NEW: Analyst: The fact the jury can consider manslaughter in addition to murder is "enormous"
NEW: Prosecutor: Zimmerman "always has an excuse, or they catch him in a lie"
De la Rionda plays and challenges parts of Zimmerman's interviews with police, media
Profane words show hatred for man Zimmerman thought was a criminal, prosecutor says
George Zimmerman was the star witness Thursday in his trial for the death of Trayvon Martin – for the prosecution, not in his defense.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda tried to use the defendant’s words against him, hoping to convince a jury that now has one more option than it once had: It can convict Zimmerman of manslaughter, or the original second-degree murder charge, after a decision earlier Thursday by Judge Debra Nelson. The third option is acquittal.
No one else saw the February 26, 2012, altercation between Zimmerman and Martin. After that, the 17-year-old couldn’t give his side. But Zimmerman has. And, de La Rionda argued Thursday, Zimmerman account that he was attacked and fired his gun because he feared for his life doesn’t hold up.
“He brought a gun to a struggle, to a fight that he started … wanting to make sure the victim didn’t get away,” the prosecutor said. “And now he wants you to let him off because he killed the only eyewitness, the victim Trayvon Martin, who was being followed by this man.”
The now 29-year-old Zimmerman declined to testify Wednesday, when his defense team rested its case, but his words were front-and-center Thursday.
De la Rionda played in court excerpts of interviews Zimmerman had given to police and in the media, then picked them apart. He said that they showed that the defendant can’t be trusted, suggesting that his account from that evening in Sanford, Florida, doesn’t mesh with reality.
“(Zimmerman) always has an excuse, or they catch him in a lie,” de la Rionda said.
How, the prosecutor said, does a neighborhood watch volunteer not know the names of that neighborhood’s three streets, getting out of his car to find an address? Why would a scared man get out of his car and walk around, after being told by a 911 dispatcher not to follow a man he thought was suspicious? Did Zimmerman walk toward Martin, or did Martin come after him – as he seemingly said both? Should he have had more than a bloody nose and scratches on his head after being pummeled?
On Friday, it will be the defense’s turn, with lead attorney Mark O’Mara spending up to three hours giving a closing argument. After that, the prosecution will have as long as one hour to give a rebuttal argument.
And then, likely sometime Friday, Zimmerman’s fate will be in the hands of the six jurors, all of them women.
In his final words Thursday, de la Rionda reminded them that, while Zimmerman still has hope, there’s no more special moments for, there can be no more photos of Martin.
“And that’s true because of the actions of one person,” he said. “The man before me. The man who is guilty of second-degree murder.”
Judge: Jury can consider manslaughter charge
What happened to Martin – and whether Zimmerman was justified in shooting him – has been debated intently for a year and a half.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, talked with police but wasn’t arrested immediately after he admitted to the shooting.
But in short time, community members and activists rallied against him – claiming that Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, had racially profiled the African-American teenager, tailed him over the objection of police dispatchers, then wrongly shot him down.
The defense, in frequent media appearances by its lawyers and some by Zimmerman and his immediately family members, said that it was wrong to characterize Zimmerman as a racist. He acted to protect his own life, after being repeatedly punched and having his head slammed into the ground, they said.
On June 24, the trial kicked off with opening statements. The prosecution called 38 witnesses in nine days, while the defense took parts of four days to call its witnesses.