SANFORD, Fla. - Defense attorneys began closing arguments Friday in the trial of a neighborhood watch volunteer charged with killing a black teenager. Later in the day the jury is expected to begin deliberations in the case that has sparked protests and prompted debate in the U.S. over issues of race and self-defense.
George Zimmerman's defense attorney is trying to convince six jurors that his client acted in self-defense when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.
"You can't help but have a first impression," Defense attorney Mark O'Mara said. "What you have to do is be vigilant, diligent in deciding this case."
A day earlier, prosecutors made the case that Zimmerman assumed Martin was a criminal up to no good when he confronted him in his neighborhood. A scuffle followed, and Zimmerman fired his gun.
"A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the jurors during closing arguments. "He is dead because a man made assumptions. ... Unfortunately because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks this Earth."
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, but the jury will also be allowed to consider manslaughter. But because of the way Florida law imposes sentences for crimes committed with a gun, the lesser charge could also carry a life sentence.
As the nation awaits a verdict in the trial, police and civic leaders in Florida say they have taken precautionary steps for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, is acquitted, particularly in African-American neighborhoods where passions run strongest over the case.
Zimmerman, 29, got into a scuffle with Martin after spotting the teen while driving through his gated townhouse complex on a rainy night in February 2012. Zimmerman has claimed he fired in self-defense after Martin sucker-punched him and began slamming his head into the pavement. Prosecutors have disputed his account and portrayed him as the aggressor.
The case sparked nationwide protests after police failed to charge Zimmerman for 44 days, initially accept his claim he acted in self-defense.