Sanford Takes Precautions Ahead Of Zimmerman Verdict
As the nation awaits a verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, police and city leaders in Sanford and South Florida say they have taken precautionary steps for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, is acquitted, particularly in African-American neighborhoods where passions run strongest over the case.
For months, Sanford officials have been meeting with community organizations and the federal justice department to help bridge divides within the city ahead of the verdict.
Zimmerman, 29, got into a scuffle with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after spotting the teen while driving through his gated townhouse complex on a rainy night in February 2012. Zimmerman has claimed he fired in self-defense after Martin sucker-punched him and began slamming his head into the pavement. Prosecutors have disputed his account and portrayed him as the aggressor.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, but the jury will also be allowed to consider manslaughter. But because of the way Florida law imposes sentences for crimes committed with a gun, the lesser charge could also carry a life sentence.
To win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must prove Zimmerman showed ill will, hatred or spite – a burden the defense has argued the state failed to meet. To get a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.
- Andrew Thomas, senior project manager for the city of Sanford, Florida.
- Valarie Houston, pastor of Allen Chapel Church in Sanford, Florida.
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