State rests and defense begins its case in George Zimmerman trial

07/05/2013 9:58 AM

07/05/2013 7:02 PM

Trayvon Martin’s mother sat at the witness stand Friday, head held high, and decisively insisted that the chilling cries captured on a 911 call belonged to only one person: her slain child, Trayvon Benjamin Martin.

“I heard my son screaming,” Sybrina Fulton told jurors in much-anticipated testimony for the prosecution.

Hours later, George Zimmerman’s mother sat in the same witness stand for the defense. With equal conviction, she swore it was her son howling in panic on the night of Feb. 26, 2012.

“That way he is screaming, it describes to me anguish, fear. I would say terror,” Gladys Zimmerman told jurors in the second-degree murder trial of her son.

The mothers testified Friday in an action-packed day of testimony that also included Trayvon’s brother, Zimmerman’s uncle and an associate medical examiner who created a stir in court with the revelation he had created secret notes in preparation for his testimony.

On the 18th day of Zimmerman’s closely watched trial, that wasn’t the only legal action.

Prosecutors finished their chief case. And after exhaustive arguments from each side — a preview of closing arguments to come —Seminole Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson denied a defense request to acquit Zimmerman.

“The state has presented enough direct and circumstantial evidence for the case to go to the jury,” Nelson said in a widely expected decision.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of Trayvon, 17, of Miami Gardens. He shot and killed the unarmed teen during a violent confrontation inside a gated Sanford community.

A neighborhood watch volunteer with a penchant for calling 911, Zimmerman claimed he fired in self-defense after Trayvon beat his head into a concrete walkway and appeared to reach for Zimmerman’s gun. As days and then weeks passed without police arresting Zimmerman, Trayvon’s family and civil rights leaders led rallies in Sanford and other U.S. cities.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed prosecutors from Duval County to oversee the case, and Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the shooting.

During the trial, prosecutors have sought to portray Zimmerman as a frustrated cop wannabe who took out his frustration over neighborhood security by profiling and chasing Trayvon, who was visiting his father in the town just north of Orlando.

On Friday morning, prosecutors called Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, and Jahvaris Fulton, the teen’s brother, to testify. Sybrina Fulton, who publicly pushed for Zimmerman’s arrest, started out her testimony with an emotional description of her son: “My youngest son is Trayvon Benjamin Martin. He’s in heaven.”

She also told Zimmerman’s defense attorney, during a short cross-examination, that she wished “that this would have never happened and he would still be here.”

Trayvon’s older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, also took the stand and identified his sibling’s voice on the 911 call — although the defense pointed out that Jahvaris Fulton once told a Miami television reporter that he wasn’t sure.

Jahvaris Fulton acknowledged he hadn’t always been certain, saying his first listening of the tape “was clouded by shock and sadness and denial.”

For prosecutors, the family’s testimony about the voice on the recording is key because it suggests that Zimmerman was the aggressor in the violent scuffle that led to Trayvon’s death. Their words were important for the state’s case because the judge refused to allow testimony from state audio experts who suggested the cries belonged to Trayvon.

For their final witness, prosecutors called Seminole Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Shiping Bao, who performed the autopsy on the teen.

Bao described Martin’s fatal injury — one bullet to his lower left chest that pierced his heart. He said Martin likely remained alive for one to 10 minutes after being shot, “still in pain, still in suffering.”

Jurors’ eyes were glued to the projector as autopsy photos were shown of Martin’s body and his bloodied sweatshirt. They passed around a bag containing bullet fragments taken from Martin’s chest.

In testimony, Bao also revealed that he was reading from private notes he had prepared in anticipation of his cross examination.

Nelson ordered the notes be provided to the defense, which then noted that Bao had only recently come to the conclusion that Martin could have survived for up to 10 minutes after the shot. He initially said up to three minutes.

Defense attorney Don West also noted that Bao changed his mind on whether marijuana found in Trayvon’s blood could have affected him that night — the doctor initially said it didn’t, but then backtracked.

But Nelson, sticking to a pretrial ruling, did not allow the defense to question Bao about the teen’s marijuana use.

Prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda then announced the state was resting its case, but not before defense lawyer Mark O’Mara argued that the state hadn’t shown the “ill-will” or “hatred” needed to prove second-degree murder.

Prosecutor Rich Mantei shot back, saying the frustrated would-be cop’s calls to police — he remarked “these assholes always get away” on a recorded call to Sanford police to report Trayvon as a suspicious person — along with following Trayvon that night should be presented to the jury.

Mantei said only two people know what happened. “One of them is dead, one of them is a liar,” he said.

Nelson quickly ruled against defense lawyers’ request for an acquittal. The defense then called Gladys Zimmerman as their first witness, followed by Jorge Meza, an Orange County deputy who swore he heard the disputed 911 recording on TV and instantly knew it was his nephew.

“I felt his scream. It was George screaming for his life,” he said. “That voice just came and hit me. I felt it inside of my heart.”

After court recessed Friday for the weekend, O'Mara told reporters he wasn't sure if he would call Zimmerman to the stand as the defense prepares to present the rest of its case, possibly lasting until Wednesday or Thursday.

“I never thought that there was a proper case against George Zimmerman,” he said.

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