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George Zimmerman Trial Winds Down As Closing Arguments Begin


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Closing arguments began today in the racially charged trial of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, is a neighborhood watch volunteer. He's charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for killing an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. We're going to hear about the courtroom action and how it has been covered. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the jury that Zimmerman committed murder because of bad assumptions.

BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: He profiled him as a criminal. He assumed certain things that Trayvon Martin was up to no good, and that is what led to his death.

CORNISH: NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from the courthouse in Sanford. And, Greg, Zimmerman says that he acted in self-defense. How do prosecutors deal with that claim?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, you know, Florida has a very strong self-defense law, a law that I think many people have heard about called Stand Your Ground. And when it comes down to it, Zimmerman only needs to show that he was in fear of death or great bodily injury when he pulled out his gun and shot Trayvon Martin. And these are - so it's events that happened February of last year I think many of us are familiar with by now.

This is the night that George Zimmerman says he's on his way shopping when he saw someone in the neighborhood he thought was suspicious. He called the police. He got out of his car at some point. He followed him. And then at some point, he says, the person jumped out of the darkness. Trayvon Martin, we learned, of course, who - is who it was. He hit him, and they had a fight that ended when George Zimmerman shot and killed him.

So we'll - what we heard from prosecutors. They raised a lot of questions about George Zimmerman's story. They suggest that he's not been telling the truth about a lot of the events tonight - that night. They found some inconsistencies. They also say that when Zimmerman says that Trayvon Martin was struggling for the gun, they suggest that George Zimmerman may not be telling the truth about that, suggesting that George Zimmerman maybe actually pulled the gun himself and shot him without a struggle. So those are some of the issues that came up today in the prosecution's closing argument.

CORNISH: Zimmerman faces two charges: murder and manslaughter. Is there a compromise choice here for the jury?

ALLEN: Well, I think that's where that manslaughter charge comes from. It was really introduced really at the last moment, came up in the last week we started hearing about it. And that's the idea, would be that a prosecutor - if the jury doesn't feel that they want to go to a second-degree murder, they would have that lesser charge, manslaughter, which carries 15 to 30 years in prison.

Today, they also tried to add a third charge, which would have been third-degree murder as a result of child abuse. That drew some vigorous objections from the defense. The judge agreed with the defense. She said she wouldn't allow it. But now we'll have basically two charges for the jury to talk about here, that second-degree murder charge, which can carry life in prison, or self, or manslaughter.

CORNISH: Lastly the defense. Zimmerman's lawyer delivers his closing arguments tomorrow. What do we expect?

ALLEN: Well, all along, the defense has said that if it's self-defense - and Florida has a strong self-defense law, as we've discussed - if it's self-defense, it's self-defense not just in murder, but also in manslaughter. So if George Zimmerman gets off on the one charge, he should get off on the other. So we'll hear about that.

I'm sure we'll also hear from Zimmerman's defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, some of the things he said in the opening statement where he talked about that this is a tragedy. There's no denying that. But it's a tragedy for two families. One family has a dead son, the other one is living with the tragedy, but there's no sense for it to try to punish someone for something that he - when he was just acting in self-defense.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Sanford, Florida. Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.

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