July 6, 2013

Both moms take the stand in George Zimmerman trial

In a dramatic day, the prosecution rested its case and the judge rejected a defense request to acquit Zimmerman on his murder charge.


SANFORD, Fla. — Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, listened from the witness stand as prosecutors played a now-famous recording of someone screaming for help in the background of a 911 call the night her son was killed.

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Assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda, right, talks to Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, on the stand during a recess in George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court, Friday, July 5, 2013 in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The Associated Press

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Volusia and Seminole County associate medical examiner Shiping Bao MD testifies during George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court, Friday, July 5, 2013 in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The Associated Press

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When attorneys had played that same recording during jury selection at George Zimmerman’s murder trial, she had quietly walked out of the room.

On Friday, however, she was there to identify the screams. She did not flinch, cry or lose her composure.

“Who do you recognize that to be?” asked Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda.

“Trayvon Benjamin Martin,” she replied.

Eight hours later, Zimmerman’s mother was on the same witness stand, listening to the same screams.

The voice was her son’s, said Gladys Zimmerman. There was no mistaking his cries of anguish and fear.

The testimony of those two mothers bookended a dramatic Day 19 at Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial. Prosecutors rested their case. Defense attorneys began theirs. And both sides spent much of the afternoon making impassioned legal arguments in a debate the state won.

There also were bizarre moments. The lock on the evidence locker — a room just off the courtroom that contains Zimmerman’s gun, Martin’s clothes and all the other items admitted as evidence — malfunctioned and a locksmith had to drill his way in.

And the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Martin made three dramatic changes of opinion during a contentious stint on the witness stand.

Shiping Bao, the associate Volusia County medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Martin on Feb. 27, 2012, the day after the 17-year-old was killed, first told jurors that the Miami Gardens teenager could not have moved once Zimmerman shot him in the heart.

During cross-examination, however, he reversed himself, saying the teenager might have been able to move a bit.

That’s an important point. Zimmerman told police he spread and pinned Martin’s hands to the ground after shooting him. However, the first neighbor and first officer at the scene both testified that Martin’s hands were under his body.

Bao also changed his opinion, saying he originally believed Martin likely survived the shot for one to three minutes but now believes it was one to 10 minutes.

With the jury out of the room, Bao also said he now believes the small amount of marijuana in Martin’s system may have affected his behavior, an idea he rejected when he gave a sworn statement in November.

Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, says he shot Martin in self-defense after the Miami Gardens high school junior punched him, knocking him to the ground and breaking his nose, then climbed on top and began hammering his head against the sidewalk.

Bao also showed jurors a photo of a small bloody scrape on Martin’s left hand. Defense attorneys suggest it came from punches the teenager threw at Zimmerman or from Martin scraping it against the sidewalk during their fight.

Bao said it also could have happened before the two came face-to-face or as Martin’s hand struck the ground after he was shot.

Once the state rested, attorneys spent the next hour and a half on legal argument, at times fiery, after O’Mara asked the judge to end the trial on the spot, saying prosecutors failed to put on enough evidence to show that Zimmerman had committed a crime.

At least 98 percent of the state’s case was circumstantial, O’Mara said.

“My client never attempted to nor landed one blow. All he did was call out for help,” he said.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei argued Zimmerman saw Martin as something he was not — someone about to commit a crime — and chose to “pursue him, make contact with him and grab him.”

He described Zimmerman as “either the luckiest, most level-headed marksman in the world or something else is going on.”

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson spent less than 60 seconds to decide that the case should go to the jury.

That’s when O’Mara called his first witness, Zimmerman’s mother.

At a news conference after the trial ended for the day, O’Mara would not say how many witnesses he plans to call but predicted victory.

Still, Zimmerman is worried, O’Mara said.

“I think he will breathe sigh a sigh of relief when the acquittal comes, not a moment before.”

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Additional Photos

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Defense attorneys Mark O'Mara, left, Don West, center, stand with George Zimmerman during Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court, in Sanford, Fla., Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the 2012 fatal shooting of slain teen Trayvon Martin.



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