After nine days of testimony from 38 witnesses, prosecutors in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial rested their case on Friday.
The final day of the state’s case against Zimmerman, charged in the killing of Trayvon Martin, included testimony from Martin’s mother, older brother and the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the 17-year-old’s body.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, saying he shot Martin in self-defense after the teen attacked him.
Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, testified that it was her son’s voice heard crying for help in the background of a neighbor’s call to 911 the night he was killed. Fulton, wearing a black pant suit and pearls, listened as a recording of the call was played in court, in which screaming and then a silencing gunshot could be heard.
Mark O’Mara, the lead defense attorney, asked Fulton if it was her hope that none of her son’s actions that night could have led to his death.
“What I hope for is that this would have never happened and that he would still be here,” Fulton said. “That is my hope.”
“If you were to listen to the tape and not hear your son’s voice that would mean that it would have been George Zimmerman’s,” O’Mara asked.
“I heard my son screaming,” Fulton responded.
Medical examiner Shiping Bao testified that Martin could have lived for as long as 10 minutes after being shot. Bao said the teen was shot through the heart and died after his heart bled "until there was no blood left."
In an earlier deposition, Bao estimated that Martin could have lived for one to three minutes. In court Friday he said he'd changed his views because of what he'd learned from a subsequent case.
Bao said the teen “suffered” during his last minutes alive.
"His heart was still beating," Bao said. “He was still alive, he was still in pain." The defense immediately objected to those statements.
Bao said there was no blood found on Martin’s hands, and that he’d found only three superficial abrasions to two fingers on his left hand and none on his right.
"This could have occurred two hours before he died, could have happened right after the shooting, on the way down to the ground, could have happened during the physical struggle," Bao said.
Earlier, Martin’s mother testified that Martin was right handed. Injuries to Martin’s hands could be a critical component in this case, given the defense’s assertion that Martin pummeled Zimmerman before he was shot.
The emotional capstone of the final day of the state’s case was the testimony of Martin’s mother and brother Jahvaris Fulton, a 22-year-old student at Florida International University.
Jahvaris Fulton testified that the “yelling and screaming” was his younger brother. Under cross-examination Fulton confirmed that a couple weeks after first hearing recordings of the 911 call with his family at City Hall the night night the tapes were released publicly, he told a local TV reporter that he was not “completely positive” that it was his brother’s voice.
“I guess I didn’t want to believe that it was him so that’s why during that interview I said I wasn’t sure. I guess listening to it was clouded by shock and denial and sadness,” he said.
The trial began with jury selection on June 10. A jury of six women--described by prosecutors as five whites and one who is black or Hispanic--was seated on June 20. Opening statements in the case began on June 24 with prosecutors highlighting the foul language Zimmerman used to describe Martin to a police dispatcher as a “F_ _ _ _ _ g punk” and saying that these “A_ _holes always get away,” just minutes before the shooting. Defense attorney Don West opened with an ill-received knock-knock joke to highlight the difficulty in seating a jury in the high-profile case.
"Knock, knock. Who's there?" West told the jurors. "George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? All right, good. You're on the jury."
West later apologized for the joke.
For two weeks prosecutors have attempted to shape their case that Zimmerman profiled, followed and then murdered Martin the night of Feb. 26, 2012, as Martin walked through the gated community where his father’s girlfriend lived.
The prosecution's list of witnesses has included neighbors who heard or saw some element of the fatal confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman, police investigators, close friends of both men and a number of state analysts. There was the son of Martin’s father’s girlfriend who was playing video games with Martin before he went to get snacks at a nearby 7-11, including a bag of Skittles. The clerk who sold Martin the Skittles and an Arizona iced-tea was also called to the stand. So was the 911 dispatcher who answered Zimmerman's non-emergency call the night of the shooting and who told Zimmerman not to follow Martin.
But few have garnered more attention than Rachel Jeantel, 19, a close friend of Martin’s who was on the phone with him just moments before the shooting.
In halting, sometimes tearful testimony, Jeantel recalled her final phone call with Martin as he walked through the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community, where Zimmerman was a volunteer with the neighborhood watch.
She told jurors that Martin said he was being watched and then followed by a “creepy-ass cracker,” referring to Zimmerman. Jeantel said that Martin told her that he would try to lose the man, but that he was unable to. She then said that she heard a man’s voice asking what Martin was doing there. And that she then heard Martin ask, “Why are you following me?” She said she heard what sounded like a bump or thud, then Martin shout, “Get off!” right before the phone went dead.
