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Interview with Robert Zimmerman Following George's Acquittal

Aired July 13, 2013 - 23:30   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon live in Sanford, Florida. I'd like to welcome our viewers here in the United States and those now joining us from around the world on CNN International as we follow the breaking news story.

George Zimmerman is not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Right now, CNN has an exclusive with George Zimmerman's brother, Robert Jr. The Zimmerman family has been a -- it's been a living nightmare ever since Martin's death in February of 2012.

Let's go to CNN's Piers Morgan for that.

Piers, take it away.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Yes, Don. Thank you very much.

I'm here with Robert Zimmerman. We're live.

You've just heard the verdict within the last hour. I've interviewed you six or seven times in the last year but always in very tense circumstances. I'm now interviewing you when you know your brother is a free man.

How does that feel?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, JR., GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: I really can't put into words how relieved we are as a family. That's the first thing my father said.

Having said that, I don't think this is a time for high-fiving. I acknowledged, we all have acknowledged that Mr. Trayvon Martin lost his life. It was not an act of murder. It was not an act of manslaughter.

The jury has spoken. Our judicial system has spoken but that does not diminish the tragedy. Death is tragic in any circumstance of someone -- a young person losing their life for whatever circumstances exist.

MORGAN: I know you've just spoken literally in the last moments to your sister, Gracie, who has spoken directly to George after the verdict. How did she describe his mood?

ZIMMERMAN: He is still processing the reality or notion of being a free man, of having what the judge described as no further business before the court. As you know, he's had an ankle monitor on him, a GPS monitor monitoring his every step, his whereabouts and his curfew. None of those things exist anymore.

So, I think, you know, he has -- he has some decompression to do, some decompressing, and he has to align himself with himself again as the free George.

MORGAN: Was he emotion? Did Gracie describe how he was on the phone?

ZIMMERMAN: She didn't. Our family was. George is just now getting around to processing.

I think as most of our family is just now getting to process the reality that we're not on the other end of this mountain of misinformation that now the jury has spoken and that now we are exonerated as a family. But more importantly, George is exonerated as a defendant and we are going to process that.

It takes time. We've been on the other end of this for better part of a year and a half now. It's going to take some time to heal.

MORGAN: What will he do?

I mean, he's a free man. He's come out tonight into a world where many people despise him. You know that. They'll continue to, because of this result. It's incredibly polarizing case.

Does he fear for his safety? Does he have concerns about the quality of a life for the rest of his life?

ZIMMERMAN: He has always feared for his safety. We have always feared for his safety and our safety as a family.

Clearly, you know, he's a free man in the eyes of the court but he's going to be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life. There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceived it or, you know, be vigilantes in some sense that they think that justice was not served, they won't respect a verdict no matter how it was reached and they will always present a threat to George and to his family.

MORGAN: Let me replay for you the moment that your brother heard that he was a free man.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the Circuit Court of the 18th Judicial Circuit in and for Seminole County, Florida, State of Florida versus George Zimmerman, verdict -- we the jury find George Zimmerman not guilty. So say we all, foreperson.

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, SEMINOLE COUNTY, FL: Does either side want to poll the jury?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would, your honor. NELSON: OK, ladies and gentlemen is -- I mean ladies, I'm sorry -- as your juror number is being called, please answer whether this is your verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror B-29 (ph), is this your verdict?

JUROR B-29: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror B-76, is in this your verdict?

JUROR B-76: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror B-37, is this is your verdict?

JUROR B-37: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror B-51, is this your verdict?

JUROR B-51: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror E-6, is this your verdict?

JUROR E-6: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror E-40, is this your verdict?

JUROR E-40: Yes.



MORGAN: He was extraordinarily calm, George, on hearing that.

Let me ask you the difficult questions here.


MORGAN: Many people have reacted with fury tonight. Many people have acted thinking this is the right decision but many have said it's atrocity. It's an outrage. Nobody has been made accountable for the death of Trayvon Martin.

