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Prosecutors Begin Their Case Against Trayvon Martin's Killer


In Sanford, Florida today, prosecutors continue making their case against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who last year shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder. In opening statements yesterday, prosecutors described Zimmerman as a vigilante who wanted to rid his neighborhood of people who didn't belong there.

Zimmerman's lawyers say he acted in self-defense. From Sanford, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Assistant State Attorney John Guy may have shocked some on the jury when he started off his opening statement with an obscenity. He began by quoting something Zimmerman said to a police dispatcher after spotting Trayvon Martin that February evening. To paraphrase, these f-ing punks, they always get away.

JOHN GUY: Those were the words in that defendant's head just moments before he pressed that pistol into Trayvon Martin's chest and pulled the trigger.

ALLEN: Guy's opening was concise, just over a half hour, and dramatic. He outlined the events with which now many are familiar. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was on his way home from a convenience store with Skittles and a drink when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman called police to report him as suspicious and began following him.

But Guy disputed Zimmerman's story that the fight started when Trayvon Martin punched him. The prosecutor previewed the testimony of an important witness, a young Miami woman who was on the phone with the 17-year-old when the fight began. She says Zimmerman started it. Guy talked about an important piece of evidence, a 911 call made by a neighbor in which someone is heard screaming for help and then there's a gunshot. That person screaming for help, Guy suggested, was Martin.

GUY: Listen carefully when the screaming stops. It's right when the gunshot goes off. Trayvon Martin was silenced immediately when the bullet that the defendant fired passed through his heart.

ALLEN: In fact, the defense pointed out in its opening statement when he heard the tape a few days later, Trayvon Martin's father Tracy told police it wasn't his son screaming for help in the 911 call. The 17-year-old's parents were in court yesterday. George Zimmerman's parents were there only briefly. Prosecutors asked the judge to have them removed because they may be called as witnesses.

The jury is made up of just six people, all women. In Florida, 12 are required only in potential death penalty cases. Of the six on the jury, five are white and one Hispanic. In his opening, one of Zimmerman's defense lawyers, Donald West, tried to break the ice with the jury, starting off with an attempt at a joke.

DONALD WEST: Knock, knock. Who's there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman, who? All right. Good. You're on the jury.

ALLEN: It fell flat. Jurors looked on, puzzled. Later, West apologized for it, blaming his delivery. This is a case, he told jurors, in which there are no winners. In his narrative, he outlined what he described as a solid case of self-defense. The teenager was 5'11", 158 pounds. Not skinny, said West, but a former football player who knew how to take a hit and give a hit.

And he disputed the very notion that Trayvon Martin was unarmed.

WEST: Trayvon Martin armed himself with the concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head, no different than if he'd picked up a brick or bashed a head against a wall. That is a deadly weapon.

ALLEN: The prosecution continues its case today. The trial's expected to last two to four weeks. Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida. 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.
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