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Florida jury finds George Zimmerman not guilty

(Reuters) - A Florida jury on Saturday found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, in a case that sparked a national debate on race and guns.

The panel of six women, which was sequestered, deliberated more than 16 hours over two days until nearly 10 p.m. on Saturday (0200 GMT Sunday).

Zimmerman appeared stoned-faced as the verdict was announced, but then showed a slight smile of relief. His parents embraced each other and his wife was tearful.

Zimmerman, 29, said Martin, 17, attacked him on the night of February 26, 2012, in the central Florida town of Sanford. Prosecutors contend the neighborhood watch coordinator in his gated community was a "wannabe cop" who tracked down the teenager and shot him without justification.

The jury could have convicted him of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

What happened in Sanford that February night may never have gone beyond the back pages of a local newspaper if police had immediately arrested Zimmerman.

But he walked free for more than six weeks after the shooting, because police believed his claim of self-defense, triggering protests and cries of injustice across America.

It also drew comment from President Barack Obama, forced the resignation of Sanford's police chief, and brought U.S. Justice Department scrutiny to this town of 54,000 residents not far from Disney World in Orlando.

(Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami and Barbara Liston in Sanford; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Peter Cooney)

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