What do you say to those people?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, I think of that we don't make people accountable for death you know as it were because there is a death. Death is unfortunate. Death is a byproduct of as the law ascribes, you know, returning force with appropriate force. The injury found that he acted appropriately in defending his life in accordance with the law.

I would say to them that we're a country of laws. We respect the rule of law. And that respecting this verdict, as we called for before the verdict was in, is the only appropriate thing to do as Americans.

This is our system. This is what we have. It's the best in the world.

And I think that conjecture and speculation and emotional reaction to what people think may or may not have happened has been dominating the conversation for a long time now.

But you know, people called for an arrest. They called for his day in court. They have had their arrest. They have had their day in court.

They have seen blood. They have seen what Trayvon Martin did to my brother and it's time -- it's high time that they accept that the jury system that we have in this country is a system that we should respect.

MORGAN: But they've also seen, of course, what your brother did to Trayvon Martin and many people feel, why did your brother pursue him? Why did he get out of the vehicle and pursue him? Why did he carry a gun? Why is he not in himself feeling any sense of responsibility for what happened because --

ZIMMERMAN: Well, that's --

MORGAN: -- without those two things --


MORGAN: -- Trayvon Martin would probably still be alive.

ZIMMERMAN: I don't think it's true that he doesn't feel responsibility. George was completely sorrowful after this happened. And just because he's calm or because he's not over the top, you know, emotional doesn't mean he doesn't feel terribly about it as we saw in court when he asked Doris Singleton, are you Catholic, yes, because it's in my religion bad no matter what when someone losses his life -- abortion, self defense, what have you.

I would tell those people they are -- again, from my previous answer -- they're not paying attention to facts. You said "pursued" which is a key word which comes from Benjamin Crump. He admitted to following. That came out in court.

The state of Florida never proved that he continued to follow. So any reference to George following Trayvon Martin, catching up to confronting him is simply conjecture to formatted narratives.

MORGAN: But the truth, though, is we don't know.

ZIMMERMAN: No, we do know.


MORGAN: There are too many unanswered questions. You know what your brother told you.

ZIMMERMAN: No, no, no. In this country, we know when there's a verdict. In your country, we may not know and we may be subject to continual speculation until the end of time. MORGAN: No, no, I totally respect the judicial system and I respect the verdict of any jury under that. I think that's the only way you can respond to these things.

But you know my view about this from the start. About I do respect the jury here.

Let me just ask you this I guess. If the situation was reversed, if you were the brother of Trayvon Martin and or, say, you were the brother of George Zimmerman and he'd been killed by Trayvon Martin and the same situation reversed, Trayvon got out of a vehicle, had a gun, a neighborhood patrolman and had got involved in some altercation, pulled the gun out and had killed your brother dead.

ZIMMERMAN: What the jury found is --

MORGAN: How would -- how would you feel on a human level and an emotional level about that?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, two things obviously. That is tragic. You know, but if Trayvon were my brother and he was legally armed and, you know, able to carry that firearm in a legal way, and my brother blindsided him by breaking his nose and pummeling his head into concrete and continuing to punch him, I would find and the jury has found that unfortunately he had the greater hand in his own demise, which was causing by his own hand his death. That's unfortunate but that's the reality.

MORGAN: Do you really believe that?

ZIMMERMAN: That's what the jury believes. It doesn't matter what I believe.

MORGAN: Do you believe that?

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely I do believe that. I know --

MORGAN: You believe that Trayvon caused his own death, 17-year-old boy just armed with a bag of Skittles?

ZIMMERMAN: Look, we can be cynical about it until the end of time.

MORGAN: I'll just ask you what your personal view is.

ZIMMERMAN: And I've been very clear what my personal view is, and I think so has the jury. The jury has spoken and they've been very clear.

Self-defense means you were defending your life from a real perceived threat. Whether or not you were injured to the degree that some would have you be injured to in order shoot someone or not, you actually perceived an imminent threat of grave bodily harm or death.

That is what the circumstances were that surrounded George in the moment he fired his pistol. That's the law in this country. The jury's been very clear. They agree with George. It is unfortunate that someone lost their life.

