Opening Statements Begin in George Zimmerman's Trial

On Feb. 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Fla. This much we know: George Zimmerman, a volunteer Neighborhood Watch, shot Martin in the chest at close range. Martin had visited a 7-Eleven for snacks, and was wandering through the gated community where he was, at least temporarily, living. Zimmerman claims that he shot Martin in self-defense; Martin's family and a host of communities, media and celebrities insist that Zimmerman racially stereotyped and then unjustly killed the black 17-year-old. The shooting received national attention, second only to the 2012 presidential race, and prompted a series of passionate rallies and debates. On Monday, Zimmerman's trial began. He's been charged with second-degree murder, and if convicted, he'll face between 25 years and a life sentence in prison. For a brief timeline of the events leading up to his trial, click on... [Image: Getty Images]

Tensions Rise In Florida

After Martin’s death, Sanford police questioned Zimmerman for five hours - and then released him, claiming there was no reason to contest his plea of self-defense. On March 8, Tracy Martin (father of Trayvon) held a press conference. “It’s senseless,” he said of the lack of investigation. “We feel justice hasn’t been served.” A public outcry followed: the New Black Panther Party rallied, the Sanford police were forced to defend their actions, and almost a million people signed an online petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. The national media jumped on the story, publicly interviewing key witnesses and scrutinizing 911 tapes from the night of Martin’s death. On March 19, the Justice Department and the FBI opened an investigation into Martin’s death. [Image: Getty Images]

Obama Enters the Debate

By April, the case had gripped the nation’s attention. President Obama spoke publicly about the case, telling reporters that the country needed to do some “soul searching” to find out what had happened - and how. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he reminded the public. [Image: Getty Images]

Zimmerman's Family Fires Back

Later in May, Zimmerman’s father penned an open letter saying that his Hispanic son was anything but racist, and his son - George’s brother - Tweeted that Trayvon Martin bore a strong physical resemblance to De’Marquise Elkins, who is currently on trial for murdering a 13-month-old baby. Then Zimmerman’s mother jumped on board via Twitter, saying that the justice system “failed us as Americans.” Martin’s family fired back in a statement: “The arrest of an admitted killer is not violation of due process. It is due process.” [Image: Getty Images]

Zimmerman Arrested In Midst Of Media Storm

As George Zimmerman continued to walk free, the case blew up in the national media. Director Spike Lee Tweeted Zimmerman’s (false) address, and the family who lived there was driven from their home by reporters and hate mail. Trayvon Martin-themed T-shirts, hoodies, key chains and other memorabilia were sold widely, and the Martin family trademarked its slogans. Florida established a task force to re-assess its “Stand Your Ground” law, which allowed residents like Zimmerman to use force in self-defense. (Ultimately, the group recommended no real change.) Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera hit the headlines when she claimed that Martin’s hooded sweatshirt was “as responsible” for his death as George Zimmerman, and called on American parents to stop their teenagers from wearing “hoodies.” Finally, on April 11, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. He plead not guilty. [Image: Getty Images]

Zimmerman Fights Back

On July 18, Zimmerman was interviewed on Fox News. “I’m not racist,” he insisted, “and I’m not a murderer.” Zimmerman went on to say he regretted having to take Martin’s life, and was apologetic to the teenager’s family, but maintained he’d had no choice. In response to the interview, Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, told CBS she didn’t believe a word. Of Zimmerman’s statement that it was all in “God’s plan”, she responded “I don’t think God would have it in his plan to murder an innocent child.” The FBI’s lead investigator told reporters that he blamed Trayvon Martin’s attire, rather than his race, for inciting suspicion in Zimmerman. The accused, he said, had an overzealous “hero complex.” As what’s sure to be a long trial begins, we’ll have to wait to see how Zimmerman’s story ends. [Image: Getty Images]