On July 5, 2013, the prosecution rested their case in the trial of George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, Zimmerman’s lawyers argued the state had not called sufficient evidence to prove the charge. The motion was dismissed by Judge Debra Nelson, and the defense began presenting its defense.
Although the trial is not over, the close of the state’s case had many people wondering whether prosecutors had proved Zimmerman guilty of the offense with which he was charged.
Zimmerman Charge Timeline
Many of the facts of what occurred when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin died are not in dispute. On the evening of February 26, 2012, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, saw Martin, who was returning to the home in which he was staying after a trip to a convenience store.
Zimmerman called 911 and told them the youth was acting in a suspicious manner. Zimmerman had been following Martin and reporting his position to the 911 operator. At one point, the operator told Zimmerman that he didn’t need to follow Martin, and officers would be there shortly.
At some point, Martin and Zimmerman came into direct contact. According to Zimmerman, there was a fight and Martin was on top of him. Zimmerman pulled out his gun and shot once, striking Martin in the chest.
When police arrived, Martin was dead and Zimmerman was taken into custody.
Zimmerman Eventually Charged with Second-Degree Murder
Although Zimmerman was arrested and taken to the police station, he was later released without being charged. A few days after the shooting, Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, began a petition to have Zimmerman charged with murder. Within a few hours, the petition garnered thousands of signatures.
On March 13, Sanford’s police chief announced there was no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s version that the killing was done in self defense, and Zimmerman would not be charged. Both the Department of Justice and the FBI said they would begin an investigation into whether Zimmerman should be charged.
Ten days after the chief’s announcement, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced he was appointing a special prosecutor, state attorney Angela Corey, to investigate the matter and to lay a charge if appropriate.
On April 11, Corey announced that Zimmerman had been charged with second-degree murder and was then in custody.
Second-Degree Murder in the State of Florida
The charge of first-degree murder would have had little chance of success as the elements of the crime, punishable by death, were not made out by the known facts. First-degree murder under section 782(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes requires proof of “premeditated design.” While there are some people who believe Zimmerman went out that evening looking for a black person to kill, the 911 tapes counter this view. Someone who commits a premeditated murder does not call 911, identify themselves, and tell the operator where they are while providing a general description of the intended victim.
Second-degree murder is defined by Florida law as the intentional killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.
Manslaughter is the negligent killing of a person in circumstances where the act is not justified or does not constitute murder.
Prosecutors could have charged Zimmerman with manslaughter, although the theory of the prosecution, as well as Zimmerman’s statements, may fit the criteria of second-degree murder.