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George Zimmerman found not guilty

George Zimmerman leaves the courtroom a free man after being found not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Florida, July 13, 2013. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges on Saturday for the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in this central Florida town in February of last year. (July 13, 2013)

George Zimmerman leaves the courtroom a free man after being found not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Florida, July 13, 2013. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges on Saturday for the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in this central Florida town in February of last year. (July 13, 2013)

SANFORD, Fla. -- A Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman on Saturday in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that sparked a national debate over racial profiling and self-defense laws.

The panel of six women deliberated more than 16 hours over two days until nearly 10 p.m. on Saturday before delivering the verdict, which drew immediate condemnation from some civil rights groups.

Zimmerman appeared stoned-faced as the verdict was announced, but then showed a slight smile of relief. His parents embraced each other and his wife was tearful.

10 high-profile trials

Millions of Americans followed the televised trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on Saturday of murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, a shooting death that sparked a national debate over race and gun rights. Here are 10 other trials that have gripped the American public in the past decade:

  • Casey Anthony: Many television viewers were transfixed by the seven-week murder trial in 2011 of 25-year-old Casey Anthony, accused of the 2008 killing of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. Anthony initially told police the toddler had been kidnapped by a nanny, triggering a nationwide search. Six months later, the child’s skeletal remains were found with duct tape dangling from her skull in woods near the young mother’s Florida home. The jury found Anthony not guilty, sparing her a possible death penalty and triggering a public outcry.
  • Conrad Murray: The late pop star Michael Jackson’s personal doctor was accused of giving the “Thriller” singer a fatal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol - normally used in surgery - that was ruled the main cause of the celebrity’s death on June 25, 2009. His six-week trial captivated Jackson fans around the world. Prosecutors argued Murray was grossly negligent in administering the propofol to help Jackson sleep. Defense attorneys said Jackson delivered the fatal dose to himself. In November 2011, the jury found Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to a four-year prison term.
  • Phil Spector: Another legal spectacle was the trial of Spector, an eccentric music producer, in the shooting death of Lana Clarkson, 40, a B-movie actress. Clarkson died of a shot to the mouth, fired from Spector’s gun in the foyer of his home outside Los Angeles on Feb. 3, 2003. The two met hours earlier at a Hollywood nightclub. The man once revered for revolutionizing pop music in the 1960s with his layered “Wall of Sound” production technique was found guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison in May 2009.
  • Scott Peterson: Reporting his pregnant wife, Laci, missing from the home they shared in Modesto, California, on Dec. 24, 2002, Peterson told police he had gone fishing in San Francisco Bay early that morning and returned to find her gone. Her body and that of her unborn child washed ashore the following April. In a sensational 2004 trial, prosecutors argued that the 40-year-old former fertilizer salesman had suffocated or strangled his wife on Christmas Eve or the night before and dumped her body in the bay, weighting it so it would not surface. A jury convicted him of murdering his wife and unborn son and sentenced him to death.
  • Michael Jackson: The pop singer went on trial in 2005 on charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy in 2003, as well as conspiring to abduct the boy. The singer faced nearly 20 years in prison if convicted. Jackson abandoned his “Dangerous” world tour during the media frenzy over the allegations. The four-month trial ended in June 2005 with Jackson being acquitted of all charges.
  • Martha Stewart: During a highly publicized six-week jury trial, the home design guru was accused of insider trading for her December 2001 sale of 4,000 shares of a pharmaceutical company’s stock worth $79 million. She was convicted in 2004 on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements, along with her stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, who was convicted on four of five counts against him. Stewart served five months in prison and nearly six months of house arrest starting in October 2004.
  • Rod Blagojevich: Television cameras were trained for months on the disgraced Illinois governor, including his impeachment trial proceedings and his trial on corruption charges for trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama and for using his office to extort campaign contributions and jobs for himself and his wife. Blagojevich’s arrest marked the start of a national campaign to proclaim his innocence, with appearances on television talk and entertainment shows, even as a contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” Countless TV and radio interviews later, Blagojevich was convicted of multiple corruption counts and sentenced in December 2011 to 14 years in prison. Blagojevich became the fourth former Illinois governor to be convicted of criminal charges since 1973, and received the longest sentence.
  • Lewis “Scooter” Libby: A former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, Libby was on trial in a case that fueled debate over the Iraq war and revealed the inner workings of the White House under the George W. Bush administration. The trial sparked a national outcry over flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, the failure to contain a violent insurgency, and prisoner abuses during the Iraq invasion. Libby ultimately was convicted of obstructing a CIA leak probe and was sentenced in 2007 to 30 months in prison. Bush later that year commuted Libby’s sentence.
  • Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling: In one of the most notorious white-collar trials of the past decade, former Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling was convicted in May 2006 of 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his role in maintaining a facade of success as Enron’s $100 billion energy business crumbled. His 24-year prison term has been reduced and he could be free in 2017. Enron founder Kenneth Lay also was found guilty of multiple counts of conspiracy and fraud. He died of heart failure six weeks after the trial ended.
  • John Allen Muhammad: Aided by a teenage accomplice, Gulf War veteran Muhammad carried out sniper sprees that killed 10 people and terrified many others in the Washington region in 2002. They had cut a hole in the back of a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice and fired rifle shots from the trunk of the car, authorities said. Muhammad shot people who were going about the ordinary tasks of daily life in places like gas stations, shopping mall parking lots and outside restaurants and schools, in attacks that garnered intense media coverage and spread panic in and around the U.S. capital a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Muhammad was convicted in 2003 and executed in 2009.

