Zimmerman prosecutors take closing shot at 'wannabe cop'

dovalle@MiamiHerald.comJuly 12, 2013 

SANFORD -- As the hoodie-wearing teenager supposedly circled his truck menacingly, frustrated neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman called the cops but also did much more, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.

"Why does this defendant get out his car?" prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda asked jurors Thursday during closing arguments in Zimmerman's highly publicized murder trial. "Because he's got a gun. He's got an equalizer. He's going to take care of it. He's a wannabe cop. Police are taking too long to respond. 'I'm going to take care of it.'"

The teen in the state's scenario was Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old from Miami Gardens, who was shot dead Feb. 26, 2012, during a violent struggle with Zimmerman.

The violent confrontation occurred in a gated Sanford community. Immediately after the shooting, Zimmerman cooperated with police and claimed self-defense. Police did not arrest him for weeks, leading to protests from Trayvon's family and supporters of the slain teen in Florida and across the country.

Zimmerman's defense lawyer will present his closing argument Friday, followed by a final presentation by prosecutors. The case then will go to jurors. A verdict will be announced by Twitter, the court has said.

Thursday's dramatic closing argument by the state came on the 21st day of trial in this Central Florida town.

In his closing argument, de la Rionda said Trayvon's death had its roots in events that came months before, when Zimmerman, frustrated by neighborhood break-ins, organized a Neighborhood Watch.

That night, Trayvon was not breaking the law in walking to the nearby convenience store to buy Skittles and a drink.

"He was wearing a hoodie," de la Rionda. "Last I heard, that's not against the law."

As he weaved the evidence into the state's version of events, Trayvon's mother sat in the courtroom, wiping tears from her face. His father kept his head downcast.

De la Rionda repeatedly stressed that Zimmerman "profiled" and "assumed" Trayvon was a criminal. But the teen was the one scared for his life, he said.

He recalled the testimony from a key witness, Miami friend Rachel Jeantel, 18, who was on the phone with Trayvon moments before he died. She told jurors the teen told her that a strange man was following him.

De la Rionda did not shy away from mentioning Jeantel's often inarticulate speech, especially during hours of combative cross examination. Instead, he told jurors her youth and "colorful language" lent credibility to her account.

He invoked civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in a slide show presentation: "I have a dream," it read, that Jeantel would be judged "by the content of her testimony."

In his interviews with police, Zimmerman repeatedly "exaggerated" the fight with Trayvon, de la Rionda said.

But while acknowledging Zimmerman suffered some injuries to the face and head, de la Rionda said: "Who suffered the most serious injury of all?"

When jurors begin deliberating, they will be considering the less serious charge of manslaughter with a firearm in addition to the original second-degree murder charge, a Seminole judge ruled Thursday.

But Circuit Judge Debra Nelson declined to allow jurors to consider third-degree felony murder under the theory Zimmerman committed child abuse on Trayvon Martin

"I just don't think the evidence supports that," Nelson said Thursday afternoon.

Zimmerman is facing up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm. Manslaughter with a firearm is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

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