George Zimmerman was fed up with "punks" getting away with crime and shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin "because he wanted to," not because he had to, prosecutors argued Monday, while the neighborhood watch volunteer's attorney said the killing was self-defense against a young man who was slamming Zimmerman's head against the pavement.
The prosecution began opening statements in the long-awaited murder trial with shocking language, repeating obscenities Zimmerman uttered while talking to a police dispatcher moments before the deadly confrontation.
"F------ punks," John Guy repeated to jurors three times in five minutes. "These a-------, they always get away." Zimmerman said those words while on a non-emergency call with police, reporting Martin as a suspicious person; prosecutors say his phrasing showed the malice and depraved indifference necessary for a second-degree murder conviction.
Defense attorney Don West told jurors a different story: Martin sucker-punched Zimmerman and then pounded the neighborhood watch volunteer's head against the concrete sidewalk, and that's when Zimmerman opened fire.
Showing the jury photos of a bloodied and bruised Zimmerman, the defense attorney said, "He had just taken tremendous blows to his face, tremendous blows to his head."
West's opening statement got off to a rocky start when he told jurors a knock-knock joke that bombed — about the difficulty of jury selection:
"Knock. Knock," West said.
"Who is there?
"George Zimmerman who?
"All right, good. You're on the jury."
The state objected to his opening statement nine times, and the judge ruled in the state's favor each time.
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for gunning down Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, as the unarmed black teenager, wearing a hoodie on a dark, rainy night, walked from a convenience store through the gated townhouse community where he was staying.
The case took on racial dimensions after Martin's family said that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin and that police were dragging their feet in bringing charges. Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic and whose father is white, has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race.
Zimmerman was profiling Martin as he followed him, Guy said. He said Zimmerman viewed the teen "as someone about to commit a crime in his neighborhood."
"And he acted on it. That's why we're here," the prosecutor said.
Zimmerman didn't have to shoot Martin, Guy said. "He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to," he said.
The prosecutor portrayed the watch captain as a vigilante, saying, "Zimmerman thought it was his right to rid his neighborhood of anyone who did not belong."
West said the story that Martin was unarmed is untrue: "Trayvon Martin armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head."
The prosecutor disputed elements of Zimmerman's story, including his claim that Martin put his hands over Zimmerman's mouth and reached for the man's gun. Guy said none of Zimmerman's DNA was found on Martin's body, and none of the teenager's DNA was on the weapon or the holster.
But West said that doesn't prove anything, arguing that crime-scene technicians didn't properly protect Martin's hands from contamination.
Two police dispatch phone calls that could be important evidence for both sides were played for the jury by the defense. Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, left the courtroom before the second recording, which has the sound of the gunshot that killed Martin.
One of the first witnesses for the prosecution was a custodian of police dispatch calls. During the witness' testimony, prosecutors started playing police calls Zimmerman had made in the months before he shot Martin. The defense objected, arguing the calls were irrelevant.
Judge Debra Nelson said she would address the matter today and sent the jurors to the hotel where they are being sequestered during the trial.
Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report.