George Zimmerman’s trial in the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin lasted nearly three weeks and concluded Saturday night with an acquittal. The case prompted debate nationwide over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in last year’s death of Martin, who was black. The jury had the option to consider manslaughter but declined to convict him of the lesser charge. The six jurors considered nearly three weeks of testimony and delivered the verdict late Saturday night after two days and a total of 15 hours of deliberations.
Around the country, rallies and protests were held Saturday night and Sunday. They ranged in size from a few dozen to several hundred protesters and were largely peaceful, with few arrests. Vandalism of a police squad car was reported at an Oakland, Calif., demonstration. Many supporters of the Martin family wore hoodies, as the teen did when he died.
The White House doesn’t usually respond formally to trials unless they involve the president or federal government, but it issued a rare statement Sunday. President Barack Obama called Martin’s death a tragedy: “Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America.” He asked that people respect the call for calm reflection. He called the U.S. “a nation of laws” and said “a jury has spoken.”
The families of Zimmerman and Martin posted reactions on Twitter on Saturday. Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., tweeted that he was “proud to be an American.” He told CNN that though his brother is free, he’ll forever be looking over his shoulder. Martin’s parents expressed disappointment. Mother Sybrina Fulton tweeted, “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you.”
The case was covered on several Sunday morning TV talk shows, and celebrities also reacted. Beyonce took a moment of silence at a concert in Nashville. And the case was a topic at churches around the country, with many leaders urging peace in the wake of the verdict.
The judge issued an anonymity order for the six jurors during the trial. That order remains in effect, so their names have not yet been made public. Judge Debra Nelson had said she would rule on when to release the names upon the trial’s conclusion. The order does not prevent jurors from choosing to speak to reporters now that the trial is over.
Zimmerman left the courthouse as a free man. The NAACP has called for the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Though the department has a history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who’ve previously been acquitted in state cases, it’s not always easy. The department said in a statement Sunday afternoon that it’s looking into the case to determine whether federal civil rights charges should be filed.
Supporters have suggested that Martin’s parents file a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s lawyers have said he’ll seek immunity. Florida’s stand your ground law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight, may offer him that immunity if a judge concludes he acted in self-defense, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami.