Jurors Hear Opening Statements in George Zimmerman Trial
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George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch leader who shot dead an unarmed teenager in his Florida housing development in a case that sparked controversy across the US, believed it was "his right to remove anyone he believed didn't belong," a jury heard on Monday.
"When he saw Trayvon Martin, he didn't see a young man walking home," assistant state attorney John Guy told the court in Sanford, Florida, describing the moments leading up to the defendant's fatal encounter with the 17-year-old on 26 February last year.
"He saw someone that was 'real suspicious', someone that was 'up to no good'."
During a lively opening statement on behalf of the prosecution, Guy told the all-female jury of six that Zimmerman, who is standing trial on charges of second-degree murder, had already profiled the hoodie-wearing youth, a stranger to him, because of a series of recent burglaries at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community.
"Fucking punks. These assholes, they always get away. They were the words in this grown man's mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy he didn't know," Guy said.
"Excuse my language, but they were his words, not mine. Those were the words in that man's chest when he got out the car armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to follow on foot Trayvon Benjamin Martin, who was walking home armed with 23 ounces of Arizona brand fruit juice and a small bag of Skittles candies.
"As the smoke and the smell of that fatal gunshot rose in a rainy Sanford night, Trayvon Martin, 21 days removed from his 16th year, was face down in the grass labouring through his final breaths on this Earth."
Guy said that through phone records, physical evidence and the testimony of eyewitness accounts, the state would prove that Zimmerman intended to kill Martin, who was returning to the house of his father's friend after buying the drink and sweets at a 7-Eleven shop a mile away.
"You will know in your head, in your heart and in your stomach that George Zimmerman didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him for the worst of all reasons, because he wanted to," he told the jury.
Zimmerman, 29, denies murder and has always insisted it was Martin, from Miami, who instigated their confrontation and attacked him. Zimmerman's lawyer, Don West, repeated the claim during the opening statement for the defence, saying that his client "got his butt beat" for at least 40 seconds before firing the gun to save his life.
"George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder," West said. "He shot Trayvon Martin in self-defence after being viciously attacked."
During his presentation, West produced slides of the layout of the community and played a recording of a call Zimmerman made to police, pointing out that he called a non-emergency line rather than 911.
The defendant, he said, was on his way to a Target shop to buy groceries and was not acting in any kind of neighbourhood watch role other than being a responsible member of the community who reported what he saw.
"George Zimmerman was not patrolling this night or any other night," West said.
"People were told: 'If you see anything suspicious call it in. If you think there's a threat or a crime, call 911'."
Zimmerman, who has been free on bail for more that a year, closed his eyes and sighed heavily as West played another recording to the court, of a 911 call made by a resident that captured screams followed by a single gunshot. The identity of the person who was screaming was a contentious issue in pre-trial hearings.