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George Zimmerman prosecution leaves jury to untangle lies and justification

The State of Florida rested its case Friday against George Zimmerman, on trial for killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin last year. The state faces long odds in winning a conviction.

By Staff writer / July 6, 2013

George Zimmerman stands next to one of his defense attorneys, Don West, during his trial in Seminole circuit court, Friday, July 5, 2013, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP

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ATLANTA

The waning moments of the George Zimmerman trial on Friday wielded the most significant insights yet into how the state and defense view the controversial case of an unarmed black teenager shot to death by a zealous neighborhood watch captain.

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Mark O’Mara, defending Mr. Zimmerman against a second degree murder charge for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, came right out and said that “Trayvon Martin caused his own death” by punching Mr. Zimmerman, a move which the defense argued gave Zimmerman self-defense immunity under Florida law.

The prosecution says the state’s witnesses have raised enough questions about Zimmerman’s character and credibility – specifically an apparent lie on national TV about his knowledge of Florida’s landmark self-defense laws – for the jury to convict.

“There are two people involved [in this case]: one of them is dead, one of them is a liar,” Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei told Judge Debra Nelson on Day 18 of the trial.

The comments came out of the jury’s earshot and during a motion by the defense to acquit, a fairly standard maneuver that in many ways outlined closing arguments as well as any future appeals case. Judge Nelson denied the motion, leaving the defense to call its first two witnesses.

The case rose to prominence last year after Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, hired a high-profile publicity lawyer to protest the decision by the Sanford Police Department to not arrest Zimmerman for killing their son.

Ensuing “million hoodie marches” in solidarity with Trayvon and the hoodie he wore on the night he was killed raised racial aspects of the case that still chafe at its edges, while others saw the case as a landmark self-defense argument embodying the expansion by 22 states of the right to defend oneself with deadly force in public places – so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws.

So far, it’s been a riveting up-and-down trial that has seen a Skype call with an expert witness get pranked by viewers, a tense and sometimes confounding standoff with Martin’s 19-year-old friend Rachel Jeantel, the taking of the stand by the mothers of the two people involved in the deadly Feb. 26, 2012 altercation, and eyewitnesses who couldn’t agree on who was the aggressor that night.

Two of Zimmerman’s college professors were also called, both testifying that Zimmerman, who took criminal justice courses at Seminole County College in hopes of becoming a prosecutor or federal agent, was an A student in a class where Florida’s self-defense laws were often discussed.

The state was also able to introduce some salient hard facts that may shed light on the dynamics of the fight. While some have speculated that Trayvon was 6-2 and towered over Zimmerman, the medical examiner testified that Trayvon was 5-11 and weighed 158 pounds at the time of death. At the time, Zimmerman, who stands 5-7, weighed around 185 pounds.

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