Acquittal of Zimmerman is Fla.'s top story

Published: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 05:28 PM.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — 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.

A prosecutor began the trial with a jolt by repeating obscenities Zimmerman said to a dispatcher while following Martin. The neighborhood watch volunteer's defense attorney followed with a knock-knock joke that fell flat. Over the next three weeks, prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to convince jurors whose voice was screaming for help on 911 calls that captured the fight. Martin's mother, father and brother testified it was the Miami teen screaming for help; Zimmerman's mother, uncle, father and five friends told jurors it was the neighborhood watch volunteer's voice.

The most memorable witness was Rachel Jeantel, the young woman from Miami who was on the phone with Martin in the moments before he was shot. Her testy exchanges with a defense attorney, her lack of polish and her use of the term "creepy-ass cracker" in recounting how Martin described Zimmerman made her the brunt of spoof accounts poking fun at her candid statements and dialect.

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.

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