It is unclear how Jeantel’s statements resonated with jurors. Her testimony and her appearance and manner were dissected by observers inside the court and throughout the media and the public. Jeantel’s weight, the color of her skin, her diction and grammar were all attacked. Jeantel’s defenders saw the attacks as a referendum on a whole class of women and people from poor and working class communities. Jeantel admitted that she had initially lied in several instances, including about her age and her reason for not attending Martin's funeral.
Another key witness heard during the presentation of the state’s case was Sanford police officer Chris Serino, the lead investigator in the case. Serino testified that, while Zimmerman claimed he was hit upward of two dozen times, Serino considered the head injuries “minor.” Under cross-examination by the defense, Serino also said life-threatening injuries are not a requirement for proving self-defense. Serino testified that after Zimmerman heard a tape of a 911 call on which screaming can be heard, he said, “That doesn’t even sound like me.” Zimmerman says he was yelling for help, while the prosecution and Martin’s family say it was the teen who was screaming.
Police officer Doris Singleton, who took the initial statement from Zimmerman at the police station after the shooting testified that at one point Zimmerman noticed a small cross around her neck and asked if she was Catholic. She said she replied that she was Christian and asked him why it mattered.
She said Zimmerman told her the Catholic religion teaches “it’s always wrong to kill somebody.”
Singleton said she told him: “If what you’re telling me how it happened is true then I don’t believe that’s what God meant. He didn’t mean that you couldn’t save your own life.”
She also said that at one point in the interview, Zimmerman expressed surprise when she told him that Martin had not survived.
“He said, ‘He’s dead?’ ” Singleton said.
“And I said, I thought you know that I thought you knew he was dead,” she added.
“And he kind of slung his head and just shook it.”
While it is unclear if Zimmerman will take the stand, jurors for the first time heard Zimmerman in his own words in those early interviews with police. The prosecution presented a televised interview Zimmerman did with Fox host Sean Hannity, in which Zimmerman said he’d never heard of the state’s Stand Your Ground Law and that he had no regrets in Martin’s death.
“ I feel it was all God's plan,” Zimmerman said of the fatal encounter.
While Zimmerman claimed during that interview with Hannity that he had never even heard of the Stand Your Ground Law, which gives wide discretion in the use of deadly force, a former professor who gave Zimmerman an “A” in a criminal litigation class that included the statutes testified that Zimmerman was “one of the better students in the class.”
“I wanted to teach the class from a practical standpoint where these students can really relate and take something from it and apply it to their own lives. You know with Florida and other states, they have what’s called the Stand Your Ground Law,” U.S. Army Capt. Alexis Francisco Carter said of why he taught his students about the law.
The defense chose not to ask for immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in a pre-trial hearing, and have opted to try the case as straight-up self defense. If Zimmerman is acquitted, the defense could ask the judge to decide whether he deserves the immunity which would protect him from a civil lawsuit.
Zimmerman took Carter’s course and classes in criminal justice and investigation at Seminole State College in Sanford where he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
Prosecutors have attempted to paint Zimmerman as an overzealous wanna-be cop who not only profiled Martin, but had been a serial-caller to law enforcement to report men in the neighborhood as suspicious.
One witness, Ramona Rumph, a records custodian with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, testified to five prior non-emergency calls made by Zimmerman in the months before Martin’s killing.
In four of the five calls Zimmerman reports seeing males as either fitting the description from an earlier robbery, as possible suspects in recent break-ins, as suspicious and loitering or walking around the neighborhood and up to nearby houses.
Prosecutors rested their case on Friday following the defenses grilling of Bao, the medical examiner, on the techniques used to extract evidence from Martin’s body including the drawing of his blood and scraping under his fingernails.
The back and forth between West and Bao was testy at times, as Bao asserted several times that he could not recall details from the day he conducted the autopsy on Martin’s body.
After prosecutor's rested their case, the defense attorney O'Mara presented a motion for judgement of acquittal to Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, and argued that she acquit Zimmerman.
Judge Nelson denied the motion.
The defense then called its first witness, Gladys Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s mother. She too was asked whose voice it was crying out the night of the shooting. For the second time Friday the recording of the neighbor’s 911 call was played, and for the second time a mother was certain it was her boy she heard.
O'Mara asked who she thought the screams belonged to.
“My son, George,” she told O’Mara. Are you certain? O’Mara asked.
Yes, she said, “because he’s my son.”
The defense's second witness was Jorge Meza, Zimmerman's uncle, who testified that he recognized the voice of the person screaming on the 911 call as his nephew.
The trial will continue on Monday morning at 9 a.m.
Note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.