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Trayvon Martin shooting: Race hangs over case as trial begins (+video)

As the trial of George Zimmerman begins Monday, the major legal question will be whether the defendant acted in self-defense. But the Trayvon Martin shooting also pokes at issues such as profiling, interracial crime fears, and vigilantism.

George Zimmerman trial begins
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The tale of how George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin on the streets of a gated community in Sanford, Fla., continues to poke at uncomfortable truths in a not-so-post-racial America – including perceptions about profiling, interracial crime fears, drug use stereotypes, and vigilantism. 

But the trial of Mr. Zimmerman on second-degree murder charges, which begins Monday, will present jurors with a more straightforward task than addressing the nation's imperfections.

After a year of legal maneuvering by both sides, the basic question jurors will consider remains the same: Was Zimmerman, an aspiring police officer who was part of a volunteer neighborhood watch group, justified in confronting the 17-year-old on a rainy Feb. 26, 2012, and subsequently shooting him point-blank in the chest? 

"My expectation is that jurors are actually going to be judging a pretty simple case," says Douglas Keene, a noted jury consultant in Austin, Texas, who has dissected the George Zimmerman case in detail. "Yes, this case touches on a lot of societal concerns more broadly, but the motivation of jurors is not to reconstruct the fabric of society. They just want to answer one question correctly: What actually happened?"

The facts, however, may not be so simple to ascertain, including whether it is Zimmerman or Trayvon, overheard in the background of a 911 call, who was screaming and yelling "stop." Moreover, witness accounts are murky, and some witnesses have changed their original stories about the nature of the fight between the men. A girlfriend who was on the phone with Trayvon turns out to have lied about why she didn't attend Trayvon's funeral.

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