(SANFORD, Fla.) — Florida prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda had “prayed that [George Zimmerman] would have the courage to take the stand,” he told ABC News in an exclusive interview on Sunday, adding that Zimmerman’s “inconsistent statements” would have made him the prosecution’s star witness.
In the interview with the four Florida prosecutors who fought to convict Zimmerman, lead prosecutor de la Rionda said, “I prayed that he would have the courage to take the stand but, as we all well know, he’s got the right not to.”
“Anytime you put in a defendant’s statements and a lot of those are self-serving, then usually a defendant will make the decision not to testify because you’ve got his story out. We felt it was important to get his story out because there were so many lies,” he added.
De la Rionda, who would have cross-examined Zimmerman had he taken the stand, said he would have been interested to see how the former neighborhood watch captain answered several of his questions:
“Why did you assume because [Trayvon] Martin was wearing a hoodie, he was committing a crime? Why did you assume that because he was walking he was doing something improper? Why didn’t you identify yourself? Why did you assume he didn’t belong in the neighborhood?”
Zimmerman, 29, was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin late Saturday night. Zimmerman was accused of second-degree murder for shooting Martin, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. He said from the beginning that he had shot Martin in self-defense.
The four Jacksonville, Fla., prosecutors — de la Rionda, Angela Corey, John Guy and Rich Mantei — said they respect the jury’s decision but believe Zimmerman got away with murder. They say they have been flooded with emails from people across America thanking them for even trying the case against Zimmerman.
The four prosecutors, who said they thought they were going to win the case until the verdict was read, for the first time presented their theory of what happened the night Trayvon Martin died.
“I think [Zimmerman] had the gun out earlier…but we didn’t have the eyewitnesses,” de la Rionda said.
They believe Zimmerman pointed his gun at Martin not too long after they confronted each other and that the teen was screaming for help. As they attempted to convince jurors during the trial, they pointed out that the screams stopped immediately when the gunshot was fired.
“It’s common sense. No one stops screaming for help unless they are certain they killed him,” Corey said. “He had said he thought he missed.”
The attorneys say Zimmerman’s team exaggerated his injuries and that made the pictures of his bloodied head seem worse than they were. They also say his legal team underplayed how fit he was at the time of the shooting.
The four called him one “lucky man” for his acquittal and had a response to lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara’s statement in an interview after the trial that Zimmerman might have to re-arm in response to the death threats he faces.
“He better be careful,” Guy said.
Mantei said, “The law allows an awful lot of people to carry guns, that doesn’t mean they all should. People have the right to exercise their rights. …The question of whether or not their judgments are safe enough for the rest of the people they might come across. …I think is going to be judged by the future.”
De la Rionda, said, “I think that gun in his mind empowered him to approach [Martin] because what he was trying to do was detain Trayvon Martin so he wouldn’t get away because all the prior guys had gotten away. He was acting like a cop when he didn’t have the power.”
Corey, the special prosecutor whom Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed to look into the case in 2012 and who ultimately filed charges, shot back at the assertions from Zimmerman’s legal team and pundits that her office was pressured to file charges in an unwinnable case.
“There was absolutely no political pressure,” Corey said.
She said the case was appropriately charged, pointing out that the lead investigator assigned to the case, Chris Serino, originally proposed second-degree murder charges before recommending Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter.
“To call something an overcharge is to say there was no evidence for the charge,” Mantei said. “There was clearly intentional pulling of the trigger and motive. The question was it justifiable.”
Corey says they decided not to bring the case up to a grand jury because they wanted to put forward all the evidence.
“Everything went to trial and everything was public,” Corey said. “Shame on those who are bashing for the sake of getting on TV.”
De la Rionda said, “We try cases to win. Hope we bring justice to the table. In this case, we’re disappointed. We thought the evidence was there.”
All four said they have never worked on a case where things ended so bitterly with their opponents.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said de la Rionda, who has now only lost two murder cases in his career. “We respect our colleagues. I guess they don’t.”
“I personally think they were trying to create issues for appeal. We on purpose did not have media interviews every day like they did. …It was obvious they were trying to influence potential jurors,” he added.
The four said they have not spoken to Martin’s parents since the verdict but praised the family’s dignity.
“Those are our victims,” Corey said. “We go into court to seek justice. It was an honor to sit with them in a courtroom and have their support.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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