SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) – Trayvon Martin spent four long minutes preparing to attack George Zimmerman before landing the first punch in a fight that ended in the teenager’s death, Zimmerman’s defense lawyer said in closing arguments of the murder trial on Friday.
Lead defense lawyer Mark O’Mara attempted in his closing argument to the six-member jury to shift the blame to Martin, the unarmed, black 17-year-old who Zimmerman shot dead last year. The case has captivated and divided much of the U.S. public, raising questions about race and guns in America.
O’Mara said there was “factual and undeniable evidence” that Zimmerman should be found not guilty.
Zimmerman, 29, says he shot Martin in self-defense after he was attacked. Prosecutors contend Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop” who, after calling police on the night of February 26, 2012 and telling them he believed Martin was acting suspiciously in the neighborhood that had seen break-ins, tracked down the teenager.
Martin was a guest in the home of his father’s fiancée, who lived inside the gated community, and was returning from a nearby convenience store with a snack, ready to watch the NBA All-Star game.
Florida state prosecutors have accused Zimmerman of second-degree murder, a charge that could lead to a sentence of life in prison. To convict Zimmerman of that crime, the all-female jury must find he acted with ill will, spite or hatred.
The hateful person that rainy night was the 17-year-old Martin, not Zimmerman, O’Mara told the jury.
“Somebody decided they were angry. Ticked off. Ill will, spite or hatred,” O’Mara said. “It wasn’t some cop wannabe.”
He added, “The person who decided this was going to continue, was going to become a violent event, was the guy who didn’t go home when he had a chance to. It was the guy who decided to lie in wait.”
The jury can also opt for manslaughter, which has a lesser burden of culpable negligence. That carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Since he took the case last year, O’Mara has sought to be sensitive to Martin’s grieving parents, who have attended the whole trial, but on Friday he seized the opportunity to blame Martin with initiating the confrontation.
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, walked out of the courtroom, followed by two of her lawyers, when O’Mara started discussing her son’s dead body.
Earlier, O’Mara warned jurors against filling in holes in the prosecutors’ case, cautioning against making presumptions and assumptions.
Yet he invited them to form their own conclusions about Martin, particularly in the four-minute gap that O’Mara said passed between Zimmerman losing sight of Martin and when Martin attacked.
He dramatized that length of time by pausing for four minutes, leaving the courtroom silent.
“Four minutes. You get to figure out what Trayvon Martin was doing,” O’Mara told the jury. “Four minutes to do what? To run home. To walk home.”
Instead, O’Mara said, he attacked Zimmerman.
O’Mara also narrated an animated video re-enactment of the fight from the defense perspective. It showed Martin walking up to Zimmerman and punching him in the face, then jumped ahead to scenes showing Martin on top of Zimmerman, when Zimmerman says he was being beaten and feared for his life.
The animation, which O’Mara admitted was “somewhat made up,” did not show the fatal gunshot.
Prosecutors will have a chance for a final rebuttal argument. Jurors will then start deliberations.
When police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, it provoked street demonstration throughout the United States as critics blamed Zimmerman for pulling out his Kel Tec 9mm pistol, which was fully loaded with hollow-point bullets.
Backers of liberal gun laws have rallied behind Zimmerman and helped fund his defense, seeing him as a persecuted hero whose need for self-defense demonstrated the importance of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.