Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel / Pool / Headline Surfer / George Zimmerman leaves the courtroom a free man after being found not guilty, on Saturday, the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford. Zimmerman had been charged with second-degree murder in the February 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
SANFORD -- The jury in the George Zimmerman trial found him not guilty of second-degree murder in the February 2012 shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The verdict was announced just before 10 p.m. at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford.
The six-woman jury had the option of going with a lesser included charge of manslaughter as well, but rejected that charge, too, in favor of the not guilty verdict. The jury deliberated nearly 16 hours.
Zimmerman reacted to the verdict with a light smile while shaking hands with his attorneys. His wife cried quietly in the gallery behind him int the fifth-floor courtroom of the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.
His attorneys went on the offensive in a post-verdict press conference on the first floor of an empty courtroom, which had become a makeshift press room.
"We're ecstatic with the results," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said. "George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense."
Co-defense counsel Don West added, "I'm glad this jury kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty."
The state, on the other hand, appeared to be defensive. We have done our best," State Attorney Angela Corey said, adding she respected the jury's decision, even as her prosecutors questioned the jury's verdict.
In a final directive to the jury Friday, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson told the six women in part from a 27-page set of instructions: "Your verdict should not be influenced by feelings of prejudice, bias or sympathy... Your verdict must be based on the evidence, and on the law contained in these instructions."
Just nminutes after the "not guilty" verdict ewas read aloud and rthe jury dismissed, the judge told Zimmerman, “Your bond will be released. Your GPS monitor will be cut off and you have no further business with this court.”
Zimmerman’s parents, Robert Zimmerman Sr. and Gladys Zimmerman, hugged each other and then the excited mom turned to hug West and then O’Mara, each of whom flashed a smile.
The 29-year-old Zimmerman, however, barely showed emotion beyond an initial smile.
“I think it will take a while for the emotions to set in for George,” O’Mara later said.
Neither of Trayvon Martin's parents -- Sybrina Fulton nor Tracy Martin -- were present in the courtroom for the verdict, their attorneys explaining to the media later that thery wanted to get a head stsart on Sunday services while downplaying reports there may have been threats made against them earlier.
Benjamin Crump, the primary attorney for the Martin family read a statement to the media following the verdict: "We are very saddened by the jury's verdict. The family is heartbroken. Sybrina and Tracy would like to thank people around the world for their support. The prosecution, Ms. Angela Corey, Mr. Bernie de la Rionda, Attorney John Guy and Mr. Rich Mantei and everybody from the prosecutor's office. To everybody who put their hoodies up and to everybody who said 'I am Trayvon,' his family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for helping them these past 17 months."
Crump continued: "To Tracy and Sybrina, Trayvon's parents, your tireless work in the name of your son has made Sanford and many other cities just a little safer for all our children. I know Trayvon is up there proud at the changes that you as his parents have inspired in his name. This morning, Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter Dr. Bernice King tweeted me a message that read, "Today is a defining moment for the status of my father's dream... whatever the Zimmerman verdict is," she tweeted, "in the words of my father, 'We must conduct ourselves on a higher plane of dignity and discipline.'"
Crump added, "Trayvon Martin will forever remain in the annals of history next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all. Tracy and Sybrina are thankful for all those prayers over the past 17 months since the death of their son. This is a very trying time for their family and we ask that you respect their privacy. In conclusion, for Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful."