in the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

"A teenager is dead," Florida state prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the jury in closing arguments of Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. "He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions. Because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin will no longer walk on this Earth."

Sounding indignant, de la Rionda portrayed Zimmerman as a predator, not the good citizen who, as portrayed by the defense, was attacked by a 17-year-old whose actions led to his own death.

Defense lawyers were due to present their closing arguments on Friday, followed by a final prosecution rebuttal, after which the jury would begin deliberating a case that inspired renewed national debate on race, profiling, gun rights and self-defense.

Time and again, de la Rionda accused Zimmerman of lying about what happened on the rainy night of February 26, 2012, when he spotted Martin inside a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford.

Zimmerman called police, saying he believed Martin was suspicious and noted that there had been break-ins in the neighborhood.

But Martin was a guest in the home of his father's fiancée, who lived inside the gated community, and was returning from a nearby convenience store with a snack in preparation for watching the NBA All-Star game.

De la Rionda tried to undermine Zimmerman's assertion that he was not following Martin but looking for a street address to relay to police. The prosecutor sought to reveal inconsistencies in Zimmerman's statements and repeatedly quoted him speaking in police jargon.

The prosecutor asked rhetorically why Zimmerman left his car and followed Martin. "Because he's got a gun," de la Rionda said. "He's got the equalizer. He's a wannabe cop. My God, it's his community and he's gonna take care of it."

OPTION FOR JURORS

Earlier on Thursday, Seminole County Judge Debra Nelson gave jurors the option of convicting Zimmerman of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Prosecutors wanted the sequestered, all-female jury to have the option of choosing a lesser offense that still carried a potentially lengthy sentence.

If convicted, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder and up to 30 years for manslaughter.

The defense preferred an all-or-nothing choice of second-degree murder, confident it had shown Zimmerman acted in self-defense and concerned the jury might opt for what lead defense lawyer Mark O'Mara described as a "compromise verdict."

In his closing statement, de la Rionda avoided mentioning race but said Zimmerman "profiled" Martin, suggesting he assumed Martin was a criminal because he was black.

The prosecutor also paraphrased civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in defending witness Rachael Jeantel, a young woman of Haitian and Dominican origin who was on the phone with Martin when the teenager encountered Zimmerman.

Jeantel had used what de la Rionda called "colorful language," such as when she quoted Martin as referring to Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, as a "creepy ass cracker." She also testified that Martin told Zimmerman to "get off," suggesting Zimmerman initiated the confrontation.

"I had a dream that a witness was judged not by the color of her personality but by the content of her testimony," de la Rionda said.

In his final comments, de la Rionda spoke of the life cut short by Zimmerman, who briefly shook his head 'no' as he sat in the courtroom.

"They can't take any more photos," the prosecutor said, referring to pictures of Martin taken by his relatives in happier times. "That's true because of the actions of one person, the man before you, the defendant George Zimmerman, the man who is guilty of second-degree murder."

Considering that legal analysts have generally portrayed the prosecution case as weak, de la Rionda received positive reviews.

"He has to work within the confines of what he's got, and he was animated," said Alison Triessl, a California-based defense lawyer who has followed the trial closely. "I loved the question about who was the one who was really scared here."

Attorney David Weinstein of Clarke Silverglate in Miami saw the prosecutor as effective, such as when he showed the last picture taken of Martin - an autopsy photo.

"He walked the jury through the evidence and pointed out the inconsistencies with the defense's arguments," he said. "He was confident in the job that his team has done and he ended with a sympathetic tug on the jurors hearts. He was not overly dramatic."

(Additional reporting by Tom Brown and Kevin Gray; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (25)
bear87 wrote:
Has Zimmerman even been a bit remorseful about the events that happened. I don’t think so. He thinks he got a way with murder. But did he. In the state of Florida he’ll probably get off. If it occurred anywhere else. Probably not.

Jul 11, 2013 8:36pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Rollo2 wrote:
de la Rionda’s summation sounded like a little school yard na na na. It would be hard for me, if I were a jurist, to get beyond his irritating voice and poor presentation. Win or lose, I think the prosecution of this case was ill thought and poorly done.

Jul 11, 2013 8:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
flashrooster wrote:
After the defense’s closing arguments tomorrow it will be up to the jury. I just hope we don’t see this case condoning Zimmerman’s reckless actions that led to the death of a young man, sending the message to all Americans that it’s okay to follow people around at night carrying a loaded gun, and even chase them down with the intent to ask them questions.

I’m not convinced that Trayvon did anything wrong, but even if he did decide to confront Zimmerman at some point, it doesn’t change the fact that he was stalked by Zimmerman who was carrying a loaded weapon. No one can say that Martin didn’t feel like his life was in peril. In fact, who wouldn’t feel threatened under the same circumstances? It wasn’t fair for Zimmerman to put Martin in that position when all Martin was doing was walking home from the store. Martin shouldn’t have had to decide whether to run or to stand his ground.

Zimmerman showed bad judgment by ignoring the directive from the dispatcher and pursuing Martin, knowing that, with a loaded gun, Zimmerman’s pursuit of Martin could end in disaster. And it did. People make an issue about the dispatcher not being more assertive about telling Zimmerman not to pursue Martin. But the dispatcher didn’t realize he needed to. Zimmerman said, “Okay.” Furthermore, the dispatcher didn’t know that Zimmerman was pursuing Martin with a fully loaded semi-automatic weapon. I guarantee that dispatcher would have been much more vehement about telling Zimmerman not to follow the boy. He also would have contacted the police to tell them that Zimmerman had a fully loaded semi-automatic weapon on him. By Zimmerman’s own admission he was bound and determined not to let the “*sshole,” “f*cking punk,” “suspect” get away. But he doesn’t have the right to make that call. He’s not a cop. He had made up his mind that Martin was up to criminal activity. He played cop, judge, jury, and executioner. That’s not the American way. His poor judgement and reckless actions cost a 17 year old his life and Zimmerman should pay a price for that.

And we also know that Zimmerman lies. I think he used his knowledge of the Stand Your Ground law and his studies in criminal law to fabricate his alibi to look innocent. There’s too much that doesn’t add up, like his excuse for why he was in the location where the confrontation took place, saying he was looking for a street sign. That absurd. He’s lived there for almost 4 years. The street he claimed to be walking toward is the same street he lives on. He knew the name of the street. Explaining why he was in that location was the one part of his alibi he couldn’t lie away. But he tried.

Zimmerman overstep his bounds and infringed on Trayvon Martin’s rights. To say Zimmerman had done nothing wrong at all is denial. I sure hope I never see some strange guy with a loaded gun running me down. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’d do, but if I’m packing there might be a shootout. I hate seeing our society depend so much on guns rather than our brains. But that’s the direction we’re going in. We tried it before during the 19th Century and it didn’t work out so well. Only a fool would think that somehow this round will be different. Americans never seem to learn.

Jul 11, 2013 8:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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