Prosecution, defense make opening arguments in Zimmerman trial

Updated
By Jamie Novogrod, Tom Winter and Tracy Connor
Don West, a defense attorney for George Zimmerman, displays a photo of his client from the night of the shooting during opening statements in Zimmerman’s trial.
Don West, a defense attorney for George Zimmerman, displays a photo of his client from the night of the shooting during opening statements in Zimmerman’s trial.
AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool

The prosecution and defense in the George Zimmerman began laying out their cases for the jury on Monday, clashing over whether the neighborhood watch volunteer killed Trayvon Martin because he was “viciously attacked” or because “he wanted to.”

A jury of six women listened intently during opening statements in a Sanford, Fla., courtroom 16 months after Zimmerman, 29, and Martin, 17, crossed paths in a gated community on a rainy Sunday evening.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and says he shot Martin in self-defense.

“George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder. He shot Trayvon Martin after being viciously attacked,” said defense attorney Don West, who told jurors a knock-knock joke about his client that brought a few titters.

“This is a sad case, of course, “ West said. “A young man lost his life. Another is fighting for his. There are no winners here…There are no monsters here.”

Trayvon Martin on February 18, 2012 in a photo taken at his mother’s birthday party. Martin was killed on February 26, 2012.


Prosecutor John Guy said the evidence does not support a self-defense claim.

“George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him for the worst of all reasons – because he wanted to,” he said.

Both opening statements focused heavily on Zimmerman’s own words, drawn from tape of a call he made to a non-emergency police number after he spotted Martin walking around.

“These a——- always get away,” Guy quoted Zimmerman as saying.

Guy portrayed Zimmerman as a mixed-martial-arts enthusiast with an interest in law enforcement and claimed he went out that night with a “ready to fire” 9mm pistol, “profiled” Martin, followed him down a dark street and shot him at such close range it left burn marks on his sweatshirt.

He outlined for jurors a number of prosecution witnesses, including a Miami girl who was talking to Martin by cellphone as he walked back from a trip to 7-Eleven for a fruit drink and Skittles.

She “heard Trayvon Martin say, ‘What are you following me for?’ and then Trayvon Martin’s phone went dead and Trayvon Martin went dead,” Guy said.

He said none of the witnesses saw the confrontation “from beginning to end” but that they would point out inconsistencies and “lies” in Zimmerman’s statements about the deadly confrontation.

He also told jurors they would hear a “bone-chilling” 911 call from a neighbor.

“In the background, you will hear the gunshot that killed Trayvon Martin and you will hear screaming in the background. Listen carefully, please, to that call and listen carefully when the screaming stops. It’s right when the gunshot goes off. Trayvon Martin was silenced immediately when the bullet the defendant fired was shot through his heart,” Guy said.

Prosecutors had hoped to introduce expert testimony that Martin was the one screaming  and saying, “I’m begging you,” but the judge said the voice-technology used was not reliable enough. The tape can be used as evidence without the expert analysis.

The defense played the 911 call during its opening, prompting Martin’s mother to leave the courtroom. West said all the witnesses “agree those are the screams of someone in a life-threatening situation,” suggesting it was Zimmerman yelling for help.

He also played for the jury the tape of Zimmerman’s conversation with the non-emergency dispatcher, highlighting what they say was Martin’s suspicious and confrontational behavior.

The call shows that “Trayvon Martin had been staring at him. He approached him. He had his hand in his waistband and then he took off,” West said

He said Martin’s phone conversation with his female friend in Miami will also show the teen was the aggressor.

“At the moment this actually became physical, Trayvon Martin decided to confront George Zimmerman. Instead of going home…he either left and went back or just hid in the darkness to see about this guy he thought was following him,” West said.

The prosecutor said Zimmerman laid bare his motivation with “hate filled” words during the conversation with the dispatcher, including a comment about “punks.”

None of the witnesses will back up Zimmerman’s claim that Martin told him, ‘You’re going to die tonight” as they fought, Guy said.

The two sides also painted starkly different pictures of the aftermath of the shooting.

“Trayvon was face down in wet grass, laboring through his final breaths on this earth,” Guy said. “And that defendant was upright, preparing… preparing to tell law enforcement why it was he had just profiled, followed and murdered an unarmed teenager.”

West described his client as staggering, short of breath and bleeding from his head, and showed jurors a photo a neighbor took of Zimmerman’s injured head.

“He was beating me up and I shot him,” West quoted Zimmerman as telling the neighbor.

Relatives of both Martin and Zimmerman were in the courtroom as the day began but Zimmerman’s parents and wife were ordered to leave the courtroom in accordance with a law that bars possible witnesses from hearing the testimony of other witnesses.

The Martin family’s lawyer, who may be called to the stand by the defense, was also asked to leave. Martin’s parents were allowed to stay under Florida law.

His mother, Sybrina Fulton, told reporters she will be there every day.

“I ask that you pray for me and my family because I don’t want any other mother to have to experience what I’m going through now,” she said at a short news conference before court on Monday morning.

Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company has strongly denied the allegation.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com here.

Prosecution, defense make opening arguments in Zimmerman trial

Updated