ORLANDO, Fla. » A Seminole County jury deliberated for nearly four hours today before finding a man guilty of attempted second-degree murder with a firearm for shooting at George Zimmerman’s truck in May.
The jury also convicted Matthew Apperson, 27, of shooting into an occupied vehicle and aggravated assault with a firearm. The Winter Springs man faces a minimum of 20 years in prison because the crimes involved a gun. His wife and mother, who attended the five-day trial, walked out crying and would not comment.
Apperson, a paralegal, sought to convince jurors he acted in self defense when he shot a single bullet from his .357 Magnum into Zimmerman’s car on May 11, 2015. Apperson testified that Zimmerman threatened to shoot him and flashed a gun first. The bullet missed Zimmerman’s face, lodging itself in the truck’s metal frame.
Assistant State Attorney Stewart Stone told jurors that Apperson instigated the confrontation and chased Zimmerman in a car, which was caught on video surveillance from a nearby post office.
“George Zimmerman is no boy scout — I get that, and you get that,” Stone said. “But no matter how you feel about George Zimmerman, he he can still be a victim of a crime, and he was in this case.”
Zimmerman, 32, is the former neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted in the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, a case that spurred protests across the country. In the Apperson trial, Zimmerman testified for about seven hours and returned Friday with an attorney to listen to closing arguments. He left immediately after, and did not return for the verdict.
Defense attorney Michael LaFay, in his closing argument, attacked Zimmerman’s credibility as a major witness in the case. He repeatedly referenced the Trayvon Martin case, questioning Zimmerman about his first encounter with the 17-year-old. LaFay also called Zimmerman’s ex-girlfriend to testify about a fight between her and an armed Zimmerman, which prompted her to call 911.
“He is a belligerent, obnoxious liar, and I don’t say that lightly,” LaFay told jurors. “(Zimmerman) is a bully with a lot of guns and a lot of ammunition.”
Attorneys clashed in closing arguments when Stone accused the defense of trying to put Zimmerman back on trial. LaFay objected, saying the comments stirred sympathy in the jury for the victim, which would be an attorney violation. Seminole-Brevard Circuit Judge Debra Nelson cautioned Stone to “stop walking the line.”
Zimmerman and Apperson have a history dating back to Sept. 9, 2014. That day both were driving next to each other on Lake Mary Boulevard and started arguing. According to testimony, Zimmerman thought Apperson was gesturing at him and they began shouting over the Trayvon Martin case. Apperson said he told Zimmerman he was wrong to kill Trayvon, which is when Zimmerman began threatening and following him.
Stone said Apperson “retaliated” against Zimmerman during their encounter in May because of this earlier dispute. To discredit Apperson’s testimony that he felt in fear of his life when he saw Zimmerman flash a gun first, Stone relied on two pieces of evidence: Zimmerman’s window was rolled up when the shot was fired and his windows were too darkly tinted for anyone to see inside. Police officers and crime scene analysts verified that information during the trial.
Apperson has awaited his trial in jail because he violated his bond committing another crime — urinating on his neighbor’s front door.
Apperson’s sentencing is set for Oct. 17.
©2016 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)