But having said that, you asked me if the role were reversed.


ZIMMERMAN: I don't begrudge anyone for trying to get answers as to why their son died. I just -- what I do take issue with is when those answers are not immediately forthcoming, throwing the race card on the table and accusing everyone from George, the Sanford Police Department, the chief of police, Bill Lee, the state attorney's office in the 18th Circuit, everyone in between of being racists or sweeping a murder under the rug for --

MORGAN: Well, Mark O'Mara tonight said that if George Zimmerman had been black, he never would have been charged with any offense.

ZIMMERMAN: Perhaps not because that happens in Chicago every day. You know, there are many people who go out and shoot other people who are black and shoot other people who are black, and they are not charged for whatever reason.

MORGAN: Well, some of them are, obviously.

ZIMMERMAN: Some of them are, there are many more who are not. There are many more unsolved homicides in Chicago than there are in Sanford, Florida.

But, you know, we are where we are as a family and George is where he is as George. We're going to have the right conversation that we need to have going forward. You know, Trayvon is the victim of many things. He's certainly not.

Our system has found he is not the victim of a murder. He is not the victim of a manslaughter. And as much as you want to spin it or talk about Skittles or trash George on your program or any other CNN program, he is an innocent man.

MORGAN: Essentially, it's not about trashing him. It's not about trashing him. It turned out to be a fact after George pulled that trigger and killed Trayvon Martin that Trayvon had been unarmed and just had a bag of Skittles.

ZIMMERMAN: No, he was armed with the sidewalk. He was armed with his nose-breaking fists and he was armed with whatever aggression he brought to that moment. You know bag of Skittles or bag of M&M's or bag of whatever you want.

MORGAN: Let's have a short break. We'll talk more about this.

I want to get what you want to say to Trayvon Martin's family, and also what life will be like for George. He's put on lots of weight -- obviously, been under deep stress. He's got this moment of freedom. How you and the family intend to help him celebrate that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NELSON: Mr. Zimmerman, your -- I have signed the judgment that confirms the jury's verdict. Your bond will be released. Your GPS monitor will be cut off when you exit the courtroom over here. And you have no further business.



MORGAN: Back now with Robert Zimmerman. His brother George was acquitted sensationally tonight of the murder or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin.

Do you see your brother as innocent after this?


MORGAN: Or simply not guilty of murder or manslaughter.

ZIMMERMAN: No, I do. I think that that kind of connotation suggests some kind of accident or some kind of unforeseen circumstance where unfortunately, a death occurred. Like if you got in a fight and punched me and I had a pacemaker and I died.

I think that what is different in this situation is that the self- defense not only the instruction to the jury but the notion and the right that we have in this country to defend ones self speaks right to the face of innocence. It speaks boldly and it makes enunciates innocence very clearly. You have the right to defend yourself when someone is beating you the way that Trayvon beat George or anyone.

MORGAN: Did Trayvon Martin not have the right to the defend himself?

ZIMMERMAN: From what, Piers? Trayvon had the right to go home. You know, unfortunately, I don't want to retry the case here tonight. It's been tried.

MORGAN: Yes, fair enough.

ZIMMERMAN: My brother is innocent. He acted in self-defense and that is what our jury and our criminal justice system has found.

MORGAN: There's a statement from Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, "God blessed me and Sybrina and Tray. Even in his death, I know my baby would be proud of the fight we along with all you put up for him. God bless. Thanks to everyone who were with us. We together can make sure this doesn't happen again."

Obviously very upset, very emotional. You would expect them to be like that. What is your message to Trayvon's family tonight?

ZIMMERMAN: I should be very careful with that. I've been very clear about my message before. I expressed our condolences as a family last year.

And I think it would be remiss of me not to say I understand tonight -- I understand their pain and there are no winners. They will not win or lose anything more than they already have lost, which is their son's life by any kind of verdict for George.

I applaud them for asking for the verdict to be respected. It's the same thing our family did. I would ask them to reflect quietly as a family which we will do and to pray and I will pray for them.

