Zimmerman Takes Stand, Survives

In a move that you rarely see outside an episode of Boston Legal, George Zimmerman waived his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination  and took the stand during his bail hearing this morning. 

Zimmerman’s goal was to make an apology to the family of Trayvon Martin, and the prosecutor naturally took the opportunity to try and trip him up. This is why you’re never supposed to open your mouth when you’re on trial – and it’s a frustrating vice of screenwriters that almost all TV lawyer shows turn on getting the accused on the stand, something that almost never happens in real life. Nevertheless, Zimmerman seems to have done fairly well. My transcription of the full testimony: 

Zimmerman: George Michael Zimmerman. I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not. 

Prosecutor: Sir, you are not really addressing that to the court. You’re doing that here to the victim’s family. Is that correct?

Zimmerman: They are here in the court, yes. 

Prosecutor: I understand. I thought you were going to address that to Your Honor, Judge Lester, not – that’s really addressed to the family and to where the media happens to be, correct, Mr. Zimmerman? 

Zimmerman: No, to the mother and the father. 

Prosecutor: And tell me. After you committed this crime and you spoke to the police, did you ever make that statement to the police? That you were sorry for what you’d done or for their loss?

Zimmerman: No, sir. 

Prosecutor: You never stated that, did you?

Zimmerman: I don’t remember what I said. I believe I did say that. 

Prosecutor: You told that to the police? 

In one of the statements I said that I felt sorry for the family. 

Prosecutor: You did?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: So that would be recorded, because all these conversations were recorded. Right? 

Zimmerman: Yes, sir. 

Prosecutor: And you’re sure you said that?

Zimmerman: I’m fairly certain.

Prosecutor: OK. And which officers did you tell that to?

Zimmerman: Uh…

Prosecutor: I think you made five statements, I believe. 

Zimmerman: Yes sir, I’m sorry. All the names blend together. 

Prosecutor: OK. And do you remember if there was a male or female?

Zimmerman: There were both male and female. 

Prosecutor: At the time you made that statement that you were sorry?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: And let me make sure the record’s clear. You stated exactly what to those detectives?

Zimmerman: I don’t remember exactly what, verbatim.

Prosecutor: But you’re saying you expressed concern for the loss of Mr. Martin, or that you had shot Mr. Martin, that you actually felt sorry for him? 

Zimmerman: I felt sorry that they lost their child, yes.

Prosecutor: So you told the detectives that you wanted them to convey that to the parents? 

Zimmerman: I don’t if they were detectives or not.

Prosecutor: Officers, I apologize.

Zimmerman: I didn’t know if they were going to convey it or not. I just made the statement.

Prosecutor: OK. And then you said that you called them up and you left a message for them to tell them that?

Zimmerman: No, sir.

Prosecutor: Why did you wait fifty-some days to tell them, that is, the parents?

Zimmerman: I don’t understand the question.

Prosecutor: Why did you wait so long to tell Mr. Martin and the victim’s mother, the father and mother – why did you wait so long to tell them?

Zimmerman: I was told not to communicate with them.

Prosecutor: So even through your attorney you didn’t ask to do it right away? Your former attorneys.

Zimmerman: I did ask them to express that to them. And they said they were going to.

Prosecutor: But before you committed this crime on February 26. You were arrested. I’m sorry, not arrested – you were questioned, right, February 26? 

Zimmerman: The evening to the 27th. 

Prosecutor: Is that correct?

Zimmerman: Yes sir.

Prosecutor: And the following morning, and the following evening too?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: Would it be fair to say you were questioned about four or five times? 

Zimmerman: I remember giving three statements, yes sir.

Prosecutor: And isn’t it true that when you gave some of those statements when you were confronted about your inconsistencies, you started saying “I don’t remember?”

Defense: Outside the scope of direct examination. I would object, your honor.

Judge: Give a little bit of leeway. Not a whole lot, but a little bit.

Prosecutor: Isn’t it true that when you were questioned about the contradictions in your statements, that the police didn’t believe you, you would say “I don’t remember.” 

Judge: Gonna grant the motion at this time.

Defense: Thank you, your honor. 

Prosecutor: would you agree that you changed your story as it went along?

Zimmerman: Absolutely not.

Prosecutor: OK. Sir, you had a phone at some point and you agreed to turn over that to the police so they could make a copy of what was in there, right?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir. 

Prosecutor: And in that phone did you receive or send text messages, sir?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir. 

Prosecutor: Did you ever make any reference to a reverend?

Defense: Object, your honor, outside the scope of – 

Judge: Sustained. 

Prosecutor: Did you ever make any reference to Mr. Martin, the father of Mr., of the victim – 

Judge: Sustained. You’re getting a little far away.

Prosecutor: I apologize. Your honor, my question was: He was asked in terms of apologies to the family, and I’d like to be able to address that if I could. 

Judge: I think you could classify that as whether or not he asked the apology. I don’t want to get into other areas. 

Prosecutor: Yes, sir. My question is, Mr. Zimmerman, do you recall sending a message to someone, an email, referring to the victim’s father? 

Zimmerman: No, sir. I don’t. 

Question for legal eagles: Is there something different about a bail hearing that makes it safer for the accused to take the stand? I thought the idea of remaining silent was to avoid giving the other side the kind of openings the prosecutor tried to exploit here — apparently without success, though it may turn out Zimmerman's testimony here contradicts his earlier statements to the cops. 

