By Marshall Cohen
(CBS News)What started 17 months ago as an unreported shooting in central Florida has since spawned a national debate over race relations and gun rights, that culminated late Saturday night as the trial of the year came to a close.
George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin after a scuffle in the dark, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges. The shooting in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2012, was not initially covered by the national media until CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reported on the incident more than a week later for the CBS Evening News.
"This was just a story that was crying out for a second look," Strassman said on "Face The Nation" in April 2012, shortly after Zimmerman was formally charged with second-degree murder.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys - as well as the media and the public - took a long look at the case as it slowly played out in a Florida courtroom. Dubbed by some as the "civil rights case of the century," the trial inflamed racial tensions because Zimmerman, a Hispanic, followed and killed Martin, who is black.
Protests sprung up in cities across the country after the verdict was announced. Hundreds of people gathered peacefully in Sanford, Miami, Atlanta, and Chicago. But demonstrations gave way to riots Monday night in Oakland, Calif., where some protestors attacked bystanders, vandalized businesses and started fires in trash cans. At least nine people were arrested after three nights of protests.
Analysis of the "not guilty" verdict was front and center Sunday on "Face The Nation," which aired hours after the jury handed down its decision. On the show, NAACP president Benjamin Jealousthe Justice Department to bring federal criminal charges against Zimmerman on hate crime laws.
A Justice Department spokeswoman soon reaffirmed that the DOJ already had an open investigation into Martin's killing. Most legal experts say federal charges are unlikely and would be difficult to prove.
In addition to the federal probe, Attorney General Eric HolderTuesday that states should reassess controversial stand-your-ground laws. The controversial law, which allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force, played a role in the trial against Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense.
About 20 states have stand-your-ground laws, or similar statutes.
President Barack Obama called on Americans to respect the jury's decision but to redouble efforts to "stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis." Obama, who hasn't weighed in on the controversial trial in more than a year, added that Martin's killing was a tragedy "not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America."
Also speaking out this week was Juror B37, a middle-aged white mother of two who served on the six-member panel. She said the jury was initially split and three members were convinced during the 16-hour deliberations to change their votes from "guilty" to "not guilty." She also announced a book deal, which was soon called off after outrage spread virally on social media sites.
Four other jurors latera joint statement distancing themselves from Juror B37.