MORGAN: I mentioned as we came to the break that George has got his freedom. He's been through hell. Put ourselves in the Zimmerman family mind-set for now. It must be a moment of celebration, although not as you said, in a flag-waving celebration, but a moment of great relief for the family.

How do you think you will as a family celebrate? Let's use that phrase. That's what it is for you and your family -- George's acquittal and his freedom.

ZIMMERMAN: You know, I don't think we're really there yet. I think that what was very clear to the Sanford Police Department, to all the men and women of honor who honored their oath, and to the state attorney's office and all their employees who honored their oath and assistant state attorneys, there was no crime committed here because it was self-defense. So, I think we're kind of taken back to that moment and because we have been through this hell, this virtual nonexistence or evaporating from the public eye, except with exchanges like this, we kind of have to get there.

We're not -- we're not just celebrating. And I don't think we'll ever have a day that people might imagine is some kind of celebration. That's the word you're using -- because we're always going to be concerned about our safety and George's safety in terms of vigilantes. You know, there's threats all the time directed at George, directed at myself, directed at my family.

MORGAN: He was handed back his gun as part of the process of being released. Will he keep it?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't have confirmation from him. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't.

MORGAN: Do you think he'd be --

ZIMMERMAN: I think he has more reason now than ever to think that people are trying to kill him because they express they're trying to kill him all the time, every day, on my Twitter feed, on the Internet. Someone was just arrested today in Florida for saying they were going to go on some shooting spree if George Zimmerman got free. There's people outside --

MORGAN: I've seen the threats to you and your family.

ZIMMERMAN: Black Panthers calling for his death right there in front of the courthouse. There's a person wearing a shirt with George's face on it in the crosshairs.

He has reason now more than ever to think that people would, if they could, try to kill him.

MORGAN: He's been demonized. He's been turned into a monster in many ways, in the buildup to this trial. But he has been found not guilty. He is an innocent man.

Do you think it's time the demonization stopped in relation to your brother or do you accept perhaps as a family and does George accept that the fact that his actions led to the death of a young teenage boy who turned out to be unarmed, that that in itself means that it can never be an easy ride for him?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I don't think George accepts nor does his family that his actions led to the death nor does the jury nor does the criminal justice system. The action that led to Trayvon Martin's death was deciding to either lay in wait or return to attack George viciously continuously relentlessly, despite George's cries for help, which is a sign that he's giving up and ultimately threaten to kill him and attempt to disarm him.

And that is the final verdict.


MORGAN: I understand that.

ZIMMERMAN: You asked a question. I'm trying to answer it.

MORGAN: I understand that.

ZIMMERMAN: You said did George's actions lead to Martin's death. No, they in fact did not and continuing to repeat that is irresponsible.

We have a verdict. It's time to respect it not just on CNN's air, but throughout this country.

MORGAN: Right. I respect that.

I suppose what I would say though is that he was responsible for pulling the trigger that shot dead Trayvon Martin. It was a 17-year- old unarmed boy.

ZIMMERMAN: It could have been a 45-year-old, armed to the teeth woman. It doesn't matter.

MORGAN: But it happened to be an unarmed teenager.

ZIMMERMAN: It happened to be an assailant (ph).


MORGAN: Here's my question really. With that, what kind of sense of responsibility do you think George has about that, the fact that he did kill a boy?

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, he has -- I've said that, Piers. I've said that on your show. I've said that on many shows. George was never the same after that. You know from watching or from hearing reports of the court proceedings that he had moral qualms. He didn't know that Trayvon Martin had died, until he was told.

In his religious beliefs, death by any definition is a tragedy. So he has moral things that he's going to have to deal with, and emotional and psychological hurdles he is going to have to overcome. They are not legal hurdles and they are not to be equated with him taking responsibilities that his actions somehow led to Trayvon Martin's death because they did not. And that is the finding of the court. It's time to respect it.

MORGAN: You've been somebody that I've admired hugely as a brother giving support to his brother. Every time I've interviewed you, we've had quite robust exchanges, as we have tonight. You've never reacted badly to that. You've accepted that it's been a very contentious case from the start.

