SANFORD, Fla. -- A six-woman jury spent Saturday morning contemplating George Zimmerman’s fate in what has become one of the most watched, debated and tweeted-about murder cases in the nation.
Security at the criminal justice center where the jurors were deliberating remained high, with a dozen deputies stationed at the entrance and public access limited.
It was up to the six women -- five white and one Latino -- to decide whether Zimmerman committed second-degree murder when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in the gated central Florida community where they were staying last year, or if the killing was instead manslaughter, or self-defense.
If convicted of murder, Zimmerman, 29, would face up to life in prison. If convicted of manslaughter, he would face up to 30 years behind bars.
If acquitted, Zimmerman could walk free from the courthouse, although it’s unclear whether he would make a public statement with his attorneys or be spirited away due to security concerns surrounding the racially-charged case.
Media surrounded the courthouse early Saturday, with satellite trucks nearly filling two parking lots, reporters camped out in tents on the lawn interviewing protesters or in a vacant courtroom, awaiting the verdict.
The jury has been deliberating since Friday afternoon. They have been sequestered for more than a month for the case, which began June 10 and has already lasted five weeks, with nearly 60 witnesses and more than 60 exhibits, according to Michelle Kennedy, spokeswoman for the 18th Circuit Court. Late Friday, the jurors requested a list of those exhibits, and each received a copy before adjourning for the night.
The list included a variety of evidence: transcripts of Zimmerman’s statements to police, witness statements, crime scene photos, Martin’s cellphone records and more than a dozen photos of the teen. Some showed his face, chest, legs, shoes and pants after he died; others were snapshots of the Miami Gardens high school junior in his football uniform, posing with friends and on a horse.
When the jurors reach a verdict, Kennedy said she would release the news via her court Twitter feed, which now has more than 2,500 followers. Courtroom seating, including media seats, will be limited, the sole live camera focused on Zimmerman, she said.
Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys argued Martin attacked Zimmerman and that he shot the teen in self defense.
But prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar, insisting he was a vigilante who, despite his mixed ethnic background and identifying himself as Latino, profiled the black teen.
The killing sparked protests, a social media movement and national outrage when Sanford police investigators initially refused to charge Zimmerman, reopening old civil rights wounds and leading to the ouster of Sanford’s white police chief. Florida’s governor eventually appointed a special prosecutor who filed charges 44 days after the shooting, a time lag that became a rallying cry among activists.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based special prosecutor, State Atty. Angela Corey, sat in the front row for closing arguments Friday and was expected to speak after the verdict, along with Martin’s parents and their lawyers. If Zimmerman is found guilty, an Associated Press reporter has been selected to cover the jail booking, as well as a photographer and videographer.
After the verdict, prosecutors and defense attorneys have scheduled briefings in a vacant courtroom. Jurors may also speak there -- at their discretion, Kennedy said.
Before jury selection began, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson issued an order granting all prospective and selected jurors anonymity and barring people from contacting them. Prosecutors then requested that the judge's order be extended for six months based on fears they expressed at the start of the trial that they could face "reprisals based upon a perceived unfavorable verdict."
Kennedy said media lawyers challenged that request, but that the order remained in place Saturday.
Protesters had gathered on the lawn outside when the jury began deliberating Friday and by the time the jury returned Saturday a few had already reappeared, toting handmade peace signs.