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George Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara quoted founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson during his closing argument Friday.
Quoting Adams, O’Mara said, “‘It is more important that innocence be protected than that the guilty be punished.’”
“Now if I stop there it sort of sounds like I’m asking you to let my guilty client go,” O’Mara told the jury. “I’m not. He’s not guilty of anything but protecting his own life. But the quote continues, ‘but for guilt and crimes that are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished, but if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizens say whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial. If innocence itself is no protection, and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizens, then it would be the end of security whatsoever.’”
O’Mara went on to quote Jefferson talking about the jury system: “‘I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man by which government can be held to the principles of its Constitution.’”
“That’s you guys,” O’Mara told jurors. “We talked about living the Constitution. Planned or not, you guys are it. You are living the Constitution…this is a solemn matter — don’t take this lightly, whether it’s through jokes or kidding around, you see us smiling at each other or whatever, this is a serious, serious matter for Mr. Zimmerman and it’s an utterly serious matter for you.”
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the February 2012 shooting of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and faces a possible lifetime prison sentence. The jury will also be allowed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, which in Florida carries the maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
Editor’s note: This post originally misstated the maximum prison sentence for manslaughter in Florida.