“I think the prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful,” said his attorney Don West. “As happy as I am for George Zimmerman, I’m thrilled that this jury kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty.”

Outside the courthouse, the decision drew angry shouts from some of the dozens of demonstrators who had gathered during the day in support of Martin’s family.

His parents were not in the court during the reading of the verdict, but his father, Tracy Martin, later tweeted that his son would have been proud of the fight put up for him.

“Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered,” he wrote. “Together can make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Zimmerman, 29, who is white and Hispanic, said Martin, 17, attacked him on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in the central Florida town of Sanford. Prosecutors contend the neighborhood watch coordinator in his gated community was a “wannabe cop” who tracked down the teenager and shot him without justification.

The jury could have convicted him of second-degree murder, which would have carried a sentence of up to life in prison, or manslaughter.

“Today, justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family,” Roslyn Brock, who chairs the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement.

“We call immediately for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin. This case has re-energized the movement to end racial profiling in the United States.”

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson tweeted within minutes of the acquittal: “Avoid violence, it will lead to more tragedies. Find a way for self construction not deconstruction in this time of despair.”

CASE DREW PROTESTS, SCRUTINY

What happened in Sanford that February night may never have gone beyond the back pages of a local newspaper if police had immediately arrested Zimmerman.

But he walked free for more than six weeks after the shooting, because police believed his assertion of self-defense, triggering protests and cries of injustice across the country.

It also drew comment from President Barack Obama, forced the resignation of Sanford’s police chief, and brought U.S. Justice Department scrutiny to this town of 54,000 residents not far from Disney World in Orlando.

Bernie de la Rionda, the assistant state attorney who was the chief prosecutor in the case against Zimmerman, said he and his two fellow prosecutors were unhappy about the outcome of the trial.

“I am disappointed, as we are, with the verdict. But we accept it. We live in a great country that has a great criminal justice system. It’s not perfect, but it is the best in the world and we respect the jury’s verdict,” he said.

The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office said it had heard nothing about any potential violent reaction to the verdict in and around Sanford, where about 30 percent of the residents are black.

“It’s very quiet so far,” spokeswoman Kim Cannaday told Reuters, about 30 minutes after the verdict was handed down in Sanford’s Seminole County courthouse.