(Photo: Reuters/Steve Nesius)
George Zimmerman has been found not guilty on all charges in the shooting murder trial of teenager Trayvon Martin after a jury of six women returned their verdict following 16 hours of deliberation.
The verdict was reached on Saturday night after lawyers for Zimmerman, a volunteer Florida neighborhood watchman, argued that he had killed Martin in self-defense and that he used justifiable deadly force.
The jury had retired on Friday to deliberate and weigh up whether the prosecution had presented a case for second degree murder beyond reasonable doubt.
The jury had three verdicts to consider; second degree murder, manslaughter, or not guilty on all counts. Seminole County Judge Debra Nelson had allowed the jury to consider coming to a verdict of manslaughter, which requires a lesser burden of proof and which also carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
However, the jury believed the burden of proof had not been established by the prosecution even for that charge.
The jury had been considering whether to convict Zimmerman of second degree murder, and to do so they would have had to believe beyond reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted with ill will, spite or hatred.
All week various legal analysts had weighed in after the prosecution had concluded its case last Friday, and a majority had believed that the prosecution had not presented a case beyond reasonable doubt to convict Zimmerman of second degree murder.
The case has sparked a furious debate across the United States with Zimmerman accused of racially profiling the teenager as he returned home from a local convenience store after buying a soda and some skittles.
Zimmerman called 911 to report a "suspicious" person in the neighborhood and was told not to pursue by the dispatcher, but instead await police to attend. However, prosecutors allege that he continued to follow Martin, and the two later came to blows as an altercation broke out.
In the fight, Zimmerman had claimed that an unarmed Martin punched him and repeatedly slammed his head into the concrete floor. He claimed that Martin went to grab a gun in Zimmerman's pocket, and that he only shot Martin as he feared for his own life.