After a year and a half of living as a hermit, George Zimmerman emerged from a Florida courthouse a free man, cleared of all chargesin the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
His brother said the former neighborhood watch volunteer was still processing the reality that he wouldn’t serve prison time for the killing, which Zimmerman, 29, has maintained was an act of self-defense. A jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder late Saturday night and declined to convict him on a lesser charge of manslaughter.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Sunday, saying the death of Martin was a tragedy for America.
Obama says he knows the not-guilty verdict reached late Saturday has elicited strong passions around the country. He asks that all Americans respect the call for calm reflection.
Obama says Americans should ask themselves if they’re doing all they can to stem gun violence, and what can be done to prevent future tragedies like the Florida shooting.
However, with many critics angry over his acquittal, his freedom probably will be limited.
Demonstrators upset with the verdict protested mostly peacefully in Florida and Atlanta overnight, but some broke windows and vandalized a police squad car in Oakland during protests in four California cities, authorities said.
“He’s going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life,” Robert Zimmerman Jr. said during an interview on CNN.
Martin’s killing in February 2012 unleashed furious debate across the United States over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice. Protesters across the country lashed out against police in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, outraged that it took 44 days for Zimmerman to be arrested. Many, including Martin’s parents, claimed Zimmerman had racially profiled the unarmed black teen. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Six anonymous female jurors — all but one of them white — considered nearly three weeks of often wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated townhouse community where he was staying and where Zimmerman lived.
They deliberated more than 15 hours over two days before announcing late Saturday night that they had reached a verdict.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said in August 2012 that Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, had been living “like a hermit” and were not working because they feared for their safety.
After Saturday’s verdict, police, officials and civil rights leaders urged peace and told protesters not to resort to violence. Although defense attorneys said they were thrilled with the outcome, O’Mara suggested Zimmerman’s safety would be an ongoing concern.
“There still is a fringe element that wants revenge,” O’Mara said. “They won’t listen to a verdict of not guilty.”
The families of Zimmerman and Martin took to Twitter after the verdict was announced to express their feelings.
Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, were reserved but expressed their disappointment. Fulton expressed her faith in God, saying “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you.” Tracy Martin tweeted that he was broken-hearted, but that his faith is “unshattered.”
The teen’s brother, Jahvaris Fulton, said simply: “Et tu America?” — a reference to the Latin phrase “Et tu, Brute?” known as an expression of betrayal.
Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., says his family is relieved that the jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. He tweeted: “Today … I’m proud to be an American.”
Those watching reacted strongly when the verdict was announced. Martin’s mother and father were not in the courtroom when it was read; supporters of his family who had gathered outside yelled “No! No!” upon learning of the verdict.
George Zimmerman’s brother said Zimmerman is ‘going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life.’
Andrew Perkins, 55, a black resident of Sanford, angrily asked outside the courthouse, “How the hell did they find him not guilty?”
“He killed somebody and got away with murder,” Perkins shouted, so angry he shook, looking toward the courthouse.
Protesters had taken to the streets late Saturday and into Sunday morning in Florida and other states, largely heeding the advice of officials and others who urged them not to resort to violence.
Authorities said in California media reports that some marchers in Oakland vandalized a police squad car, and police formed a line to block some demonstrators there. TV news helicopter footage showed some people trying to start fires in the street and spray-painting anti-police graffiti. The demonstration followed a raucous but largely peaceful protest in San Francisco and another in Los Angeles. An Oakland police dispatch said about 100 people protested there, but gave no word of any arrests
Celebrities also reacted. Beyoncé called at a Nashville concert for a moment of silence for Martin. Elsewhere, rapper Young Jeezy released a song in Martin’s memory, and Russell Simmons called for peace.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous started a petition calling for the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman. “The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin,” Jealous wrote in the petition, posted on the website MoveOn.org and addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump acknowledged the disappointment of Trayvon Martin’s supporters, ranking the teen alongside civil rights heroes Medgar Evers and Emmett Till in the history of the fight for equal justice. However, he said, “for Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful.”
Zimmerman also had some supporters outside the courthouse, including Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Casslebury, and her brother, 52-year-old Chris Bay, who stood watching others chant slogans such as, “the whole system’s guilty.”
Lenzen and Bay — who are white — called the entire case “a tragedy,” especially for Zimmerman.
“It’s a tragedy that he’s going to suffer for the rest of his life,” Bay said. “No one wins either way. This is going to be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night.”
By Kyle Hightower and Mike Schneider