Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda called George Zimmerman a “wanna-be cop” and accused him of being a serial exaggerator whose legal knowledge allowed him to construct a scenario he believed would persuade police investigators that he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin on a rainy night in Sanford, Florida, last year.
“A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions,” de la Rionda said. “He’s dead not just because the man made those assumptions, because he acted upon those assumptions. And unfortunately, unfortunately, because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks on this Earth.”
“Do you have an innocent man before you?” de la Rionda later asked the jury.
Americans have been riveted for more than a year by that fundamental question, which six women in Florida will soon decide. The 29-year old Zimmerman stands accused of second degree murder for killing 17-year-old Martin, though the jurors will be allowed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter if they so choose. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty, saying he shot Martin in self-defense after the teen attacked him.
Throughout just over two hours of closing remarks, de la Rionda used video, slides and graphic images of the crime scene to try to persuade the jury that Zimmerman deliberately attempted to dress up the crime of second degree murder as an act of self-defense. He highlighted what he saw as inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s version of events and emphasized the defendant’s use of profanity to describe Martin in a call to a police dispatcher. Under Florida law, the jury must find that Zimmerman acted with a “depraved mind” in order to convict him of second degree murder.
Martin was visiting his father in Sanford in February 2012, and had gone to a local 7-11 to pick up a pack of Skittles and a can of iced tea. At one point, de la Rionda raised evidence bags containing the candy and can above his head, saying that Martin was only buying snacks for himself and a friend. “That was his crime,” de la Rionda said, holding the bags in the air.
Zimmerman spotted Martin, and believing he was “up to no good,” called the police, de la Rionda said. Zimmerman ignored the advice of a police dispatcher not to follow Martin, who was shot in the ensuing confrontation. Zimmerman’s defense team has claimed that Martin attacked Zimmerman and that the 29-year old was on the losing end of a brutal fight when he acted to save his own life. De la Rionda tried to poke holes in Zimmerman’s contention that he was afraid of Martin, instead saying Martin was the one who was likely frightened.
“When you think of it, when you really honestly think about it, who was more scared? The guy–kid–that was minding his own business and going home, that was being followed by another guy in a truck, in an SUV that kept following him?” de la Rionda said.
“Why does this defendant get out of the car if he thinks Trayvon Martin is a threat to him? Why? Because he’s got a gun, he’s got the equalizer, he’s gonna take care of it, he’s a wannabe cop,” de la Rionda said. “The police are taking too long to respond, he’s going to handle it.”
The events that took place that rainy night in Sanford have become a racial Rorschach test. According to one poll taken two months after the event, nine out of ten African-Americans saw Martin’s killing as unjustified, compared to only 35% of whites. De la Rionda accused Zimmerman of profiling Martin “as a criminal” several times. The only explicit mention of race was when he said that Martin’s referring to Zimmerman as a “creepy ass cracker” on a phone call with his friend and prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel was evidence that the teen was afraid of the man following him.
“Trayvon Martin unfortunately can’t come into this courtroom and tell you how he was feeling, and that’s true because of the actions of one man, the defendant,” de la Rionda said.
The defense is set to give its closing arguments Friday morning. Afterwards, the prosecution will be given an hour for rebuttal.
Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.