George Zimmerman trial underway in Florida
(CNN) — A prosecuting attorney greeted the jury in the George Zimmerman trial Monday with a quote full of expletives, while his adversary decided it was appropriate to tell jurors a knock-knock joke.
And that was just the beginning of opening statements in Zimmerman’s long-anticipated murder trial.
In a case that has ignited national debate about gun laws and race relations, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, is accused of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
Prosecutor John Guy’s first words to the six-woman jury may have raised a few eyebrows.
“Good morning. ‘F*****g punks, these a******s all get away,'” Guy quoted Zimmerman. “These were the words in this grown man’s mouth as he followed this boy that he didn’t know. Those were his words, not mine.”
Zimmerman, Guy said, “got out of his car with a pistol and two flashlights to follow Trayvon Benjamin Martin, who was walking home from a 7-Eleven, armed” with a fruit drink and a bag of candy. Eventually the two became entangled on the ground in a fight. A witness has said Martin was on top of Zimmerman, Guy said.
“The defendant claims that while Trayvon Martin was on top of him, he said, ‘you are going to die tonight,'” said Guy. “Nobody heard that.”
Guy told jurors that no witnesses saw what happened the night of the shooting from beginning to end. Witnesses only saw “slices” of what happened, he said.
“We are confident that at the end of this trial you will know in your head, in your heart, in your stomach that George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to,” Guy said. “He shot him for the worst of all reasons, because he wanted to.”
The Martin family sat watching the proceedings behind State Attorney Angela Corey. Zimmerman’s parents were seated behind the defendant in the second row. The pews in the public gallery were filled to capacity.
At one point, Martin’s father began crying as Guy detailed how officers tried to save his son’s life. Zimmerman has mostly stared straight ahead without any signs of emotion.
Following Guy’s statement, defense attorney Don West came forward to woo the jury. As he began, he told a knock-knock joke. But it failed to win a laugh. “Knock knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? Good, you’re on the jury,” he said. Later, West apologized. “No more bad jokes, I promise that,” he told jurors. “I was convinced it was the delivery.”
West quickly got on with the business of making his case: that Zimmerman was forced to act in self-defense to save his own life.
“The evidence will show this is a sad case; no monsters here. … George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder. He shot Trayvon Martin after he was viciously attacked.”
With the help of PowerPoint visuals, West spent hours hammering home his argument.
He broke down Zimmerman’s 911 call in which he first reported seeing Martin and told about following him.
“Little did George Zimmerman know at the time in less than 10 minutes from him first seeing Travyon Martin that he, George Zimmerman, would be suckered punched in the face, have his head pounded on concrete and wind up shooting and tragically killing Trayvon Martin,” West told jurors.
West also deconstructed a 911 call a neighbor made, in which it is possible to hear screams and a shot in the background that West said was the sound of the fatal bullet.
As the dramatic recording audio filled the courtroom, Zimmerman showed no emotion. Martin’s mother left the courtroom.
“At the moment this actually became physical was that Trayvon Martin — I will use my words — that Trayvon Martin decided to confront George Zimmerman,” West said. “That instead of going home. He had plenty of time. This is, what, 60 or 70 yards. Plenty of time. He could of gone back and forth four or five times.”
West quoted a witness named John Good who described the fight. “He called it a ‘ground and pound’ by Martin, who he said was on top of Zimmerman, beating him.”
“He saw enough that this was serious,” West said. Zimmerman cried out for help, looked at Good and said, “help me.” But the beating continued while Good went inside his home to call 911, West said.
There was a shot. Shortly afterward, according to West, Zimmerman said Martin “was beating me up, and I shot him.”
West showed jurors photos taken of Zimmerman after the fight. “What you can really see in these pictures that you will have in evidence are the lumps,” West said. “The big knots on each side of his head. Consistent with having his head slammed into concrete.”
Shortly before court got under way, Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, spoke to reporters, asking people to “pray for me and my family because I don’t want any other mother to experience what I’m going through now.”
Martin was black, and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
In a CNN poll released Monday morning, 62% of respondents say the charges against Zimmerman are probably or definitely true.
Here is a summary of the key figures and elements involved in the trial:
Trayvon Martin: The victim
Trayvon Martin was born on February 5, 1995, to Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who divorced in 1999.
Before the shooting, Trayvon Martin was living with his mother and his older brother in Miami Gardens, Florida, where he was a student at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School.
The high school junior had been suspended from school three times: once for writing graffiti on a door, another time for missing school, and the last time after marijuana residue was found in his book bag.
Following his 10-day suspension in February 2012, Martin went to Sanford to visit his father at the home of his father’s girlfriend, who lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes. He was there for seven days before his death.
After Martin was killed, the medical examiner who conducted his autopsy said the teen had traces of THC, an active ingredient in marijuana, in his system when he died.
Despite his school suspensions and alleged previous drug use, Sybrina Fulton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that her son was a normal teen who “loved playing football … basketball … loved to eat everything in your house.”
George Zimmerman: The defendant
George Zimmerman, now 29, was a neighborhood watch captain in the gated community where Martin was staying temporarily when he died.
In 2003, Zimmerman enrolled at Seminole State College in Florida and earned a vocational certificate as an insurance agent.
