Defense rests in Zimmerman trial; closing arguments begin Thursday

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Defense rests in Zimmerman trial; closing arguments begin Thursday
Defense rests in Zimmerman trial; closing arguments begin Thursday
Defense rests in Zimmerman trial; closing arguments begin Thursday

By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner

Orlando Sentinel


SANFORD, Fla. — As George Zimmerman’s defense team wrapped up its case, the defendant in 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s shooting said Wednesday he will not testify in the second-degree murder trial.

Prosecutors began calling rebuttal witnesses after Circuit Judge Debra Nelson denied a renewed motion by the defense to acquit Zimmerman. The defense rested after that ruling.

Jurors were sent home for the evening about 4:45 p.m. EDT, told that they may hear closing arguments from the attorneys Thursday. The state is expected to present its argument 1 p.m.

The defense will argue Friday morning, Nelson said, followed by jury instructions and deliberations.

Before court recessed for the evening, Nelson heard argument about a defense witness, longtime Zimmerman friend John Donnelly, who violated the witness sequestration rule by sitting in court for testimony almost two weeks before he took the stand.

Media cameras captured images showed Donnelly, who testified Monday that it was Zimmerman he heard screaming on a 911 call before the fatal shot, in court on June 25, during state’s testimony.

The state wanted Donnelly’s testimony struck from the trial. Nelson denied that request after argument from the attorneys Wednesday.

The only rebuttal witness called by the state was Adam Pollock, who runs the mixed-martial-arts gym where Zimmerman trained.

He testified earlier for the defense that Zimmerman was a poor athlete who trained to lose weight, not to learn fighting skills. But prosecutor Richard Mantei asked him Wednesday about a page on his gym’s website the prosecutor called an “advertisement” that Zimmerman trained there.

Pollock said he was “absolutely not” advertising his association with the case, and the defense objected to the questioning, leading to a delay. The judge ultimately ruled for the defense, and Pollock didn’t testify further.

The site shows a “Zimmerman” page, with a form for users to request “information about the training George Zimmerman received” at the gym.

The state and defense will not call any more rebuttal witnesses, defense attorney Mark O’Mara said after court Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, the defense called its last witness: Robert Zimmerman Sr., the defendant’s father, testified briefly. Zimmerman Sr. said that he’s sure the voice heard screaming in a 911 call before the fatal shot was his son.

Before Zimmerman Sr., the defense called Olivia Bertalan, a former Zimmerman neighbor who was the victim of a home invasion by two young African-American males several months before the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting.

Bertalan said the invaders broke into her home while she was there with her son, and she was forced to hide in a locked bedroom, arming herself with rusty scissors as the thieves ransacked the house and stole her property.

One was later arrested, Emmanuel Burgess. It turned out he lived in the neighborhood, she said.

In cross examination, she said she talked to Zimmerman about the burglary repeatedly and described the suspects to him. She also said she follows Zimmerman’s defense team on Twitter.

Under further questioning by O’Mara, Bertalan said Zimmerman was “very” helpful after the break-in, bringing her a better lock for her sliding door: “I was very appreciative.”

Jurors also heard Wednesday from Dennis Root, a former veteran law enforcement officer and trainer who is testifying as an expert on defensive use of force.

Root testified that Zimmerman’s injuries from the night of the shooting were “consistent with a fight, a physical fist fight.”

He also testified that Zimmerman is not a competent fighter, and that in a high-stress situation, “conflicting statements are normal.”

In a fight, “40 seconds is an eternity,” Root said. That’s about how long screaming lasts before the gunshot in a 911 call which recorded the shooting. Those screams, Root said, show “a high level of stress, a high level of fear.”

On cross examination, Root said he never used deadly force as a law enforcement officer, and conceded that this was his first time he had testified as an expert in a criminal trial.

Asked if he advertised that he was a witness in the case, Root replied: “Yes sir.” He acknowledged that he waived his standard fees as well, and said he knew there would be publicity.

However, Root said he got involved with the case because “I’m dedicated to finding the truth.”

Root also testified during state questioning that he didn’t ask Zimmerman about various aspects of the fight, including what Zimmerman was doing with his hands, how many times he says his head was struck against concrete, or how the fight moved from one spot to another.

However, when prosecutor John Guy asked whether Root would scream for help if he was in a fight for someone and realized that person had a gun, Root replied no: If he was the aggressor, Root said he would go for the gun, as Zimmerman says Martin did.

Root also testified that anyone “looking down the barrel of a firearm” would yell for help.

Asked about the profanity Zimmerman used in reporting Martin to police as suspicious before the shooting, Root said he saw that as evidence of Zimmerman’s general frustration with crime in his neighborhood, not ill will, hatred or spite toward Martin.

In other developments, the judge issued key rulings Wednesday morning, blocking the defense from putting on testimony about Martin’s text messages or using a computer animated recreation of the teen’s shooting as evidence.

The defense will be allowed to use the animation as a demonstrative aid, likely during closing arguments. But it will not go back with the jurors as evidence when they deliberate.

Nelson’s ruling came after extensive argument Tuesday about a computer animated crime scene reconstruction by defense expert Daniel Schumaker.

Zimmerman’s lawyers said the animation was constructed with established technology from the evidence in the case. The state argued the defense is using Schumaker to put on argument about the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting in the guise of testimony.

The judge also ruled on another defense expert, Richard Connor, who unearthed hidden text messages about fighting from the memory of Martin’s phone. The defense argued the texts demonstrate that Martin was an experienced fighter. The state said they’re irrelevant and the defense can’t prove Martin was the one who sent them.


©2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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