George Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin
Defense claims Zimmerman acted in self-defense
This week, jurors heard opening statements and testimony from key witnesses
Sixteen months after the shooting that took the life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a jury of six women began hearing evidence in a Florida courtroom this week in the trial of George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, then 28, shot Martin in the chest during a confrontation in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community in Sanford, Florida, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the case, but his attorneys have maintained that he acted in self-defense.
Opening statements: Did Zimmerman ‘profile’ Martin?
In a relatively brief opening statement, prosecutor John Guy used Zimmerman’s own words to describe for jurors what the state believes was his mindset on the night of the shooting.
“[Expletive] punks. They always get away,” Guy said, quoting Zimmerman in his call to a police non-emergency number after spotting Martin walking through his neighborhood.
According to Guy, Zimmerman “profiled” Martin and then followed and killed the unarmed teen because he didn’t think Martin belonged in the community. At the time, Martin was staying with his father’s girlfriend, who lived there.
Guy said Zimmerman’s injuries were only superficial and did not support a claim that he shot Martin in self-defense. He also stated that the physical evidence at the scene and on Martin’s body and clothes would contradict Zimmerman’s version of events.
Guy said nobody heard Martin say, “You’re going to die tonight,” as Zimmerman alleged. He described the 911 call in which someone – he suggested it was Martin – could be heard screaming right before the gunshot as “bone-chilling.”
According to Guy, Zimmerman killed Martin “because he wanted to.”
Defense attorney Don West spoke for more than two hours about Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night and described him as a concerned citizen who was fighting for his life against an aggressive stranger.
He also made a much-criticized knock-knock joke that he later apologized for.
“‘Knock, knock,’” he said. “’Who’s there?’ ‘George Zimmerman.’ ‘George Zimmerman, who?’ ‘All right, good, you are on the jury.’”
West argued that the physical evidence at the scene did support the defense’s position that Martin was the aggressor in the fight. He said one witness described Martin as being on top of Zimmerman, beating him before the gun was fired.
West claimed that Martin used the concrete sidewalk as a deadly weapon by smashing Zimmerman’s head against it, and he said Zimmerman had a legal right to defend himself.
The first prosecution witness was Chad Joseph, the son of Martin’s father’s girlfriend, who was playing video games with Martin before he left to go to a 7-Eleven. Joseph said he asked Martin to buy Skittles for him.
Andrew Gaugh, the 7-Eleven clerk who sold Martin an Arizona fruit drink and Skittles, also took the stand Monday.
The 911 dispatcher who answered Zimmerman’s non-emergency call, Sean Noffke, testified about the questions he asked Zimmerman and the commands he gave him.
When Zimmerman told him he was going to follow Martin, Noffke said, “We don’t need you to do that.”
Noffke testified that dispatchers discourage confrontation and avoid giving callers direct orders because it could make them liable.
On cross-examination, Noffke said Zimmerman did not seem angry during the call and his answers did not suggest animosity. Noffke also said he asked Zimmerman about the suspicious person’s race so officers would know who to look for.
Noffke acknowledged that he asked Zimmerman which way Martin was running and that Zimmerman said “OK,” when told not to follow Martin.
Ramona Rumph, a records custodian for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, testified about how 911 and non-emergency calls are prioritized and handled at the communications center. Zimmerman’s call was designated as “routine.”
The defense objected after prosecutors played one of several other non-emergency calls Zimmerman made in the six months before the shooting to report suspicious black males in the neighborhood.
Jury sees crime scene photos
Tuesday began with a hearing on the relevance of Zimmerman’s prior non-emergency calls. Prosecutors argued that they showed Zimmerman’s state of mind the night of the killing.
Judge Debra Nelson said she would review the evidence and rule later on the admissibility of the calls.
After the hearing, Rumph returned to the witness stand briefly to provide details on calls to 911 from people in the neighborhood on the night of the shooting.
The next witness, Wendy Dorival, was the volunteer coordinator for the Sanford Police Department in 2011 when Zimmerman started the neighborhood watch program at Twin Lakes.
