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George Michael Zimmerman (born October 5, 1983) is an American known for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. On July 13, 2013, his trial for second-degree murder and manslaughter ended in acquittal.
Zimmerman, 31, was born on October 5, 1983, in Manassas, Virginia, and is the son of Gladys (née Mesa) Zimmerman and Robert Zimmerman Sr. Zimmerman is the third of four children and his siblings include a brother, Robert Jr., and two sisters, Grace and Dawn. Gladys Zimmerman was born in Peru and has some black ancestry, through her Afro-Peruvian maternal grandfather. Robert Zimmerman Sr. is an American of German descent and served 22 years in the military working for the Department of Defense for the last 10 years of his military career. Before retiring to Florida in 2002, Zimmerman Sr. had served as a magistrate in Fairfax County's 19th Judicial District. George Zimmerman had identified himself as Hispanic on voter registration forms.
Zimmerman was raised as a Catholic and served as an altar boy from age 7 to 17. Zimmerman attended All Saints Catholic School in Manassas before going to public high school. At age 14, Zimmerman joined an after-school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program because he had wanted to become a Marine. When Zimmerman was 15 years old, he held three part-time jobs on nights and weekends to save up for a car. Zimmerman graduated from Osbourn High School in 2001.
After graduating from high school, Zimmerman moved to Lake Mary, Florida where he got a job at an insurance agency. Zimmerman took classes at night to obtain a license to sell insurance. It was during this time when he became friends with Lee Ann Benjamin, a real estate agent, and her husband John Donnelly, a Sanford attorney. Benjamin and Donnelly would both later testify on his behalf at his trial in the death of Martin. According to Donnelly, in 2004 Zimmerman and an African-American friend opened a satellite office of Allstate insurance which eventually failed a year later.
Zimmerman married Shellie Dean, a licensed cosmetologist in 2007 and, two years later, they rented a townhouse in the Retreat at Twin Lakes. Zimmerman had also previously been employed at a car dealership and a mortgage audit firm. Zimmerman enrolled in Seminole State College in 2009 and was working on an associate degree in criminal justice. In December 2011 he was allowed to participate in a school graduation ceremony, even though he was a course credit shy of his degree. He was completing that credit at the time of the shooting. Zimmerman was employed as an insurance underwriter at that time also.
In early 2011, Zimmerman participated in a citizen forum at the Sanford City Hall, to protest the beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white Sanford police officer. During the meeting, Zimmerman claimed he witnessed "disgusting behavior" while in ride-along program with local police; however the police department said it did not know when, if ever, Zimmerman was in that program.
On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old African American high school student Trayvon Martin in The Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily staying and where the shooting occurred. The Twin Lakes Neighborhood Watch program was not registered with the National Neighborhood Watch Program, but was administered by the local police department. Following an earlier call from Zimmerman, police arrived within two minutes of a gunshot during an altercation in which Zimmerman fatally shot Martin, who did not possess any weapons. Zimmerman was subsequently taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours. The police chief said that Zimmerman was released because there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman's claim of having acted in self-defense, and that under Florida's Stand Your Ground statute, the police were prohibited by law from making an arrest. The police chief also said that Zimmerman had had a right to defend himself with lethal force. As news of the case spread, thousands of protestors across the country called for Zimmerman's arrest and a full investigation. Six weeks after the shooting, amid widespread, intense, and in some cases misleading media coverage, Zimmerman was charged with murder by a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott.
Apart from the 2012 Martin shooting, Zimmerman has had other encounters with the law, including two incidents in 2005, and five incidents in 2013.
In July 2005, when he was 21, Zimmerman was arrested after shoving an undercover alcohol-control agent while a friend of Zimmerman's was being arrested for underage drinking. The officer alleged that Zimmerman had said, "I don't care who you are," followed by a profanity, and had refused to leave the area after the officer had shown their badge. The charges were subsequently dropped when Zimmerman entered a pre-trial diversion program that included anger-management classes. Also in 2005, Zimmerman's ex-fiancée filed a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence. Zimmerman requested a reciprocal restraining order. Both orders were granted. These incidents were raised by prosecutors at Zimmerman's initial bond hearing. The judge described them as "run of the mill."
