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Day 14 of the Zimmerman Trial: The Defence Closing and Rebuttal

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1) ''It is tragedy, truly. But you can't allow sympathy."
Mark O'Mara invoked a solemn tone as he spoke about the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and cautioned the jury not to be affected by an emotional response. It is trite to say that trials are about the evidence and not sympathy. Jurors, however, can be overwhelmed by the irresistible pull of a tragic case. O'Mara was criticized by media analysts for his scholarly and conversational closing argument. His client shot and killed an unarmed teenager in a confrontation that he set in motion. The closing argument of the defence didn't call for rhetorical flourish. It needed reasoned and persuasive content. O'Mara delivered it with mastery in his three-hour jury address.

2) ''Go back to that room and look at the definition of self-defence, and if you think George Zimmerman acted in self-defence, then you're done.''

The trial judge determined that the jury should consider as an alternate verdict the charge of manslaughter which involves the act of killing without justification. Mark O'Mara made a passing reference to the manslaughter charge in his jury address. He took a calculated risk not to deal with the charge separately. O'Mara's central position was that self-defence was a complete defence to all charges. If the jury concludes that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in self-defence, a not guilty verdict will necessarily follow. A quick verdict in the case is therefore likely to inure to the benefit of the defence.

3) "The person who decided it was going to be a violent event, it was the guy who decided not to go home when he had a chance to."
Mark O'Mara stopped his jury address for four minutes of silence to dramatically convey to the jury the amount of time Trayvon Martin had to reach his father's home after his phone call with his friend, Rachel Jeantel. O'Mara placed the blame for the violent ending on the night of the shooting with the teenager. He described to the jury that Trayvon Martin had the opportunity to go home and chose not to. He described that "the person who decided to make the night violent was the guy who didn't go home when he had the chance." This was a critical submission because it attempted to undermine the prosecution's contention that the dead victim was blameless and innocent.

4) "This is a sidewalk. It is a weapon."
O'Mara took a slab of concrete and placed in front of the jury box. He told the jurors that it wasn't an unarmed teenager trying to get home. Both the concrete sidewalk and Trayvon Martin's fist were described as dangerous. He referred to the state's suggestion that concrete couldn't hurt somebody or cause great bodily harm as "disgusting." According to the defence, Trayvon Martin had been stalking Zimmerman and was eventually armed.

5) "How many 'coulda beens' have you heard from the state in its case? How many 'what ifs' have you heard in this case? They don't get to ask you that. No, no, no."
In a typical criminal trial it is the defence posing speculative questions about the evidence to raise a reasonable doubt. The prosecution can't engage in a similar exercise to prove its case. O'Mara was responding to Bernie de la Rionda's closing for the state which was marked by a series of questions but lacked a coherent narrative.

6) "Trayvon Martin may not have the blood of George Zimmerman on his hands. But George Zimmerman will forever have Trayvon Martin's blood on his hands. Forever."
John Guy delivered the state's one hour rebuttal. It is disingenuous to describe it as rebuttal as it repeated a number of themes of de la Rionda's closing argument such as the mountain of lies in George Zimmerman's statements. The practice of permitting a divide and conquer approach with the prosecution closings is foreign to the Canadian criminal justice system. It permits the prosecutors an unfair and unprincipled tactical advantage. If the jurors are persuaded by the prosecutor's cold image of the George Zimmerman as Lady Macbeth with blood permanently staining his hands, they will find him guilty of manslaughter. If the jurors follow the law relating to self-defence, their verdict will be not guilty.

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