SANFORD, Fla. — Self-defense or murder?
That’s the question at the heart of the trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Monday marked the start of jury selection in Seminole County, Florida, where Martin was fatally shot on February 26, 2012.
The shooting put a national spotlight on Zimmerman’s hometown of Sanford and sparked fresh debates about race relations and gun laws in America.
Zimmerman is Hispanic; Martin was African American.
An initial decision not to pursue charges against Zimmerman led to the dismissal of the town’s police chief and the appointment of a special prosecutor, who accused the neighborhood watch volunteer of unjustly profiling and killing Martin.
Zimmerman now faces a second-degree murder charge in Martin’s death. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently free on $1 million bond.
“We don’t need you to do that”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree on almost nothing about what happened that day.
What’s clear so far is this: Martin left the home of his father’s girlfriend in Sanford to get a snack at a nearby convenience store.
As he walked back, carrying some candy and a soft drink, he and Zimmerman crossed paths.
Earlier, Zimmerman had called 911 to report a suspicious person in the neighborhood.
A recording of that call includes a police dispatcher asking the volunteer, “Are you following him?”
“Yeah,” Zimmerman replied.
“OK, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said.
Zimmerman says he killed Martin, who was wearing a hoodie, in self-defense after the teen punched him and slammed his head on the sidewalk.
He suffered a fractured nose and cuts to the back of his head, according to a medical report by Zimmerman’s family doctor.
Sanford police initially questioned Zimmerman and released him without charges. They said then there were no grounds to disprove his account that he’d acted to protect himself.
The case soon became the center of a national controversy, which continues some 16 months later, though at a lower intensity.
His family has said Zimmerman profiled the teen and crossed the line from neighborhood watch volunteer to vigilante.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, has gone further, accusing Zimmerman of murdering Martin “in cold blood.”
“In the fight of his life”
According to Crump, Martin was on the phone with his 16-year-old girlfriend shortly before the shooting.
The girl, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she heard someone ask Martin what he was doing and heard Martin ask why the person was following him.
She then got the impression there was an altercation, during which an earpiece fell out of Martin’s ear and the connection went dead, Crump said.
Neighbors reported hearing gunfire.
Zimmerman recently waived his right to a pretrial hearing under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force when threatened regardless of where they are.
His lawyers will claim self-defense. Zimmerman himself could testify at trial.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he has no imminent plans to ask for a change of venue and would only do so if lawyers can’t select a suitable jury.