On September 9, 2013, in Lake Mary, Florida, police responded to a 911 call by Zimmerman's estranged wife, who reported that Zimmerman had threatened her and her father with a gun and had punched her father in the face. Zimmerman was briefly detained and questioned by police. No gun was found at the scene. Police took a broken iPad from the scene for examination of a video recording of the incident to determine whether to press charges against either Zimmerman or his wife. His wife declined to press charges and said that she had not actually seen a gun but had assumed Zimmerman had had a gun from his stance and the way he was putting his hand in his shirt. She said, in a subsequent interview on the Today show, "In hindsight I should've [pressed charges], and I really regret that, but I'm on probation and the officers made it very clear that day if I pressed charges we were all going to go to jail and I would've been the only one to stay there." After determining that the iPad video could not be recovered, the Lake Mary police department announced they would not be pressing charges against Zimmerman, his wife, or her father.
On November 18, 2013, Zimmerman's girlfriend called the police alleging that after she had asked Zimmerman to leave her home, he had pointed a shotgun at her and begun breaking her belongings. When the police arrived on the scene and met her outside, Zimmerman initially would not let them inside or speak with them and instead called 911 himself, saying that he had nothing to say to the police and just wanted "everyone to know the truth". The police subsequently reported that Zimmerman had barricaded himself inside the apartment before they had made their way inside and arrested him. He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon – a felony – as well as domestic violence battery and criminal mischief. Zimmerman was initially represented by Seminole County public defenders, who said that he was indigent with about $2.5 million in debt, but he subsequently retained the services of Jayne Weintraub, a south Florida attorney who had done legal commentary on cable television. On December 6, Zimmerman's girlfriend said in an affidavit filed with the court by Zimmerman's attorney that she believed the police had misinterpreted her and that she may have misstated certain facts when she had earlier called the police to report Zimmerman. She asked that the charges against Zimmerman be dropped and that the restraining order barring him from seeing her be lifted, after which prosecutors said that they would no longer be pursuing a case against him.
On Tuesday September 9, 2014, George Zimmerman was named by police in a road rage incident where he allegedly threatened and followed another driver. Zimmerman responded aggressively when he noticed another driver pointing at him. According to the other driver Zimmerman said "Do you know who I am?" before saying, "I'll (expletive) kill you." Zimmerman followed the other driver to a parking lot while the driver called 911, but he fled before the police arrived. The other driver declined to press charges.
Zimmerman gained 100 to 125 pounds in about a 16 month period, between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the trial. He weighed over 300 pounds at the trial. It became a source of commentary and speculation in the press on how it might impact the jury's perceptions.
Zimmerman was satirized in the South Park episode "World War Zimmerman" which premiered on Comedy Central in the United States on October 9, 2013. It parodies World War Z and the George Zimmerman murder trials. One critic called it "great social commentary". Conversely, Jack Cashill, author of If I Had A Son: Race, Guns, and the Railroading of George Zimmerman, criticized "World War Zimmerman". He wrote that South Park "had it absolutely wrong" and felt that it was "really a shame because they are one of the few sources of common sense in the mainstream media".
In December 2013, Zimmerman began selling paintings. His first painting of an American flag sold for $100,099.99 on eBay in late December. His work was not received well by art critics. Art critic Andrew Russeth of New York Observer said, "It looks like someone is doing paint by number." Jason Edward, a contributing editor at Art+Auction, said, "It's very primitive, the sort of thing an art critic wouldn't look at twice." Christian Viveros-Faune, art critic for the Village Voice, said Zimmerman's work is comparable to murderabilia by artists such as serial killer John Wayne Gacy and cult leader Charles Manson. Zimmerman defended his work, posting: "I found a creative way to express myself, my emotions and the symbols that represent my experiences. My art work allows me to reflect, providing a therapeutic outlet and allows me to remain indoors :-)". It was later reported that the American flag painting was copied from a stock image taken from Shutterstock without attribution.
In January 2014, it was reported that the Associated Press had demanded that Zimmerman halt the sale of one of his paintings because the news agency said it directly copies an AP photo. The photo, and painting, shows Jacksonville-based prosecutor Angela Corey (whose office prosecuted Zimmerman for the shooting death of Martin) holding her thumb and fingers together. Zimmerman apparently made up a quote that he added to the painting that reads, "I have this much respect for the American judicial system." This controversy has been compared to the similar use of an AP photo by Shepard Fairey in his Barack Obama "Hope" poster.