SANFORD, Fla. -- Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges Saturday night in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose killing unleashed furious debate across the United States over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.
Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. He could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But the jury of six women, all but one of them white, reached a verdict of not guilty after about 16 hours of deliberations.
"We're ecstatic with the results," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said after the verdict. "George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense."
Another defense lawyer, Don West, said: "I'm glad this jury kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty."
Martin's mother and father were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Supporters of his family who had gathered outside yelled "No! No!" upon learning of the not guilty verdict.
'It makes no sense'
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, who helped train the media spotlight on the case, said: "All the evidence was there to convict George Zimmerman. This family is heartbroken that the killer of their son is not going to be held accountable. It makes no sense that in 2013 you can follow and shoot an unarmed teenager walking home with nothing other than candy and a drink, and go free."
The jurors considered nearly three weeks of often wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated townhouse community where he was staying.
Defense attorneys said the case was classic self-defense, claiming Martin knocked Zimmerman down and was slamming the older man's head against the concrete sidewalk when Zimmerman fired his gun.
Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed him as a "wannabe cop" vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands, prosecutors said.
The verdict came a year and a half after civil rights protesters angrily demanded Zimmerman be prosecuted.
Delay in arrest
Zimmerman wasn't arrested for 44 days after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting as police in Sanford insisted that Florida's Stand Your Ground law on self-defense prohibited them from bringing charges. Florida gives people wide latitude to use deadly force if they fear death or bodily harm.
Martin's parents, along with civil rights leaders such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, argued that Zimmerman -- whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic -- had racially profiled their son. And they accused investigators of dragging their feet because Martin was a black teenager.
Before a special prosecutor assigned to the case ordered Zimmerman's arrest, thousands of protesters gathered in Sanford, Miami, New York and elsewhere, many wearing hoodies like the one Martin had on the night he died. They also carried Skittles and a can of iced tea, items Martin had in his pocket.
President Barack Obama weighed in, saying that if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon."
Equally passionate supporters of Zimmerman fought to restore his badly bruised name and undo allegations that painted him as a racist who hunted and killed an unarmed black teen. Contributions to an online defense fund for Zimmerman reached nearly $400,000.
Race rarely brought up
Despite the racially charged nature of the case, race was barely mentioned at the trial.
"This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms," State Attorney Angela Corey Corey said. "We believe this case all along was about boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries."
The jurors had to sort out clashing testimony from 56 witnesses in all, including police, neighbors, friends and family members.
For example, witnesses who got fleeting glimpses of the fight in the darkness gave differing accounts of who was on top. And Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the person heard screaming for help in the background of a neighbor's 911 call was their son.
Numerous other relatives and friends weighed in, too, as the recording was played over and over in court. Zimmerman had cuts and scrapes on his face and the back of his head, but prosecutors suggested the injuries were not serious.
To secure a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors had to convince the jury that Zimmerman acted with a "depraved" state of mind -- that is, with ill will, hatred or spite.
Prosecutors said he demonstrated that in expletive-laced comments during a call to police as he watched Martin walk through his neighborhood.
Had he been convicted, Zimmerman faced the possibility of life in prison.
To some, Martin's legacy will be the conversations his death has inspired about America's unsettled race history and its uneasy relationship with guns.