- Category: News
24 Jun 2013
- Written by CNN
A neighborhood watch captain accused of killing an unarmed teen goes on trial today, in a case that sparked fresh debate about race relations and gun laws.
George Zimmerman is accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.
Martin was black, and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder. He says he shot the unarmed teen in self-defense.
In a CNN poll released Monday morning, 62 percent of respondents say the charges against Zimmerman are probably or definitely true.
Opening statements are expected to last several hours.
A jury of six women will decide Zimmerman's fate, which has already drawn some scrutiny from the public about whether he will get a fair trial.
Martin's parents will be in the courtroom, and are expected to deliver a statement before the proceedings begin.
When he called 911 on the night of the shooting, Zimmerman was warned against pursuing Martin but did so anyway.
The prosecution wanted to present a series of 911 calls as evidence that could establish who was heard screaming for help, but Judge Debra Nelson ruled against expert testimony on the calls, saying the quality of the audio makes it impossible to tell whose voice is heard in the background.
The 911 calls still may be played in court, and witnesses familiar with the voices of Zimmerman and Martin may testify about who is heard screaming.
Zimmerman's defense team looked grim as it announced it was out of money in late May, but it was able to raise more than $77,000, thanks to outside donations.
Here is what you need to know about the trial:
Trayvon Martin: The victim
Trayvon Martin was born on February 5, 1995, to Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who divorced in 1999.
Before the shooting, Trayvon Martin was living with his mother and his older brother in Miami Gardens, Florida, where he was a student at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School.
The high school junior had been suspended from school three times: once for writing graffiti on a door, another time for missing school, and the last time after marijuana residue was found in his book bag.
Following his 10-day suspension in February 2012, Martin went to Sanford to visit his father at the home of his father's girlfriend, who lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes. He was there for seven days before his death.
After Martin was killed, the medical examiner who conducted his autopsy said the teen had traces of THC, an active ingredient in marijuana, in his system when he died.
Despite his school suspensions and alleged previous drug use, Sybrina Fulton told CNN's Anderson Cooper that her son was a normal teen who "loved playing football ... basketball ... loved to eat everything in your house."
George Zimmerman: The defendant
George Zimmerman, now 29, was working as a neighborhood watch captain in the gated community where Martin was staying temporarily when he died.
In 2003, Zimmerman enrolled at Seminole State College in Florida and earned a vocational certificate as an insurance agent.
Before his marriage to Shellie Nicole Dean in 2007, Zimmerman and his then-fiancee filed domestic violence protection orders against each other. A 2005 scuffle involved pushing and punching, police said.
From 2009 to 2012, Zimmerman was enrolled at Seminole State College, working toward an associate degree in general studies.
He was arrested on one count of second-degree murder on April 11, 2012, for killing Martin.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could face 25 years to life in prison.
Important events leading up to the shooting
In July 2005, Zimmerman was arrested for an assault on an officer and resisting arrest after an incident at a local bar. Zimmerman said the case was the result of mistaken identity. He entered a six-month pretrial diversion program as part of a plea deal in that case.
In October 2005, Florida passed the "stand your ground" law, allowing its residents to meet "force with force" if they believe they or someone else is in danger of being seriously harmed by an assailant.
In 2008, Zimmerman attended a four-month law enforcement program. In his application for the course, Zimmerman wrote, "I hold law enforcement officers in the highest regard and I hope one day to become one."
Timeline: Zimmerman's reports involving suspicious activity in neighborhood
On August 4, 2011, Zimmerman submitted his first report to the Sanford Police Department about a suspicious black male walking around in the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood, where he served as a neighborhood watch captain.
The next day, Zimmerman called the department again, reporting another suspicious black male lurking in the area.
On October 6 of that year, Zimmerman called in a third report, again alerting authorities to a suspicious black male.
On February 2, 2012, Zimmerman called in a similar report to the department.
"According to all records checks, all of Zimmerman's suspicious persons calls while residing in the Retreat at Twins Lakes neighborhood have identified black males as the subjects in the matter," the Sanford Police Department said in a statement after Martin was killed.
The night of the shooting
On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman left his home in his car to go to a store. The 28-year-old called the department's nonemergency line to report "a suspicious person" in the neighborhood. Officials told him not to get out of his car or approach the person.
Moments later, neighbors reported hearing gunfire.
Just before he was killed, Trayvon Martin was walking back from a nearby convenience store, headed to his father's girlfriend's home. He was carrying a small amount of cash, candy, a soft drink and a phone. He was not carrying a gun.
When police arrived, Zimmerman admitted to authorities that he shot the teen, but said it was in self-defense.