Trayvon Martin shooting: Race hangs over case as trial begins (+video)
As the trial of George Zimmerman begins Monday, the major legal question will be whether the defendant acted in self-defense. But the Trayvon Martin shooting also pokes at issues such as profiling, interracial crime fears, and vigilantism.
The tale of how George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin on the streets of a gated community in Sanford, Fla., continues to poke at uncomfortable truths in a not-so-post-racial America – including perceptions about profiling, interracial crime fears, drug use stereotypes, and vigilantism.Skip to next paragraph
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But the trial of Mr. Zimmerman on second-degree murder charges, which begins Monday, will present jurors with a more straightforward task than addressing the nation's imperfections.
After a year of legal maneuvering by both sides, the basic question jurors will consider remains the same: Was Zimmerman, an aspiring police officer who was part of a volunteer neighborhood watch group, justified in confronting the 17-year-old on a rainy Feb. 26, 2012, and subsequently shooting him point-blank in the chest?
"My expectation is that jurors are actually going to be judging a pretty simple case," says Douglas Keene, a noted jury consultant in Austin, Texas, who has dissected the George Zimmerman case in detail. "Yes, this case touches on a lot of societal concerns more broadly, but the motivation of jurors is not to reconstruct the fabric of society. They just want to answer one question correctly: What actually happened?"
The facts, however, may not be so simple to ascertain, including whether it is Zimmerman or Trayvon, overheard in the background of a 911 call, who was screaming and yelling "stop." Moreover, witness accounts are murky, and some witnesses have changed their original stories about the nature of the fight between the men. A girlfriend who was on the phone with Trayvon turns out to have lied about why she didn't attend Trayvon's funeral.
Zimmerman, too, dug himself a hole by not stopping his wife, Shellie, from lying about the couple's finances at a bond hearing, which got her arrested and him thrown back in jail. And the original explanation for what happened – that Zimmernan invoked his "stand your ground" right under a 2005 Florida law – was sidestepped by defense lawyers when they waived a special self-defense hearing in April.
Prosecutors have one main problem in proving second-degree murder: The key eyewitness is Zimmerman himself, who sustained a broken nose and several cuts to the back of his head during the apparent fight that preceded the shooting. In one hearing, Zimmerman apologized to Trayvon's parents, saying he thought Trayvon was an adult and that he didn't know if the teen was armed or not.