Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon… (Gregory Castillo / Miami…)
MIAMI -- The father of Trayvon Martin, the teenager shot dead by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a case that sparked nationwide protests over racial profiling and police inaction, said Saturday the family is bracing for a "rough road" as Zimmerman's trial nears.
"We're going to have to sit through all the negativity," Tracy Martin said at an emotional prayer service in a Miami church nine days before Zimmerman's trial opens in Sanford, Florida. Martin was referring to defense attorney Mark O'Mara's attempts to cast his son as an aggressor whose actions on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, prompted Zimmerman to fire in self-defense.
Last week, the judge in the case ruled that O'Mara would not be allowed to mention in opening statements evidence that the defense says would point to drug use and aggressive tendencies by the teenager. But some of the evidence could come into play during the trial if O'Mara can convince Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson that it is germane to the case.
O'Mara has tried to portray Martin as a troublemaker who had problems in school, smoked dope, and whose behavior had prompted his mother, Sybrina Fulton, to send him to stay with his father in Sanford. Fulton lives in Miami.
Nelson also rejected a defense motion to issue a gag order during the trial, and she refused O'Mara's request to delay the start of the case.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Martin family, told the prayer service that jury selection alone could take two to three weeks, a prediction that drew a loud chorus of "Ooooooooohs" from the crowd of about 300 gathered inside the Bethel Apostolic Temple for Saturday's event.
Crump accused the defense of resorting to "a desperate attempt to try to play on people's prejudices" by releasing texts and photographs taken from Martin's cellphone that O'Mara said showed him as a fan of weapons, fighting and marijuana.
"It's bad enough they had to lose their child. It's tragic they had to assassinate his character," Crump said.
O'Mara, though, has argued that such evidence shows that Martin might have been on drugs, paranoid and prone to violence the night Zimmerman encountered him in his father's Sanford gated complex. The teenager, who was black, was on his way back to his father's home after going to a nearby store to buy candy and was unarmed. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, spotted Martin, began following him, and then pulled his 9-millimeter.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin after the teen attacked him. The defense says Zimmerman, who is white and Latino, jumped to conclusions about Martin because of his race.
The case led to nationwide protests over Zimmerman's behavior and the Sanford Police Department's failure to arrest him that night or test him for drugs or alcohol even as they conducted toxicology tests on the slain teenager.
A special prosecutor eventually was appointed to take over the investigation, and on April 11, 2012, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and arrested. He is free on $1 million bond.
The case has thrust the slain teen's parents into a high-profile role that both of them conceded Saturday they would have preferred to avoid.
"I would have rather gone back to my job with my same two kids, to my same house," said Sybrina Fulton, her voice shaking as she stood on stage before a silent audience. But Fulton said she had long since accepted her role as the mother of a son whose untimely death had sparked cries for justice.
"I no longer have any regrets and say, 'Why me?' because God decided it was me," she said.
Crump and Martin's parents said they were confident no matter how long the trial lasts, Zimmerman would be found guilty.
"Not on emotion, not on innuendo," Crump roared into the microphone as the crowd shouted back in approval. "Just on the evidence. The evidence is clear as day."