News Column

Trayvon Martin's Father Testifies in Zimmerman Trial

July 8, 2013

Defense attorneys in the trial of George Zimmerman called Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy Martin, to the stand this afternoon to testify about the screams heard before his 17-year-old son was fatally shot.

On the stand, Tracy Martin described the days following the shooting of his son, including being notified by police that his son was dead and going to headquarters to listen to a 911 call.

"This was a very emotional time for you. And you listened to the recording....and you pulled your chair back in disbelief," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked. "You realized that was the shot..."

"That killed my son, yes," Tracy Martin finished the sentence.

Earlier, defense attorneys questioned Martin about whether the voice he heard on a 911 call which recorded screams, were those of his son Trayvon.

Police testified earlier today that Tracy Martin told them it wasn't Trayvon's voice.

But Tracy Martin countered that during today's testimony: "I never said, 'no that's not my son's voice,'" Tracy Martin said.

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara asked Tracy Martin whether he has listened to a "cleaned up" version of the tape. He also asked whether Tracy Martin had told Sybrina Fulton he had heard the tape.

Tracy Martin said he did not tell her. Why not, O'Mara asked.

"There was a lot going on. We had just buried our son. It was a tragic time," Tracy Martin said.

Trayvon, Tracy Martin said, "was my best friend in life."

Later, jurors heard from Bill Lee Jr., the former former Sanford police chief who was fired after his agency's controversial handling of the shooting case. He testified he recommended the members of Trayvon's family hear the audio individually, but instead they listened to it as a group.

For most of the day, defense attorneys have been calling witnesses to testify about who was screaming for help in the seconds before 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot: Trayvon, or Zimmerman.

This afternoon, jurors heard testimony from Chris Serino, the lead investigator in the case for the Sanford Police Department. He played a 911 call which recorded the screams for Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, in the days after the shooting.

Serino said he asked Martin if the screams sounded like his son, and Martin said "no" under his breath. Martin seemed very emotional, Serino said.

"I heard it, and saw the movement of his mouth," Serino said later, when pressed by the state on whether he's sure Martin said "no." He also testified a response like Martin's could've been construed as denial.

The defense also called Doris Singleton of the Sanford Police Department, who was present for that interview. She described him as "very upset," hanging his head and crying.

Martin told Serino "that it was not his son," Singleton testified.

Jurors later heard from Adam Pollock of Kokopelli's Gym and Training Center. Zimmerman trained there in grappling and boxing, Pollock said, but was a still a novice at the time of the shooting.

He rated Zimmerman as no higher than a 1.5 out of 10 as a grappler, and said Zimmerman never got close to boxing in a ring with an opponent.

Zimmerman was "soft" and "non-athletic," Pollock said. He said Zimmerman came to the gym obese, and was seeking to lose weight.

During Pollock's testimony, he and O'Mara demonstrated the "ground and pound" mounted fighting position. Jurors previously heard testimony from a Zimmerman neighbor who said he saw Trayvon on top of Zimmerman in that position.

The top is the position of strength in the "ground and pound," Pollock said.

The first witness called today was Zimmerman's friend and former coworker Sondra Osterman. She said she's sure the voice heard screaming before the fatal shot, captured by a neighbor's 911 call, is Zimmerman's.

"Yes, definitely, it's Georgie... I hear him screaming," she said.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda noted that Osterman and her husband, who testified earlier, wrote a book about the case. Osterman said she didn't know how many copies sold. The money is being saved for Zimmerman, she said.

She also identified Zimmerman's voice in his non emergency call reporting Trayvon as suspicious, in which he said "these assholes, they always get away."

On further questioning from defense attorney Mark O'Mara, Osterman said she didn't hear any ill-will, hatred or spite in Zimmerman's voice. All of those terms are elements of the murder charge Zimmerman faces.

Osterman's husband, Mark Osterman, took the stand next. A federal air marshal who describes Zimmerman as his best friend. He testified that he advised Zimmerman in getting a concealed weapon permit and choosing his gun.

He said he advised Zimmerman to choose a gun without an external safety, which Mark Osterman said can be dangerous to the user in a life-threatening situation.

He also testified it's normal and advisable to carry the gun with a bullet in its chamber, as Zimmerman did on the night of the shooting. Mark Osterman said it's typically policy for law enforcement officers to have a round in the chamber.

On cross examination, he acknowledged Zimmerman is not law enforcement -- "not at all" -- and agreed there's a difference in the authority of police versus ordinary citizens.

The defense later called Geri Russo, a former Zimmerman coworker who also testified that she was sure the screaming voice was Zimmerman's. On cross examination, she acknowledged that she's never heard Trayvon's voice.

Jurors also heard from longtime Zimmerman friend Leanne Benjamin, who also testified the screams were Zimmerman's. She said she'd heard him yell before, when they worked on a local political campaign together.

She also acknowledged she'd never heard Trayvon's voice. She said Zimmerman, in his call reporting Trayvon as suspicious, sounded "winded," or it sounded like it was windy outside. She later testified she didn't think his use of profanity indicated ill will, anger, spite or hatred.

Benjamin's husband, John Donnelly, testified next. He said he developed the ability to distinguish screaming voices during his time as a combat medic in Vietnam.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that is George Zimmerman," he said of the 911 screams. He also acknowledged, however, that Zimmerman is a close friend. He has donated $3,000 to Zimmerman and bought him suits to wear in court, the witness acknowledged.

The state rested its case against Zimmerman, 29, on Friday. Prosecutors allege he profiled the Miami Gardens teenager Feb. 26, 2012, then pursued and killed the teen.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense after Trayvon attacked and began beating him.

In a new motion, prosecutors have asked Circuit Judge Debra Nelson to prohibit the defense from playing an animated version of what they contend happened between Zimmerman and Trayvon.

Jurors should not be allowed to see it because it is not "a complete or accurate record" of what happened, wrote prosecutor Richard Mantei.

It also would do irreparable harm to the state, he wrote in the motion filed Friday but made public today.

Jurors on Friday heard from family members for the defendant and the teen, on the subject of who was heard screaming for help before the fatal gunshot.

The screams were captured by a neighbor's recorded 911 call, which was played multiple times in court Friday. Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and his brother both said they hear the 17-year-old's voice.

Later, after the state rested, Zimmerman's mother and uncle testified to the contrary: It was Zimmerman, then a Neighborhood Watch volunteer at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, who was crying out in the recording, his family members said.

Zimmerman faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged. His defense unsuccessfully argued to have the case thrown out on Friday; the state failed to meet its burden to proceed, Zimmerman's defense lawyers said.

Nelson denied that motion.

The trial will continue to be closely watched. When Sanford police didn't arrest Zimmerman after the shooting, saying they couldn't disprove his self-defense claim, the case sparked widespread civil rights protests.

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

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