Acquittal of George Zimmerman is Florida's top story

Associated PressDecember 31, 2013 

ORLANDO -- It was yet another high-profile trial in central Florida that attracted around-the-clock cable television news coverage and captivated viewers from around the world.

But unlike the Casey Anthony trial two summers earlier, which was a domestic drama involving a mother accused of killing her toddler, the murder trial of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin tackled two of the thorniest issues confronting America: race and gun control. For those reasons, the George Zimmerman trial was voted the state's story of the year for 2013 by Florida newspaper and broadcast editors.

Trailing the Zimmerman trial in the editors' picks were the rejection by the Florida Legislature to expand the state's Medicaid program and the disclosure of records by The Miami New Times linking an anti-aging clinic to the distribution of performance enhancing drugs to major league baseball players.

The six female jurors picked for Zimmerman's trial had to determine whose story to believe: Zimmerman's claim of self-defense or prosecutors' contention that Zimmerman was a vigilante who profiled Martin and decided the black teen was up to no good in the gated community where Zimmerman lived and Martin was visiting.

The instructions jurors were given after three weeks of testimony allowed them to find Zimmerman not guilty if they had reasonable doubt or if they thought it was a justifiable use of force. Under Florida law, Zimmerman could use justifiable force not only if he faced death or bodily harm but also if he merely thought he did.

These news items rounded out the top 10 stories of the year:

2. The Florida Legislature rejected a plan to expand the state's Medicaid program, turning down a promised $50 billion in federal funding. The decision left 1.1 million Floridians uninsured for now.

3. The Miami New Times obtained records that linked the anti-aging clinic Biogenesis to the distribution of performance enhancing drugs to major league baseball players, including New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.

4. Florida election officials revived plans that they say will remove non-U.S. citizens from the state's voter rolls without also purging eligible citizens, despite criticism that minority voters are being targeted.

5. Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he will run for governor next year as a Democrat against Rick Scott, the GOP incumbent.

6. The arrest of 57 defendants on charges they were running a $300 million gambling operation out of Internet cafes around the state led to the resignation of Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and caused the Legislature to ban the storefront Internet centers.

7. Scott signed into law a statewide ban on texting while driving, making Florida the 40th state to enact a texting-while-driving ban for all drivers.

8. A state task force concluded that Florida's so-called stand your ground law shouldn't be amended.

9. Florida's unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent in November, the lowest level in over five years. Scott maintains his policies have helped Florida's recovery, but economists say there are other reasons for the decline: People are leaving the labor force or have delayed their job search.

10. Duke Energy canceled plans to build a nuclear plant and repair another in the state's Big Bend area. The country's largest utility cited changes in the energy market -- including natural gas prices -- and regulatory hurdles at the state and federal level. Despite the scuttled plans, Duke intends to charge its 1.7 million Florida customers a monthly fee to pay for the costs it incurred planning the construction on the plants.

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