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Zimmerman's Side To Push Self-Defense In Closing Argument



It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The defense in the George Zimmerman murder trial offers its closing arguments today for why Zimmerman is not guilty. Zimmerman is being tried for murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The jurors, a panel of six women, have listened to three weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses. The prosecution presented its closing arguments yesterday. It described Zimmerman as a wannabe cop who lied about the threat the teenager posed to bolster Zimmerman's own claim that he acted in self-defense.

NPR's Greg Allen is covering the trial in Sanford, Florida.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman need only convince the jury that he was acting in self-defense and was in fear of death or great bodily harm to win acquittal.

In his closing argument, assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda worked to raise questions about Zimmerman's story of what happened that night.

First there's the big question: Why did the confrontation and fight happen? De la Rionda says it's because Zimmerman made a series of false 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.

ALLEN: De la Rionda showed the six-person jury two photos - one of Zimmerman after the incident and one from the medical examiner - a close-up of Trayvon Martin's face after he was killed.

The prosecutor said Martin was minding his business, heading home to watch the NBA All-star game when Zimmerman saw him and called police, saying he looked suspicious and was up to no good.

Zimmerman was concerned about recent break-ins in the community. But de la Rionda told the jury, that doesn't justify talking the law into your own hands.

RIONDA: Is it really self-defense when you follow somebody - first of all when you profile somebody incorrectly, when you automatically label him a criminal because he's acting in your mind - in his mind, excuse me - as suspicious?

In two hours of his closing argument, jurors seemed attentive as de la Rionda played back a series of interviews Zimmerman did with police after the shooting - also one conducted on Fox News by Sean Hannity.

ALLEN: De la Rionda repeatedly stopped the tapes to point up inconsistencies and places where Zimmerman changed his story. One video the prosecutor played for the jury was a walk-through of the neighborhood Zimmerman did with police the day after the shooting.

On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman told investigators he wasn't following Martin when the fight began, but was looking for a street sign. De la Rionda stopped the tape when Zimmerman named for investigators the street he didn't know the previous night.

RIONDA: Again, why did he have to lie about that? Because he does not want to admit that he was following this innocent young boy.

ALLEN: De la Rionda also raised questions about Zimmerman's claim that he didn't pull his gun until Martin saw it and made a grab for it. In the all but pitch darkness, the prosecutor asked, how could the teenager even have seen it?

At one point, the prosecutor got down on the courtroom floor to recreate the fight - straddling a dummy the way Zimmerman told a friend Martin straddled him - with his knees up to Zimmerman's armpits.

RIONDA: But do you see what he is saying now? He's saying that armpit - how does he get the gun out?

ALLEN: The defense may address those questions and inconsistencies today in its closing argument.

Along with the second degree murder charge - a count that can carry up to life in prison - the jury also has the option of finding Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter. That's an offense than can carry up to a 30 year sentence. Prosecutors considered adding aggravated assault, but left it out.

Earlier this week, Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara said, he hopes the jury won't consider convicting his client on a lesser charge as a compromise.

MARK O'MARA: Self-defense is self-defense to everything. Self-defense to murder, self-defense to manslaughter, self-defense to battery. What happened out there was not a crime.

ALLEN: That's likely to be O'Mara's bottom line when he argues to the jury today that Zimmerman should be found innocent.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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