Witness who saw “tussle” testifies in Zimmerman trial as social media explodes over photo of defense lawyer

Deep into the prosecution’s case against George Zimmerman, some witnesses who took the stand Friday seemed to bolster the defense case by corroborating at least part of the neighborhood watch volunteer’s account that he was defending himself during a violent confrontation with Trayvon Martin moments before the shooting.

Neighbor John Good said he saw Trayvon Martin, 17, pinning Zimmerman to the ground — the first eyewitness to report seeing that and in contrast to earlier testimony. Sanford Police officer Tim Smith said the back of Zimmerman’s clothing was wet, another indication he may have been at the bottom of a fight before fatally shooting the Miami Gardens teen on Feb. 26, 2012. And Smith, the first police officer on the scene, testified that Zimmerman told him he asked for help but no one came.

“He stated to me that he was yelling for help and that nobody would come help him,” Smith said under cross-examination by Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara.

As witnesses offered their recollections of the encounter between Trayvon and Zimmerman, social media — which has played a critical role in the case — erupted after a controversial Instagram photo of Zimmerman defense attorney Don West and his daughters came to light.

Molly West, a 20-something daughter of West, posted the photo to her Instagram account. It showed her, her father and her sister eating Chick-fil-A ice cream cones Monday, with the caption: “We beat stupidity celebration cones” and the hashtag #dadkilledit. Don West had on Monday made a joke in his opening statement that some found insensitive.

As news of the photo rapidly spread, Molly West and her sister, Rachel, quietly left the courtroom for the day. Defense team spokesman Shawn Vincent said, Molly “is mortified... for bringing negative attention to her father and the case.” The Instagram account is now closed.

“Don had no idea that she’d post it on Instagram, and he also knew nothing about the comments associated with it,” he said, acknowledging the bad taste and timing of the image. “We understand the context of the comments with what’s happened in court this week are grossly insensitive.”

He added: “Don told me, ‘As a parent, we’re not always proud of the things our children do, but we love them anyway, and then we move on.’”

In court Friday, a string of witnesses testified to what they saw or heard that night.

Good said he saw a “tussle” between Zimmerman and Trayvon a few feet from his patio and that he believed — based on the colors of clothes he saw — that Trayvon, 17, had pinned down Zimmerman on the ground.

Good was the first person to testify that he thought he saw Trayvon on top of Zimmerman, and that it was Zimmerman who may have been crying out for help from underneath. His testimony contradicts witness Selma Mora, now a Miami resident, who testified Thursday that she thought she saw Zimmerman on top during the scuffle.

Good stopped short, however, of saying that he saw the person on top throwing punches or slamming the other man’s head on the sidewalk, as Zimmerman contends Trayvon did to him.

Zimmerman, 29, has said he acted in self-defense, shooting Trayvon after the unarmed teen attacked him. Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled and pursued Trayvon. He’s charged with second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison if convicted.

The case sparked protests and marches in the 44 days between Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s arrest. It also led to vigorous debates about race and Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which does not apply to this case.

A six-person, all-female jury, sequestered by Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, will decide Zimmerman’s fate.

Jurors on Friday also heard Smith, the first responding officer, testify about Zimmerman’s demeanor and actions, noting that he was calm and followed officers’ orders.

Another witness, Jonathan Manalo, a neighbor who was the first to speak with Zimmerman before officers arrived, said he seemed coherent but looked as if he had been in a fight.

“It looked to you like he had just got his butt beat?" defense attorney West asked.

“Yes," Manalo responded.

As Smith handcuffed Zimmerman, Manalo said, Zimmerman asked Manalo to call his wife, Shellie. Manalo said he dialed the number and began to explain that there had been a shooting and Zimmerman would be at the Sanford Police Department.

“Just tell her I shot someone,” Manalo recalled an impatient Zimmerman saying.

Paramedic Stacey Livingston said she treated Zimmerman for “about five minutes” at the scene, cleaning up two cuts on the back of his head. She also noted that his nose was “very swollen” but Zimmerman declined to be taken to the hospital. She said she evaluated Zimmerman as a perfect 15 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, meaning his eyesight and verbal and motor skills were unimpaired.

A physician’s assistant who examined Zimmerman the next day, Lindzee Folgate, told jurors that he complained of nose pain and displayed injuries consistent with being struck in the face and thrown to the ground.

But Folgate also said Zimmerman was not suffering from headaches, dizziness, numbness or blurred vision when she saw him. She said he had nausea at the thought of the shooting, which she determined to be psychological, not physiological.

Friday’s testimony capped a dramatic week in a fifth-floor courtroom where jurors heard from 22 state witnesses in the opening week of testimony.

Prosecutor John Guy jolted jurors to attention in his opening statement Monday when he repeated expletives that Zimmerman can be heard saying on a recorded call when he phoned police to report a suspicious person a few minutes before the shooting. Zimmerman attorney West led his opening argument with a knock-knock joke that fell flat.

Graphic crime-scene images and emotional 911 calls with audible screams and a gunshot sent Trayvon’s parents, often in tears, walking out of the courtroom.

The longest and most-talked-about testimony so far has come from 19-year-old Miami student Rachel Jeantel, a childhood friend of Trayvon’s who was speaking on the phone with him moments before his death.

She remained steadfast, even under intense cross-examination that stretched over two days, about what she heard on those final phone calls with Trayvon, including that she heard him say “Why are you following me for?” followed by “get off, get off.” She acknowledged, however, that she could not say for sure who the aggressor was because she was not there.

Jeantel’s testimony, like Molly West’s Instagram photo, kicked up a storm of comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, where posters opined on everything from her appearance to her diction. The criticisms was followed by pushback from supporters who defended her and praised her courage.

The discovery of Molly West’s Instagram photo came a day after O’Mara discussed the power of social media in the case. He said it was “amazing,” adding that he had barely even heard of Twitter before he became Zimmerman’s attorney last year.

The defense team launched a blog last year to document evidence and updates in the case and raise money. Supporters on both sides have used social media to release information and comments about the case long before the trial got under way.

“We’ve had witnesses walk out of the courtroom and start tweeting,’’ O’Mara said.

Read more Zimmerman Case stories from the Miami Herald

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