Before his marriage to Shellie Nicole Dean in 2007, Zimmerman and his then-fiancee filed domestic violence protection orders against each other. A 2005 scuffle involved pushing and punching, police said.
From 2009 to 2012, Zimmerman was enrolled at Seminole State College, working toward an associate degree in general studies.
He was arrested on one count of second-degree murder on April 11, 2012, for killing Martin.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could face 25 years to life in prison.
Important events leading up to the shooting
In July 2005, Zimmerman was arrested for an assault on an officer and resisting arrest after an incident at a bar. Zimmerman said the case was the result of mistaken identity. He entered a six-month pretrial diversion program as part of a plea deal in that case.
In October 2005, Florida passed the “stand your ground” law, allowing its residents to meet “force with force” if they believe they or someone else is in danger of being seriously harmed by an assailant.
In 2008, Zimmerman attended a four-month law enforcement program. In his application for the course, Zimmerman wrote, “I hold law enforcement officers in the highest regard and I hope one day to become one.”
Timeline: Zimmerman’s reports involving suspicious activity in neighborhood
On August 4, 2011, Zimmerman submitted his first report to the Sanford Police Department about a suspicious black male walking around in the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood, where Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain.
The next day, Zimmerman called the department again, reporting another suspicious black male lurking in the area.
On October 6 of that year, Zimmerman called in a third report, again alerting authorities to a suspicious black male.
On February 2, 2012, Zimmerman called in a similar report to the department.
“According to all records checks, all of Zimmerman’s suspicious persons calls while residing in the Retreat at Twins Lakes neighborhood have identified black males as the subjects in the matter,” the Sanford Police Department said in a statement after Martin was killed.
The night of the shooting
On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman left his home in his car to go to a store. The 28-year-old called the department’s nonemergency line to report “a suspicious person” in the neighborhood. Officials told him not to get out of his car or approach the person.
Moments later, neighbors reported hearing gunfire.
Just before he was killed, Martin was walking back from a nearby convenience store, headed to his father’s girlfriend’s home. He was carrying a small amount of cash, candy, a soft drink and a phone. He was not carrying a gun.
When police arrived, Zimmerman admitted to authorities that he shot the teen, but said it was in self-defense.
In his police report, Officer Timothy Smith noted that Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of his head after the shooting.
Responding officers were not able to identify Martin when they arrived at the crime scene because he was not carrying identification. His body was transported to the morgue.
After the shooting
The day after the shooting, Martin’s father filed a missing person report because his son had failed to return home. Officers with the Sanford Police Department visited Tracy Martin, who later identified his son’s body using a picture.
Investigators received a fax from Altamonte Family Medical Practice on March 8 containing the medical records identifying the injuries suffered by Zimmerman the night of the shooting.
In mid-March of that year, the FBI received a report that Zimmerman had contacted a gun store about acquiring a new firearm because, according to Zimmerman, his “life is in danger” and he “needs more guns.”
Despite nationwide criticism that an arrest had not yet been made, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee stated in March of that year that Zimmerman had not been charged with a crime because there were no grounds to disprove his version of events.
On March 15, Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, wrote a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, stating that his son had been unfairly portrayed as a racist. He noted that his son is Hispanic and grew up in a multiracial family.
The next day, authorities released seven 911 calls from the night of the shooting. In one of the recordings, a voice screams, “Help, help!” followed by the sound of a gunshot.
On March 19, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI announced they had launched an investigation into Martin’s death.
Days later, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Martin family, held a news conference stating that Trayvon Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend around the time he was killed. According to Crump, the girl stated she heard someone ask Martin what he was doing, followed by Martin asking that person why he was following him.
On March 22, a petition on Change.org — created by Martin’s parents and calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman — surpassed 1.3 million supporters.
That same day, Lee announced he was stepping down “temporarily” as head of the police department, which had been criticized for its handling of the case.
In April, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.
Zimmerman attended his bond hearing on April 20 with defense attorney Mark O’Mara. During that hearing, Zimmerman apologized to Martin’s family for the loss of their son.
On April 23, Zimmerman was released on bail. A judge accepted his written plea of not guilty days after his release.
A medical report by Zimmerman’s family doctor, made the day after the shooting, was made public on May 15. The report stated Zimmerman was diagnosed with a fractured nose, two black eyes and two lacerations to the back of his head.
On June 1, Zimmerman was ordered to surrender within 48 hours after a judge revoked his bond, following the prosecution’s argument that Zimmerman and his wife allegedly misrepresented their finances when his bond was originally set in April. Two days later, Zimmerman surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody for a second time.
Zimmerman’s jail stint ended a few days later, when he was released after posting the required 10% of his $1 million bond.
In July 2012, Zimmerman gave his first public interview to Fox News’ “The Sean Hannity Show.” During that interview, he said he would not have done anything differently the night of the shooting.
In April of 2013, Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing.
In early May, Zimmerman’s defense lawyers and prosecutors faced off in a pivotal hearing. A judge declared that most of the information regarding Martin’s and Zimmerman’s backgrounds would be barred from the trial, including Martin’s school suspension history.
CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin and CNN’s Grace Wong contributed to this report.