Dorival showed portions of a presentation she gave to the community on the role of neighborhood watch at a September 2011 meeting that Zimmerman attended.
Dorival testified that she told Zimmerman and other volunteers to call police when there was trouble and never to pursue or engage suspicious persons. Her presentation warned citizens that they are not “vigilante police” and should only serve as “eyes and ears” for law enforcement.
On cross-examination, Dorival told defense attorney West that Zimmerman was always polite and respectful in her interactions with him. She said the Twin Lakes neighborhood had experienced a series of burglaries and residents were most concerned about that.
Donald O’Brien, president of the Twin Lakes homeowners association, also testified Tuesday. He said Zimmerman told him he wanted to start the neighborhood watch program.
O’Brien also recalled telling Zimmerman about two workmen who spotted a burglary suspect, followed him from a distance and called police, leading to an arrest. He described the burglary suspect as a black male in his late teens.
Sanford Police Department Sgt. Anthony Raimondo Jr. testified that he arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting. He described failed efforts to resuscitate Martin.
Police crime scene technician Diana Smith took the stand to introduce pieces of evidence and photos taken after the shooting. Those pictures included close-up shots of Zimmerman’s head with cuts on his scalp and nose.
Smith also photographed the crime scene and the surrounding area. She did not find any blood on the sidewalk or grass near where Martin’s body was found, although she acknowledged she did not do an exhaustive search.
Prosecutors then called the first of several Twin Lakes residents who saw or heard some part of the confrontation or its aftermath.
Selene Bahadoor testified that she heard a noise coming from behind her house.
“It was not clearly distinguishable but it sounded like, ‘No’ or ‘Uhhh,’” Bahadoor said.
Bahadoor said she heard the sound of running from left to right and saw figures and arms moving, but it was too dark to identify the people.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Mark O’Mara pointed out apparent inconsistencies between Bahadoor’s testimony and her previous statements. She admitted that she may have never mentioned hearing the movement from left to right before.
Bahadoor also acknowledged that she signed a Change.org petition in support of prosecuting Zimmerman for the shooting.
Tough questions for key prosecution witness
When court resumed on Wednesday morning, Judge Nelson issued her ruling that Zimmerman’s previous calls to police were admissible. Nelson also announced that a male alternate juror had been dismissed for reasons unrelated to the case.
Prosecutors then called more neighbors to testify about what they saw and heard on the night of February 26, 2012.
Jayne Surdyka testified that she heard loud voices outside – one more dominant and the other softer. She turned off her light and was able to see two people on the ground, one on top of the other.
Surdyka called 911 and while she was on the phone, she heard two cries for help from what she thought was a younger voice. She said that she then heard three popping noises.
After the prosecutor played Surdyka’s 911 call, she said she believed the call for help was from the person who died. On cross-examination, however, she agreed that a 17-year-old can have a deep, mature voice and she had never heard Trayvon Martin’s voice before.
The next witness, Jeannee Manalo, also heard the call for help. She said it was too dark to see much, and she could not tell which of the men was screaming.
Manalo testified that she believed Zimmerman was the one on top, but she also said she based her idea of Martin’s size on photos she saw of him on television, in which she could not actually see how tall he was.
In the afternoon, records custodian Ramona Rumph returned to the courtroom to introduce five prior non-emergency calls by Zimmerman that the judge ruled the jury could hear:
– August 3, 2011 – Zimmerman reports seeing a “black male” who looked like the person who robbed a neighbor
– August 6, 2011 – Zimmerman says there have been break-ins in the area, and he saw two possible suspects he described as black males in their late teens
– September 23, 2011 – Zimmerman says a neighbor’s garage door is open and explains that the neighborhood watch is encouraged to report unusual occurrences
– October 1, 2011 – Zimmerman reports two suspicious black males “loitering”
– February 2, 2012 – Zimmerman reports a black “gentleman” walking around the neighborhood who keeps going up to a house and walking around the side, but Zimmerman says he does not want to approach the man.
Defense attorney O’Mara pointed out on cross-examination that after the Oct. 1 call, police did make contact with the two men Zimmerman called about. He also claimed that the February 2 call led to an arrest of a person who lived in the community.
