Florida Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda presented closing arguments in the case against George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder—although, as is common practice in Florida, the charge means that the jury will also be allowed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter. De la Rionda presented sometimes-passionate arguments, ahead of the defense’s closing Friday.
The prosecution has avoided presenting issues of race in the trial. While the state can present the argument that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin—and did so during closing arguments Thursday—Judge Debra Nelson has warned it against using terms like “racial profiling.” As the trial comes to a close, the prosecution appears to have figured out how to navigate around that directive. De la Rionda went as far as evoking Martin Luther King Jr., and spent a good deal of time defending prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel, who was berated by the defense, as well as by traditional and social media because of her race, gender, and size. He told jurors that although Jeantel was not a “sophisticated person,” he “had a dream that today, a witness would be judged not on the color of her personality, but on the content of her testimony.” De la Rionda additionally urged jurors to not discriminate against Jeantel’s Haitian background.
The prosecutor also spent much of his time Thursday defending Trayvon Martin. Despite the fact that Martin is clearly not the one on trial, it might be necessary ahead of the defense’s closing tomorrow. The defense is expected to argue that Martin attacked Zimmerman, and Zimmerman acted in self-defense. De la Rionda used graphic images to present his point—including photos of Martin’s hands, which contained no blood; the defense might attempt to present the argument that Martin repeatedly punched Zimmerman with his hands.
But the prosecution also highlighted Zimmerman’s lack of credibility—presenting contradicting statements he made on the 9-11 call, statements he made to police investigators, and an interview he gave to cable television pundit Sean Hannity. Zimmerman awkwardly declined to take the stand in his case when questioned about it directly by Judge Nelson yesterday.
The defense is expected to present its closing arguments Friday, which will almost certainly include a controversial animation that is based on disputed assumptions about the night that Trayvon Martin was killed. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could face life in prison; a manslaughter conviction could mean as many as 30 years behind bars.