By Daniel Trotta and Bill Cotterell
NEW YORK/TALLAHASSEE, July 17 (Reuters) – A member of the jury that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin called for changes in Florida’s self-defense law, which she said gave jurors no option but to acquit the defendant.
The juror’s statement adds to pleas from around the country to change the Stand Your Ground laws that more than 30 states have adopted. In Florida, demonstrators occupied a part of the governor’s office demanding that the state repeal or curtail its 2005 law.
With her identity kept secret, the juror, designated B-37, gave an interview to CNN on Monday that stirred further debate in the case that captivated the U.S. public and triggered lengthy discussions about race, guns and self-defense laws.
After receiving a torrent of criticism, including a statement to CNN from four other jurors who said she did not speak for them, the juror issued a statement further stressing her position that Florida’s self-defense law, commonly known as Stand Your Ground, forced the jury to vote not guilty.
“My prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than ‘not guilty’ in order to remain within the instructions,” juror B-37 said in the statement. “No other family should be forced to endure what the Martin family has endured.”
According to the instructions given to the jury, Zimmerman had “no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force” if he reasonably feared for his life or great bodily harm.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder questioned those laws in a speech. On Wednesday, the Florida president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) urged Republican Governor Rick Scott to return to the state capital, Tallahassee, to meet with scores of young demonstrators occupying his office to protest the verdict.
The protesters, hastily organized by a group called “Dream Defenders,” are among those demanding Scott call a special session of the Republican-led Florida legislature to repeal or curtail the 2005 Stand Your Ground law. The governor has said he supports the law, which was strongly backed by the National Rifle Association.
“The consequence of this verdict and the Stand Your Ground law has made Florida an increasingly unsafe state for its citizens, especially its black and Latino youth,” Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in a letter hand-delivered to Scott’s office.
An aide said the governor was out of town.
VERDICT PROMPTS PROTESTS
After three weeks of testimony and 16 hours of deliberation, the jury of five white women and one of mixed race acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death, inside a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012.
Shortly before the shooting, Zimmerman called police from his car to report a suspicious person, Martin, a house guest of his father’s fiancée, who lived inside the gated community. Zimmerman left his car and got into a fight with Martin that left Zimmerman with a bloody nose and head injuries. It ended when Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart with a 9mm pistol he had concealed and was licensed to carry.
The Democratic leaders of Florida’s legislature, who are in the minority in both chambers, were due to hold a news conference in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday to announce plans for action in response to the Zimmerman acquittal. They tried to get the Stand Your Ground law changed in the past session but never even got a committee hearing on the issue.
Juror B-37, a mother of two who grew up in a military family and used to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, said one holdout juror switched her vote to “not guilty” after half an hour of agonizing over the law.
“She wanted to find him guilty of something but couldn’t because of the law. The way the law was written, he wasn’t responsible for (negligent) things that he had done leading up to that point,” she said.
“I wanted to find him guilty of not using his senses but … you can’t charge him with anything because he didn’t do anything unlawful,” said juror B-37, who also said she believed Martin attacked Zimmerman.
Four other jurors responded with a statement distancing themselves from B-37, who told CNN nobody on the jury felt raced played a role in the case.
“We also wish to point out that the opinions of juror B-37 expressed on the Anderson Cooper show (on CNN) were her own, and not in any way representative of the jurors listed below,” said the statement, which listed their juror numbers. (Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Tom Brown)