The next witness was Rachel Jeantel, a 19-year-old who is expected to be one of the key witnesses in the prosecution’s case. She was on the phone with Martin right before the shooting and may have heard the beginning of his confrontation with Zimmerman.
Jeantel said Martin told her a man he described as a “creepy-a** cracker” was following him. According to Jeantel, Martin said he was going to try to lose the guy but then said, “The n***** is still following me.”
She said she told Martin to run and the call got cut off. She called back and Martin said he was near his father’s girlfriend’s house. Soon after that, Martin said the man was still behind him.
Jeantel testified that she then heard Martin say, “Why are you following me for?”
Jeantel said a man responded, “What are you doing around here?”
Then she heard a “bump” and what she described as a “wet grass” sound.
Jeantel testified that she heard Martin say, “Get off, get off” before the call disconnected.
She said she never heard from Martin again and learned he was dead a couple of days later. She testified that she did not go to Martin’s wake and she lied to his parents about why, telling them she was in the hospital because she felt guilty that she was the last person to talk to him.
Jeantel acknowledged that she lied about her age when Martin’s parents contacted her in March 2012 to ask her to speak to their attorney, Ben Crump. She did meet with Martin’s mother and gave her a letter explaining what happened.
Jeantel said she did not know her interview with Crump was recorded and would be released to ABC News. She said she did not want to talk to Crump, but she felt obligated to.
On cross-examination, defense attorney West suggested details of her story changed since that interview. He said she told Crump that Zimmerman’s response to Martin was, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jeantel said that she rushed the interview with Crump and was asked more questions by the prosecutor.
West also noted that, while Jeantel testified that the voice crying for help in the 911 call was Martin’s, she previously said in a deposition that she was not certain if it was.
At the end of the day, when Jeantel heard West say he had a few hours of additional questions for her, she exclaimed, “What?”
Did Rachel Jeantel change her story?
Jeantel did return to the witness stand for most of the day Thursday.
West resumed cross-examination and asked Jeantel questions about the letter a friend helped her write to Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.
He also questioned her about her first interview with law enforcement, which she said she gave at Fulton’s home with Fulton next to her. She said she cleaned up Martin’s language when she told her story then to be sensitive to Fulton’s feelings.
Jeantel said she did not mention Martin saying, “Get off, get off,” and some other details at the time because she did not know they were important. She said she believed Martin’s killing was racially motivated “because of how the situation happened.”
Jeantel denied that Martin’s reference to Zimmerman as a “creepy-a** cracker” was a racial comment.
West suggested that a sound Jeantel heard over the phone of someone being hit could have been Martin punching Zimmerman, but she insisted that Martin would have told her if he planned to start a fight.
On Thursday, prosecutors also called two more residents of Twin Lakes to testify.
Twin Lakes resident Jenna Lauer testified about the 911 call she made the night that Martin died. She said she heard loud voices around 7 p.m. and then heard scuffling and sounds like sneakers on pavement and grass.
Lauer said she heard someone call for help and then a gunshot. She said she could not tell if the voice was Zimmerman’s, and she could not identify the person with the gun.
Resident Selma Mora took the stand and testified in Spanish through a translator.
Mora said she heard something that sounded like crying while she was in her kitchen and went out to her porch. She said she could see two people, one straddling the other like a horse rider, but she could not identify them.
It was dark, but she believed the person on top had black and red clothing. She went outside and asked what was going on. The person on top did not respond at first, but he eventually said, “Call the police.”
The person on the bottom was not moving at all and he was facedown.
She described Zimmerman as acting “in a concerned manner” after the shooting. O’Mara noted that, in a deposition, she had said he looked “confused.”
Witness describes MMA-style “ground and pound”
Another Twin Lakes resident, Jonathan Good, testified Friday morning.
The back of Good’s home faces the courtyard where the shooting occurred. He said he heard a faint noise outside while watching TV and went out to look.
He testified that he only saw a few seconds of the fight, but there were two people on the ground, the one on the bottom wearing red and white clothes and the one on top wearing dark clothes. He said he heard the gunshot after he went back inside to dial 911.