How do you feel on a personal human level to what's happened tonight after all the stress, the strain that's built up over the last year or so?

ZIMMERMAN: I -- how do I feel on a personal level? I think I have learned to kind of insulate myself to have very thick skin to exchanges or to being -- George will speak for himself one day but until he could or until he's able to, I spoke for my family.

And I think I've had to -- as much as I've tried to help my family, make sense out of this, I've had to rely on them to make sense out of all of this for all of their children, our parents, Robert and Gladys.

I think that we need some time to take a step back. I'd like to start engaging the world again in some kind of meaningful sense and I feel terribly for George because I don't think he's going to have that opportunity for a very long time.

I do want to thank the people placed their trust in George, who placed their trust in the Sanford police, who placed their trust in the criminal justice system and who placed their trust in what they were hearing, what they were hearing was the truth.

Even when no one would believe us, even when everyone would stand against us or rebut us with conjecture or rebut us with conjecture or talk about Skittles or whatever, the truth is, the jury has found my brother is an innocent man. He committed no crime. He should have never been charged for this or any other crime whatsoever.

And we have to really take a step back now and kind of rebuild as a family. Our identity won't be the same, and I think that's kind of what you're asking. There's no semblance or there's no illusion that we're going to go back to something. We go onward and forward from this point as a family.

MORGAN: Robert Zimmerman, I do appreciate you coming in for this interview. It's been an easy time for you and your family. I totally understand and I respect that and your brother has today, by a jury in an American court, been found not guilty of murder and manslaughter. That will be a huge relief to you and to your family.

So, thank you very much.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: Robert Zimmerman.

Back to you, Don.

LEMON: Hey, Piers, are you there? Can you hear me?

MORGAN: Yes, yes.

LEMON: Hey, listen, I know this is your interview. I don't want to step on it, if you'd say no.

I'd like to ask Robert a question, if that's possible. Is that OK?

MORGAN: Yes. Sure, of course.

LEMON: Robert, you know, you said you want to start some sort of dialogue and, you know, much has been made about race in this particular case. And you, your brother, your family, you have a unique opportunity in this country to address that.

What would you like to see happen when it comes to race healing the divide? And do you plan to do anything about that, and will you ask your brother to do anything about that?

ZIMMERMAN: I will ask George first to heal. And I will see to in that my life's work is bringing people together and not driving people apart. I know that for the better part of a year and a half, we've been on the receiving end of a lot of attacks and I think that now that the jury has spoken, like Piers said in an American justice system, we have to grow from this.

I want to know what makes people angry enough to attack someone the way that Trayvon Martin did. I want to note if it is true -- and I don't know if it's true -- that Trayvon Martin was looking to procure firearms, was growing marijuana plants or was making lean or whatever he was doing, I want to know that every minor high schooler that would be reaching out in some way for help, and they may feel it's by procuring firearms or whatever they may be doing, that they have some kind of help.

I think that's he what George was trying to do when he mentored two black children. Even when funding from the county was withdrawn, he and his wife continued to break that cycle of you know, misfortune. These children's father is serving a life sentence in prison. I don't think a lot of people know that about George. I think the only way he saw to break that cycle was through service. And service means personal devotion and personal dedication.

I wonder how many of these people at rallies calling for George's death, calling for his capture, dead or alive -- I wonder how many of them mentored African-American children. I think that it's a time now going forward, that we should start to the ask really tough questions about why it was so hard for us to conceive the likelihood that you know, perhaps Trayvon Martin really did attack George this way and ask tough questions about, are we not willing to accept that because of race?

Now, we've been the product of a bicultural love story in our life and we've wrapped our arms around every race since we were growing up because the only people around us who were anything like us were black people.

LEMON: Robert, thank you.


LEMON: I have to go. The computer's going to cut us off. We have to get to a break. I'm so sorry, but I thank you for answering that question.

Piers, thank you for letting me ask that final question. I really appreciate it.

Our coverage is going to continue here in 60 seconds on CNN.