NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jurors in the trial of George Zimmerman were originally split whether the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin amounted to murder, but most agreed it was Zimmerman, not Martin, calling for help in the background of an emergency call, a juror told CNN.
The six-woman jury acquitted Zimmerman, ending a trial that became a national story about race in America. The unnamed juror, number B-37, said no one on the jury believed that race played a role in the shooting.
Defence lawyers argued that Martin attacked Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed black 17-year-old in self-defence. Prosecutors said Zimmerman, 29, who is white and Hispanic, wrongly suspected Martin of being a criminal.
The jury in Sanford, Florida, on Saturday found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter after a three-week trial.
The jury initially had three votes for not guilty, two votes for manslaughter and one vote for second-degree murder when deliberations began, juror B-37 told CNN on Monday.
“There was a couple of them in there that wanted to find him guilty of something. And after hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law, and reading it over and over and over again, we just decided there’s no other way or place to go,” she told CNN.
One key question in the trial was whether Zimmerman’s or Martin’s voice was heard calling for help in the background of an emergency call.
“I think it was George Zimmerman‘s. All but probably one (juror agreed),” said Juror B-37 told CNN with her identity concealed.
Immediately following the verdict, civil rights activists began calling for federal charges against Zimmerman, saying the trial in Florida failed to serve justice.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Martin “unnecessary,” raising questions about whether he believed the shooter, Zimmerman, acted in self-defence.
Holder did not indicate whether he intended to bring a federal case.
The federal hate crimes law would require the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman shot Martin because of race.
Zimmerman, 29, has gone into hiding since the verdict. Friends, family and defence lawyers have said he will need time to put his life back together and was considering entering law school to help people wrongly accused of crimes.
Zimmerman’s parents told ABC television on Monday they were unaware of his whereabouts and feared for his safety after receiving death threats.
Asked by interviewer Barbara Walters if his son would remain in hiding, Robert Zimmerman said, “If I was him, I would.”
His mother, Gladys Zimmerman, described the moment she saw her son after the verdict. “I hugged him. I kissed him,” she said. “And he said, ‘Thank you, mom. I want to go home.'”
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Martin’s divorced parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, said the family would weigh its options regarding a wrongful death civil lawsuit. For now, they were still devastated by the verdict, he said.
“She cried, she prayed to God, and then she cried some more,” Crump said of Fulton. “She said, ‘I will not let this verdict define Trayvon. We will define our son Trayvon’s legacy.’ It was real inspiring.”
The verdict triggered protests across the United States from people who said Zimmerman racially profiled Martin as a possible criminal and pursued him while armed with a loaded 9mm pistol.
Then on Sunday the Justice Department announced it would reopen its investigation into the case. It said prosecutors would determine whether any of the “limited” applicable civil rights laws had been violated, and whether the case met guidelines for bringing a federal case after a matter has been decided in state court.
By finding Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, the Seminole County jury rejected the charge that Zimmerman acted with ill will, spite or hatred.
CNN also aired an interview with a crucial witness in the case, Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin’s who was on the phone with him when the confrontation with Zimmerman began. Jeantel said the jury failed to comprehend that race was a factor and lacked an understanding of youth culture.
“They’re white, well, one Hispanic, but she’s stuck in the middle,” Jeantel said. “They’re old school. We’re in a new school. My generation.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York and Barbara Liston in Orlando; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Henderson; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Xavier Briand and Lisa Shumaker