News Column

More Witnesses to Testify in George Zimmerman Trial

June 25, 2013
George Zimmerman

Prosecutors in the George Zimmerman trial are continuing to call calling their witnesses today, hoping to convince jurors Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder in 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's shooting.

This morning, jurors heard testimony from Wendy Dorival of the Sanford Police Department, who oversaw the Neighborhood Watch program Zimmerman coordinated.

She said Neighborhood Watch volunteers shouldn't follow suspicious people: They're told "don't do that. That's the job of law enforcement," she said.

On cross-examination, Dorival said that Zimmerman was helpful in raising awareness about the program. She also said that burglaries were the "number one concern for most of the residents" in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, where Zimmerman lived.

Crime data Dorival reviewed showed that concern was legitimate, she said, adding that volunteers are encouraged to keep an eye out for suspicious people and report them, but not to "take matters into their own hands."

After Dorival, the state called Donald O'Brien, the president of the home-owners association for Retreat at Twin Lakes. He said residents were told to report suspicious behavior, but to "stay away, (and) call the police."

Of the Neighborhood Watch program, O'Brien said: "I don't think we needed it."

Earlier, the state called Ramona Rumph, of the Seminole County Sheriff's Office communications department, to authenticate the 911 calls made by Zimmerman neighbors on the night of the shooting.

Before testimony resumed, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson heard argument this morning on whether prosecutors can play for the jury Zimmerman's calls to police to report suspicious people in the months before the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting.

Prosecutors argue those calls demonstrate Zimmerman's state of mind when he reported Trayvon as suspicious minutes before he shot the teen. The defense says the past calls are irrelevant.

Prosecutor Richard Mantei said the calls demonstrate Zimmerman's prior "profiling," and will give jurors context on a "building level of frustration this defendant had" with the suspicious people he reported to police getting away.

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara countered that the state is trying to use the calls as examples of prior bad acts by Zimmerman, though the defense lawyer called them "good acts." He said the state is putting Zimmerman's character on trial: "They can stay state of mind, but it's character."

The judge did not rule immediately after hearing argument. She did listen to the calls, in which Zimmerman reports other male African Americans he viewed as suspicious to police for various reasons. The calls took place between August 2011 and February 2012.

In the calls, Zimmerman uses phrases similar to those he used in reporting Trayvon to police before the shooting: "They typically run away quickly," he says in one call, referring to two men he said matched the description of suspects in a recent burglary.

Of another person he said he saw repeatedly approaching a house, Zimmerman said I "don't know what his deal is." He said the same of Trayvon.

The six jurors and four alternates seated last week heard opening arguments Monday, and then testimony began: Jurors heard from a police dispatcher, a 7-Eleven clerk and a teenager who was with Trayvon the day he was killed.

Prosecutor John Guy began his opening statement Monday with profanity: "F---ing punks," words he said Zimmerman used under his breath during his non-emergency call to report Trayvon to police before the shooting.

When Zimmerman saw Trayvon, the prosecutor said, he "profiled him as someone who was about to commit a crime in his neighborhood, and then he acted on it, and that's why we're here."

After Guy's brief, emotional opening, defense attorney Don West put on a lengthy, methodical statement. Zimmerman, West told jurors, "shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after being viciously attacked."

West into a detailed chronological breakdown of Zimmerman's call to Sanford police, which the jurors heard multiple times Monday. It was Trayvon who confronted Zimmerman, not the other way around, West said.

The trial will be closely watched across the nation. When Sanford police didn't arrest Zimmerman after the shooting, citing his self-defense claim, it prompted widespread civil-rights protests, in Sanford and across the globe.

Zimmerman, 29, was later charged by a special prosecutor. He faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged.

Source: (c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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