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Zimmerman prosecutors give closing arguments; defense goes Friday

SANFORD — Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda spent nearly four hours Thursday trying to convince the jury that George Zimmerman was a lying, racist, paranoid, wanna-be cop who stalked 17-year-old Trayvon Martin through a gated community because he thought the teen was a criminal.

The prosecutor tried to use Zimmerman's own words against him, highlighting for the jury parts of a call Zimmerman made to police before he shot Martin dead.

"These a--holes," Zimmerman had said during the recorded call. "They always get away."

"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 during his closing arguments. "Because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks on this earth."

The prosecution's goal was to convince the jury of six women that Zimmerman showed ill will, hatred or spite that night, which is necessary to win a second-degree murder conviction. The jury will have another, lesser charge to consider as well: manslaughter.

Judge Debra Nelson ruled earlier Thursday that the jury could consider the lesser charge, which was a blow to Zimmerman's defense team. She did not allow the state to present the jury with a third charge: third-degree murder. A manslaughter conviction requires only that prosecutors prove Zimmerman, 29, killed without lawful justification.

Because of the way Florida law imposes longer sentences for crimes committed with a gun, manslaughter could end up carrying a penalty as high as 30 years in prison.

Zimmerman got into a scuffle with Martin after spotting the teen while driving through his gated townhouse complex on a rainy night in February 2012. Zimmerman has claimed he fired in self-defense after Martin sucker-punched him and began slamming his head into the pavement. Prosecutors have disputed his account and portrayed him as the aggressor.

"He was wearing a hoodie," de la Rionda said of Martin. "Last I heard, that's not against the law. But in this man's eyes, he was up to no good."

The prosecutor pointed out that Zimmerman, who has said he didn't know the teen was dead, did not provide first aid or CPR to Martin after the shooting.

Time and again he talked about fear as a way to challenge Zimmerman's claim of self-defense, arguing that it was Martin who tried to run away and Zimmerman who followed.

"Is it really self-defense when you follow somebody?" he asked. "When you . . . think about it, who was more scared? Trayvon Martin, unfortunately, can't come into this room and tell you how he was feeling."

He asked the jury to test Zimmerman's actions against their understanding of fear. He told them Zimmerman had already made up his mind about Martin, that he had spent 18 months training in martial arts, that he was older, heavier and carried two flashlights and a Kel-Tec handgun, fully loaded with one in the chamber. He asked them to consider why Zimmerman didn't roll his window down, introduce himself as a neighborhood watchman and ask Martin what he was doing.

He also recounted the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, who was talking on the phone with Martin the night of the shooting. Jeantel testified that Martin told her he was being followed by a "creepy-a-- cracker," and that she took that to mean pervert and encouraged her friend to run. De la Rionda asked whether Martin had the right to his own self-defense.

"He wants you to let him off," de la Rionda said, "because he killed the only eyewitness."

De la Rionda presented a new puzzle to jurors as well. Zimmerman has claimed from the beginning that he felt Martin reaching for his gun, which is why he feared for his life. But the prosecutor wondered how Martin, in the darkness, would have even seen the weapon, which is small and black and was allegedly holstered inside the waistband of Zimmerman's pants, near the rear of his hip.

He replayed parts of a television interview Zimmerman did with Sean Hannity of Fox News. In the interview, Hannity asks Zimmerman if he ever considered that Martin was afraid of him, and ran away because he thought he was in danger. Zimmerman says Martin wasn't really running away, but "skipping." De la Rionda stopped the video and skipped across the courtroom, sarcastically.

Zimmerman's attorneys are expected to deliver their closing arguments this morning, followed by the prosecution's rebuttal.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650.

Zimmerman prosecutors give closing arguments; defense goes Friday 07/11/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 11:04am]
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