State never proved its case, analysts say
Legal observers say the verdict was not a surprise.
So for many legal analysts, it was no surprise that jurors rejected even a lesser "compromise" verdict of manslaughter, acquitting Zimmerman outright of all criminal charges and deciding he acted in a reasonable way to protect his own life.
The acquittal was a stinging blow for prosecutors and their decision to file the second-degree-murder charge against Zimmerman, who was not initially arrested by Sanford police after claiming self-defense. And it was a resounding embrace of the defense's strategy during closing arguments not just to establish that prosecutors hadn't proven Zimmerman guilty, but also to show he was "absolutely" innocent.
"The jury clearly believed that you have a right to defend yourself," said Jude M. Faccidomo, former president of Miami's Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"After seeing the quality of the evidence presented by the state, the diversity of the jury really didn't matter in the end," said Larry Handfield, a prominent African American criminal defense lawyer in Miami. "But it would have helped the community in giving more credibility to the decision to acquit Zimmerman."
A look at the evidence shows why the jury rejected the state's case. For prosecutors intent on proving the "ill-will," "hatred" or "spite" needed to convict on second-degree murder hinged on painting Zimmerman as a frustrated, would-be cop fed up with intruders in his gated Sanford community.
To do so, they focused on Zimmerman's past - over defense objections - introducing evidence of his interest in law enforcement.
Prosecutor John Guy's closing argument was typical of a state's case that drew heavily on emotion and emphasized the youth of the victim.
Zimmerman's prosecution was made tougher under Florida's 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen's "duty to retreat" before using lethal force in the face of a deadly threat - an instruction given to jurors on Friday. And the state's case also was filled with blunders, legal experts say.
Many of the witnesses called by the state seemed to benefit the defense, including one neighbor, John Good, who claimed he saw Martin pin Zimmerman to the ground. Another witness, Sanford Police Officer Tim Smith, told jurors that Zimmerman, just after the shooting, claimed he was yelling for help to no avail. Both pieces of testimony seemed to bolster the defense's version of the encounter.
Prosecutors also called the lead Sanford police investigators, using them to introduce each of Zimmerman's videotaped statements and a walk-through of the crime scene Zimmerman did with police a day after Martin's death.
Legal observers noted that playing the videos in court eliminated the need for Zimmerman himself to take the stand - a tactic that may have helped the defense by allowing Zimmerman's voice to be heard in court without risk of cross-examination.
The defense case suffered some setbacks, too, especially when Nelson on Wednesday refused to allow into evidence text messages from Martin's phone which suggested that the teen was a brawler at home.
But in all, lawyers say, the defense presented a mostly confident, methodical case that sought to pick apart the lack of evidence in the state's case.