“It looked like a tussle. I could really only see one person, and I think I described it as possibly being some kind of dog attack, because there are a lot of dogs that walk in that back area. I could only see an object,” said Good.
On cross-examination, Good said he thought the person on the bottom was yelling for help. After viewing pictures of what they were wearing that night, Good said Martin may have been on top of Zimmerman during the fight.
Good used a sketch to show the positions of the two when he first saw them, where they were and the position they were in when he went back inside.
Good testified that he added more information as he gave more statements to police, but his basic story never changed and he said the person he believed to be Zimmerman was on the bottom.
He described Zimmerman and Martin as being in a Mixed Martial Arts-style “ground and pound” position, but he could not say with certainty whether punches were actually being thrown. He did not see the gun.
Timothy Smith, the first police officer to arrive at the scene, also testified on Friday, making some observations about Zimmerman’s clothing that seemed to support Good’s version of events.
In regard to Zimmerman’s jacket, Smith said, “The back of it was wetter than the front of it. It was also covered in grass.” He also described the back of Zimmerman’s jeans as “wetter than the front” and agreed that this was consistent with someone lying on his back in the wet grass.
Smith said that when he asked Zimmerman whether he saw who shot the person on the ground, Zimmerman told him he was responsible and that he was still armed. Smith said he proceeded to remove his own weapon and point it at Zimmerman. He then handcuffed Zimmerman and eventually took his weapon away.
On their way to the patrol car, Smith said Zimmerman volunteered some information about the scuffle.
“He stated to me that he was yelling for ‘help’ and that nobody would come help him,” said Smith.
Defense attorney O’Mara asked Smith whether Zimmerman seemed angry, frustrated, spiteful, cavalier or if he had any ill will or hatred that night. Smith said no to each individual description and called Zimmerman compliant throughout the entire ordeal.
Another neighbor named Jonathan Manalo, who was the first to approach Zimmerman after the shooting, was also asked to describe Zimmerman’s behavior that night.
“He wasn’t acting like anything different. He was coherent, he was responding to my questions just like any other person,” Manalo said.
Defense attorney Don West asked Manalo if Zimmerman told him, “This guy was beating me up and I shot him.”
“I was defending myself and I shot him,” said Manalo in response.
The physician assistant who treated Zimmerman the day after the shooting, Lindzee Folgate, said he came in wanting a note to go back to work. He was also complaining of nose pain and told her he was involved in an altercation and was pushed to the ground.
“His head was hit into the pavement multiple times,” Folgate said.
She measured two lacerations that she observed on the back of Zimmerman’s head, which were 2 cm and 0.5 cm in length. She said she didn’t feel sutures were necessary.
She also examined Zimmerman’s nose, finding swelling and bruising. Based on her observations, she believed it was broken but couldn’t say for sure without an X-ray. She said she encouraged Zimmerman to see a specialist.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda had Folgate review medical records from her past visits with Zimmerman, the first of which was dated August 19, 2011. Zimmerman told her he was having trouble sleeping and had “started to exercise intensely with MMA but this has not helped.”
In another visit dated September 23, 2011, Zimmermann told Folgate he was “involved in mixed martial arts three days per week.”
Folgate didn’t note any swelling on Zimmerman’s head the day after he shot Martin, but she did review police photos from that night with defense attorney O’Mara.
She agreed that what appears to be bumps, swelling and abrasions could be consistent with a head being hit against concrete. But she also said some bumps just occur naturally on the head, depending on the shape.
In his final questions for Folgate, O’Mara asked her whether Zimmerman’s life may have been in danger.
“Medically speaking, would you agree that whatever he did to stop the attack allowed him to survive it?” asked O’Mara.
“It could have, potentially, yeah. It depends on the amount of trauma he was sustaining at the time,” said Folgate.
“So, stopping the attack is what allowed him to survive it, would you agree?” asked O’Mara.
“It could have, yes,” said Folgate.
De la Rionda followed up by asking Folgate if she was speculating. She admitted that she wasn’t there that night.
Testimony in the trial is set to pick back up on Monday at 9 a.m. ET.