News Column

Zimmerman Trial: Prosecution Rests

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Prosecutors have rested their case in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The state formally rested about 5 p.m., after lengthy argument on a defense motion asking for a judgment of aquittal, a ruling by Circuit Judge Debra Nelson that the state's case was insufficient to proceed.

If Nelson had granted that motion, Zimmerman would've gone free. However, the judge denied the motion. The trial will continue.

The defense then called its first witness: Gladys Zimmerman, George Zimmerman's mother.

The state's last witness this afternoon was the man who autopsied the teenager. Dr. Shiping Bao told jurors that Trayvon likely remained alive for a time after George Zimmerman's bullet pierced his heart, and would have been "suffering."

"His heart was still beating," Bao, an associate medical examiner, is testifying today. He said the teen could have stayed alive for as long as 10 minutes, though he thought it was unlikely Trayvon could move.

"He was still alive, he was still in pain," Bao said.

When Bao returned to the stand after lunch this afternoon, the lawyers in the case had a lengthy debate at the bench.

Then, with the jury not present, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson held a hearing to determine if prosecutors had violated discovery rules by failing to reveal that Bao has changed his opinion.

The two opinion changes: Bao at first thought Trayvon may have lived up to three minutes after he was shot. He revised that upward based on another case he handled recently, Bao said.

He also changed his mind about whether the amount of THC -- the active ingredient of marijuana -- in Trayvon's system when he died could have effected his mental state. He now feels it could have.

Nelson ruled there was no violation. She also ruled the THC testimony inadmissible, so the jury won't hear about it.

Earlier today, Bao testified that he ruled Trayvon's shooting was a homicide, the killing of one person by another. A bullet pierced Trayvon's heart, Bao said, adding the injuries were not survivable: "No chance, zero."

He said there were small abrasions on two of the fingers on the teen's left hand.

Bao said he has no opinion on what Zimmerman's and Trayvon's body positions were when the shot was fired.

"I have no fact, I have zero opinion," he said.

On cross examination, Bao confirmed that Trayvon's hands were not bagged at the shooting scene to preserve evidence. He said he didn't remember the autopsy beyond what's in his notes, and said the teenager's clothes would have been put in paper bags -- not plastic.

On Wednesday, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA analyst testified that the FDLE received Trayvon's clothes in a plastic bag, which could have degraded any DNA evidence on them.

Bao testified in court today that bagging wet evidence in plastic would be a firable offense.

Jurors this morning heard testimony from Trayvon's mother and brother in Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. They said the person heard crying for help in the background of a 911 call was the 17-year-old, not his killer.

On the stand this morning, Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, told prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda that Trayvon, 17 when he died, was her youngest son: "He's in heaven" now, she said.

She testified that Trayvon had two tattoos: praying hands on his shoulder with his grandmother and great-grandmother's names. On his left wrist, he had a tattoo of his mother's name, she said.

"Have you ever heard him yelling?" prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked.

"Yes," she answered.

Then they immediately played in court the 911 call from the night of the shooting that included the screams.

"Ma'am, that screaming or yelling, do you recognize that?" de la Rionda asked.

Yes, she said, that was her son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin.

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara began his questioning with an offer of condolences, which prosecutors objected to, as "not a question."

O'Mara asked whether Fulton was present at a meeting in which Sanford city officials were trying to determine whether to release the 911 call to the public. She was, she said.

She was joined by Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, and other city officials, as well as the Martin family attorneys Benjamin Crump and also lawyer Natalie Jackson.

"If it was your son screaming as you testified, then it was George Zimmerman who caused your son's death?"

"Correct," she said.

"The only alternative, if you did not hear your son screaming, was that it was George Zimmerman screaming," and that would mean that Trayvon had caused the death, O'Mara said.

She said when she listened to the tape, she was the first one to react, believing that it was Trayvon's voice.

O'Mara asked whether or not anyone "prepared" Fulton to listen to the tape, and she said that no one had prepared her to listen to the tape.

O'Mara asked whether she was "holding out hope " that Trayvon Martin wasn't responsible for his own death. If it were Zimmerman's voice on that recording, that could mean that Trayvon had done something to cause his own death.

Fulton: "I heard my son screaming."

Trayvon's older brother took the stand, and said he recognized his brother's voice on the tape.

Jahvaris Fulton also testified that he told a reporter soon after hearing the audio that he wasn't sure it was his brother's voice on the tape. Jahvaris Fulton said today he remembered saying that, but explained he was in denial and "hoping" that it wasn't his brother's voice on the tape.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case today, on the ninth day of trial testimony in the shooting death. Prosecutors told Circuit Judge Debra Nelson they might finish their case Wednesday, but afternoon DNA testimony ran long and court instead recessed for the Fourth of July holiday without reaching that milestone.

After the state rests, the defense will likely ask Nelson for a judgment of acquittal, a ruling that the state's case isn't sufficient to proceed. If that fails, they'll start calling witnesses.

The defense lawyers haven't said yet whether Zimmerman will testify.

The trial will continue to be closely watched. When Sanford police didn't arrest Zimmerman after the shooting, citing his self-defense claim, the case sparked protests in Sanford and across the globe. Zimmerman was later charged with second-degree murder by a special prosecutor. He faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged.

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(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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