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Zimmerman juror calls for change in self-defense laws

People attend a vigil for slain youth Trayvon Martin, as well as to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Mart
People attend a vigil for slain youth Trayvon Martin, as well as to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Mart

By Daniel Trotta and Bill Cotterell

NEW YORK/TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - A member of the jury that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin called for changes to Florida's self-defense law, which she said gave jurors no option but to acquit the defendant.

The juror's statement adds to pleas from around the country to change the "Stand Your Ground" laws that many states adopted after Florida did so under former Governor Jeb Bush in 2005.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson also urged authorities to toss out "Stand Your Ground" laws on Wednesday and highlighted what many see as racial bias in the U.S. justice system by drawing attention to the case of Marissa Alexander.

Alexander, a 32-year-old black woman, got a 20-year sentence for firing a bullet against a wall to scare off her abusive husband. The judge would not allow her to use a "Stand Your Ground" defense and it took the jury just 12 minutes to find her guilty of three counts of aggravated battery.

"In one case, Mr. Zimmerman kills a young man and walks away, free to kill again," Jackson told reporters soon after meeting Alexander in a Florida prison. "Marissa shot no one, hurt no one, and she's in jail for 20 years."

In the Florida capital, Tallahassee, demonstrators occupied a part of the governor's office for the second straight day on Wednesday demanding that the state repeal "Stand Your Ground."

With her identity kept secret, the juror, designated B-37, gave an interview to CNN on Monday that stirred further debate in the case that captivated the U.S. public and triggered lengthy discussions about race, guns and vigilantism.

After a torrent of criticism, including a statement from four other jurors who said she did not speak for them, the juror issued a statement further stressing her position that Florida's self-defense law forced the jury to vote not guilty.

"My prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than 'not guilty' in order to remain within the instructions," juror B-37 said. "No other family should be forced to endure what the Martin family has endured."

According to the instructions given to the jury, Zimmerman had "no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force" if he reasonably feared for his life or great bodily harm.

LAW CHALLENGED

Among the many voices demanding change, singer Stevie Wonder said he will not perform in Florida until the state discards a "stand your ground" law.

A day after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder questioned those laws in a speech, the Florida president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) urged Republican Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday to return to Tallahassee to meet with the scores of young demonstrators occupying his office to protest the verdict.

The protesters, hastily organized by a group called "Dream Defenders," are among those demanding Scott call a special session of the Republican-led Florida legislature to repeal "Stand Your Ground."

"The consequence of this verdict and the 'Stand Your Ground' law has made Florida an increasingly unsafe state for its citizens, especially its black and Latino youth," Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in a letter hand-delivered to Scott's office.

An aide said the governor was out of town.

After three weeks of testimony and 16 hours of deliberation, the jury of five white women and one of mixed race acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Martin, inside a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford on February 26, 2012.

Shortly before the shooting, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, called police from his car to report a suspicious person, Martin. The rapid-fire chain of events ended when Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart with his 9mm semiautomatic handgun.

The Democratic leaders of Florida's legislature, who are in the minority in both chambers, were due to hold a news conference in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday to announce plans for action in response to the Zimmerman acquittal. They tried to get the "Stand Your Ground" law changed in the past session, but couldn't manage to get a committee hearing on the issue.

Juror B-37, a mother of two who grew up in a military family and used to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, said one holdout juror switched her vote to "not guilty" after half an hour of agonizing over the law.

"She wanted to find him guilty of something but couldn't because of the law. The way the law was written, he wasn't responsible for (negligent) things that he had done leading up to that point," she said.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Stacey Joyce)

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