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George Zimmerman verdict: Prosecutors "didn't have the evidence" to prove their case, experts say

George Zimmerman arrives for his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Thursday, July 11, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool

George Zimmerman arrives for his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Thursday, July 11, 2013.
AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool

(CBS) SANFORD, Fla. - Legal defense experts say the panel of six women jurors who found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder followed the evidence -- and lack of evidence -- in arriving at their verdict.

READ: Trayvon Martin Shooting: A timeline of events

PICTURES: George Zimmerman on trial in death of Fla. teen

Zimmerman, 29, was cleared of the murder charges by the panel Saturday night, along with a lesser included offense of manslaughter. The former neighborhood watch volunteer was charged in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin during an altercation last year in a Sanford, Fla. gated community.

"I thought the law and the facts demanded that not guilty verdict," said Brian Tannebaum, president of the Florida Association of Bar Defense Lawyers and past president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Prosecutors, Tannebaum said, "didn't have evidence to prove what actually happened" the night of the fatal struggle.

During the three-week trial, prosecutors aimed to prove that Zimmerman profiled Martin as a criminal and followed the teen through the community before confronting him and shooting him "because he wanted to." Defense attorneys argued that Zimmerman, who had called to report Martin as a suspicious person in his neighborhood, was "viciously attacked" by Martin and shot in self-defense.

In his closing statements, Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O'Mara urged jurors not to "fill in the gaps" in the state's case. He asked he panel what evidence the state had presented them to suggest that Zimmerman continued to follow Martin through the community after the non-emergency dispatcher told him not to.

"If it's there, I missed it. Presumption? Assumption? Connecting the dots? Sure. But you've agreed not to do that," said O'Mara.

"[Prosecutors] need to say, here's what happened, and here's how we showed you how it happened. They give you a roadmap to a conviction," Tannebaum said.

The state's closing arguments, Tannebaum said, questioned the evidence rather than connecting it for the jury. The state, rather than the defense, has the burden of proving guilt.

"Over and over you heard the state say, 'You decide. Could it have happened?' That sounds more like a defense closing. Mark O'Mara got up there and said, 'Wait, you're not here to do that.'"

Following the verdict, prosecutor Bernie de a Rionda said he was "disappointed." "Who was following who? Isn't that what this case boils down to?" de a Rionda asked.

Special prosecutor Angela Corey maintained the state believed they had the evidence for a second-degree murder conviction. "We truly believe the mindset of George Zimmerman and the words he used and the reason he was out doing what he was doing fit the bill for second-degree murder," Corey said.

Providing crucial testimony during the state's case were neighbors, friends and relatives of George Zimmerman who said they heard him screaming on the background of a contested 911 call placed by a neighbor the night of the altercation, Tannebaum said. The call was a crucial piece of evidence in the case. Though an FBI analyst was not able to scientifically analyze the tape, he said family members may have a "better chance" of identifying the screaming voice. Martin's family members said the screams belonged to the teen, but the defense team also called a string of witnesses to the stand who identified the voice as Zimmerman.

The witnesses may have been also been a boon to the defense because they helped jurors learn more about Zimmerman's character through their testimony, Tannebaum said.

"Because nobody saw what happened, [the state] had to show George Zimmerman was a quote on quote, 'monster,'" "This was a guy who profiled black kids, he's a bad guy walking around with a gun," Tannebaum said. "So it was important to have people say very positive things about George Zimmerman."

Complete coverage of the George Zimmerman Trial-Trayvon Martin case on Crimesider


  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.

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