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02/26/2013

Trayvon Martin: the killing, one year on

Trayvon Martin
People hold signs during a demonstration in Washington in this March 24, 2012 file photo to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

It was one year ago today that an unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death in a gated community in Sanford Fla. by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The killing triggered a raging national debate about racial profiling – and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Martin would have turned 18 this month.

Instead, his parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, will mark the anniversary of his death tonight with a vigil in New York City.

The heated passions that fueled that debate about race and guns in America have died down somewhat in the year that has passed. But one can expect they’ll ramp up again as Zimmerman's June 10 trial approaches.

Still, some confusion reigns over just what happened that night.

Make no mistake however: Zimmerman killed Martin. He admitted that. But he claims he was under attack, wrestling with Martin on the ground, and feared for his life.

Whether a jury will agree remains to be seen.

CNN has put together an excellent overview that pulls together some of the key questions that still linger over the case.

And – a quick review of many websites – suggests the network may be the only one to point out that Zimmerman’s lawyers do not intend to rely on Florida’s 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law because, they claim, “George did not have an ability to retreat,” necessary to invoke the law.

The statute “simply does not apply to the facts of George’s case: it is traditional self-defense,” his lawyers’ website says.

Meanwhile, evidence suggests that Zimmerman’s self-defense and his claims that he and Martin were involved in a life and death struggle on the ground, will be challenging to prove: no one’s fingerprints but Zimmerman’s were on the gun; and there was no Zimmerman DNA found beneath Martin’s fingernails.

Zimmerman, you might remember, was not initially charged. That took weeks.

Then, about a month after Martin's death, President Barack Obama himself weighed in on the gravity of the case, worrying over what it might say about America.

“I think all of us have some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen,” Obama said at the White House. “When I think about that boy, I think about my own kids…If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

Obama urged Americans to treat the case “with the seriousness it deserves and get to the bottom of what happened.”

Come June, a jury will decide.

VIDEO: American women are 'hungry' for guns

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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