After the jury filed out of the courtroom, the Zimmerman family’s row in the audience became a swirl of tears and hugs. A man sitting near Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys Zimmerman, slapped his hands together in joy and sobbed.
The jury deliberated for more than 16 hours over two days until 9:47 p.m. Saturday, when court officials announced that there was a verdict.
(Read reaction on social media to the verdict.)
“The prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful,” Zimmerman’s attorney Don West said after the verdict. Mark O’Mara, another Zimmerman attorney, wondered aloud at a news conference “how many civil lawsuits will be spawned by this fiasco.”
Outside, dozens of demonstrators, backlit by a sea of television camera lights, massed on the long lawn outside the Seminole County Circuit Courthouse. Some carried signs decrying “racial oppression” and demanding “Justice for Trayvon.”
In a somber post-verdict news conference, Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family who led the early public relations push for Zimmerman’s arrest, said the teenager would go down in the annals of history “next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.” He was making a reference to African Americans killed in two of the most infamous slayings of the civil rights era.
Earlier Saturday, the jury had sent a note to Judge Debra Steinberg Nelson requesting clarification of instructions related to manslaughter, signaling that they were taking a hard look at the lesser of the two charges against the former neighborhood watch volunteer and sending a jolt through the courtroom and the crowd outside. Before starting deliberations, the jury was given a cautionary note by Nelson, who instructed them that “Zimmerman cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide.”
The saga of Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin, an unarmed African American teenager, filtered into the American vernacular, transforming “hoodie” sweatshirts into cultural markers and provoking a painful reexamination of race relations in this country. Even the racial and ethnic identity of Zimmerman — he has a white father and a Hispanic mother — demanded a reordering of conventional paradigms. He was frequently referred to as a “white Hispanic,” a term that, for some, reflected a newly blended America and, for others, felt like an uncomfortable middle ground.
Attorneys fought over Zimmerman’s fate in a heavily guarded and windowless fifth-floor courtroom, calling more than 50 witnesses during three weeks of testimony before a sequestered six-woman jury. Afternoon thunderstorms sometimes shook the building, but the participants could see nary a drop of rain as they relived the night in February 2012 when Zimmerman killed Martin after spotting the 17-year-old walking through his gated community in the rain.