SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — After almost two weeks of picking a jury, prosecutors and defense attorneys will make opening statements Monday in the trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, says he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense. Prosecutors say Zimmerman racially profiled Martin as he walked through a gated community where Zimmerman lived and often patrolled. Martin was returning from a convenience store on a rainy night in February 2012, wearing a dark hooded shirt. The two eventually got into a fight and Zimmerman shot Martin.
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled last week prosecutors will be able to use the word “profiled” in their opening statements, as long as their description isn’t limited to racial profiling. Prosecutors will be able to describe Zimmerman as a “wannabe cop” and “vigilante” and will be able to say Zimmerman confronted Martin.
“We don’t intend to say he was profiled solely because of race,” prosecutor John Guy said last week.
Defense attorneys Mark O’Mara and Don West will argue the case is simply self-defense, free of the racial overtones that have overshadowed it. The initial decision not to charge Zimmerman led to public outrage and demonstrations around the nation. Civil rights leaders and others accused the police in the central Florida city of Sanford of failing to thoroughly investigate the shooting because Martin was a black teen from Miami. Martin was visiting his father in Sanford when he was shot.
“We’re trying so hard in this case not to make it what everybody outside the courthouse wants it to be,” O’Mara said.
On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the townhome community where Zimmerman and the fiancee of Martin’s father lived. There had been a rash of recent break-ins and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.