Defense rests case in George Zimmerman trial
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — After taking less than a week to call 18 witnesses, George Zimmerman’s defense attorneys rested their case Wednesday in the neighborhood watch volunteer’s second-degree murder trial.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys planned to work out the jury instructions before they present closing arguments Thursday. Judge Debra Nelson said the case could be sent to the six jurors as early as Friday.
Zimmerman never testified. But jurors saw repeated video recordings of Zimmerman telling his side of the story to investigators. He claims that he shot Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, in self-defense while the teen straddled and punched him.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara told reporters that Zimmerman wanted to testify but his attorneys felt he had already told his version of events in multiple police interviews played for jurors.
“I think he really wanted to be able to interact with this jury and say to them ‘This is what I did and this is why I did it. And as importantly, this is what was happening to me at the time that I decided to do what I had to do,’” O’Mara said. “So in that sense, yes, I think he wanted to tell his story.”
Still, O’Mara said his client is “worried” because he faces up to a life sentence in prison if convicted for what O’Mara called a classic case of self-defense.
Asserting that Zimmerman “believed he did what he had to do to protect himself from great bodily injury that was already being visited on him,” O’Mara added, “If we presented evidence that helped the jury understand that, then we’ve done our job.”
O’Mara told CNN on Wednesday night that he believes there is “overwhelming evidence” that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, but that he has concerns about jurors returning “a compromise verdict.” Some legal analysts have suggested that the jury could convict Zimmerman of a lesser offense of manslaughter.
“We don’t want a compromise verdict, just like we don’t want a jury pardon,” O’Mara said. “We want a verdict based on the facts of the law and that’s an acquittal.”
Asked if the prosecution had proved second-degree murder, Martin family attorney Daryl Parks told CNN: “I think they either have it or they’re very close, and I think that’s why the law allows the lesser included offenses. At this point all we want is justice, and so we believe we’re very close to getting that justice.”
The defense started its case last Friday and presented half as many witnesses in half of the time that prosecutors did. Friends, parents and an uncle of the defendant testified that it was Zimmerman screaming for help on a 911 call that captured sounds of the fatal fight. Martin’s mother and brother had testified for the prosecution that it was Martin yelling for help.
Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., was the last witness called by the defense on Wednesday, and he said it’s his son yelling for help on the call.
Defense attorneys also called a forensic pathologist who testified that the forensics evidence supports Zimmerman’s account of what happened.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. On the night of the fatal scuffle in February 2012, Martin was returning from a store while visiting his father and his father’s fiancee at the same townhome complex where Zimmerman lived.
Zimmerman observed Martin while driving in his neighborhood, called police and the fight ensued after the neighborhood watch volunteer got out of his vehicle.
Some civil rights activists argued that the delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin’s race, and protests were held around the nation in the 44 days between the fatal fight and Zimmerman’s arrest. Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
The defense rested on a day when the judge made two rulings preventing them from introducing certain evidence. Defense attorneys had wanted to present text messages from Trayvon Martin’s cellphone that discussed fighting and an animation depicting Zimmerman’s fatal fight with Martin. But Nelson sided with prosecutors, who had argued the animation is inaccurate and the texts were irrelevant.
O’Mara said the defense will use the animation in closing arguments.
He also explained that defense attorneys decided not to show that Martin had a small amount of marijuana in his body at the time he died, despite winning a ruling on it from the judge, because it seemed insignificant.
Immediately after the defense rested, prosecutors called their first rebuttal witness — Adam Pollock, the gym owner who had trained Zimmerman. But prosecutors decided not to question Pollock after the judge ruled he couldn’t be questioned about a video put on his gym’s website showing his court testimony at the trial.
Shortly after, court was adjourned until Thursday morning.
Earlier Wednesday, a former neighbor of Zimmerman’s, Olivia Bertalan, described how he had helped her find a lock for her townhome’s sliding door and offered any help he could after burglars broke into her home.
“I was just appreciative he was offering a hand and said I could spend time with his wife if I wanted to during the day,” she said.
Defense attorneys also called public safety consultant Dennis Root to testify that Martin was in better physical shape than Zimmerman, and that the defendant wasn’t any athlete.
“He would find himself lacking when compared to Mr. Martin,” Root said of Zimmerman.
During cross-examination of Root, prosecutor John Guy used a life-sized foam mannequin in front of the jury to simulate the body positions of Zimmerman and Martin at the time of the shooting.
Straddling the dummy, Guy proposed a scenario in which Martin was on top of Zimmerman and asked Root if it was possible that Martin was backing away from Zimmerman at the time of the fatal gunshot.
“Yes,” Root said.
Using the same mannequin during further questioning of Root, O’Mara challenged the notion of Martin retreating. Root said that while multiple gun angles were possible, he had no specific information to say what position Martin was in when he was shot.
“I think you’re not going to be involved in a conflict like this without it being dynamic,” Root said.
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