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  • Mr. FIFY||

    But... but... he shot Trayvon like a dog, in cold blood, and... and... Zimmerman's a racist.

    MSNBC said so.

  • gaucho||

    This blog's own Sugarfree was very stubborn and arrogant and politically correct on that point initially too.

  • tarran||

    The prosecutor is trying to establish that Zimmerman is an unreliable witness in the hope that the jury will disbelieve what he said and conclude that he was lying about shooting in self-defense.

    He's also trying to scare Zimmerman into accepting a plea deal. I've testified under oath in two pretrial hearings and it's fucking terrifying since the pressure causes one to start doubting one's memory. If the prosecutor rattles Zimmerman, he can avoid the real risk of Zimmerman walking in a trial due to the prosecution's poor case.

  • Formerly Almanian||

    My line of work involves making a lot of statements at depositions, and it CAN be somewhat nerve wrakcing.

    However, I've always managed to do OK by remembering two things:

    1) Only say what I know happened for sure (cause I did it, saw it, read it - etc - myself). Only tell the truth, and only what I know FOR SURE.

    2) If I don't know or don't remember, I say, "I don't know" or "I don't recall". That's it. Then it's the "prosecutor" who starts getting frustrated :)

  • R C Dean||

    This is the advice I give my clients before they testify (strictly in civil depos):

    (1) Listen to the question.

    (2) Answer the question that was asked, not the question you wish was asked, or you think they meant to ask.

    (3) Shut up.

    (4) Oh, and don't lie.

    Most people get in trouble in depos because they start jabbering.

    I was put on the stand once. I thought the bailiff was going to have to pull the attorney off of me, he got so pissed. Highlight:

    Q: Mr. Dean, are you accusing me of acting in bad faith?

    A: No, I'm accusing your client of acting in bad faith.

  • plu1959||

    Most people get in trouble in depos because they start jabbering.

    ^This.

  • TELLMOFF||

    1.Yes
    2.No
    3.I don't know
    4.THEN SHUT UP

  • ||

    I love it when attorneys argue.

    Some of the best blood sport that is still legal to view.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I've only testified once -- in an attempted capital murder case -- and it was pretty much the same.

    1. Answer the specific question.
    2. Stop talking when you've answered the question.
    3. If you don't know or don't remember, say so.

  • TELLMOFF||

    RC Dean, lawyers are responsible for the dishonesty during discovery. They make up the interrogatory answers. You should recognize the genesis of bad faith- I call it perjury.

  • Formerly Almanian||

    I'd never be able to retain my cool responding to such dickish questions, ESPECIALLY if I were innocent.

    Which is why the Almanian should not be on the stand if the Almanian is ever accused of committing a crime and has to go to court.

    Jesus - what a fucking asshole.

  • Bingo||

    No more. Please god, this story stopped being interesting the moment it became a football for the TEAMs.

  • ||

    There is going to be so much more, dude. SO MUCH. The only thing we can do is try and tune it out.

    Imagine a world without TEAMs, Bingo. It's easy if you tr...wait, no it isn't, and fuck you Yoko for doing that to John.

  • juris imprudent||

    ...and fuck you Yoko for doing that to John.

    I have a friend who swears he is going to write a short-story, alternate history where Chapman kills Yoko and John kills Chapman - and then goes back to making brilliant music.

  • Joe R.||

    "Happiness really is a warm gun!"

  • Jerryskids||

    I have started watching TMZ to get away from this crap. Did you see what Lady Gaga was wearing to that awards show the other night? I swear, he looked as bad as that witch Kim Kardashian on Dancing With The Stars. And don't even get me started on those two on Celebrity Apprentice, honey.

    Wake me up when either Zimmerman or Martin appear on Survivor: Miami.

  • gaucho||

    That would be difficult for Martin.

  • plu1959||

    Question for legal eagles: Is there something different about a bail hearing that makes it safer for the accused to take the stand?

    Bail hearings should be relatively narrow in scope, so there's less risk *(though still a risk). Zimmerman's lawyer seems to have a lot of confidence in him, which seems to have been borne out by today's performance.

  • TELLMOFF||

    Today's performance was foolish. Why should Zimmerman be sorry about killing a doped-up gang-banger who broke his nose and tried to shoot him with his own gun?

    One more thing, where is the drug autopsy on the cranked-up attacker? This case is rigged.

  • PapayaSF||

    Maybe you are trolling, but the autopsy is a good question. It may just be a coincidence, but when they were talking about Martin going out for "Skittles" and "tea" I couldn't help note that both terms are drug slang.

  • tarran||

    Is there something different about a bail hearing that makes it safer for the accused to take the stand?

    It's not that it's safer: in a he-said she-said type situation, it significantly improves your chances of not going to trial at all.

    Take the case I was testifying in: within 30 seconds of the accuser taking the stand, it became clear that she was lying and the defendant hadn't attacked her. You could drive an aircraft carrier through the holes in her story.

    When the defendant took the stand and gave clear, firm answers that were consistent, it convinced the judge to rely more on his testimony than his accuser's testimony, and he ruled in favor of the defense motion to dismiss the charges.

  • ||

    Prosecutor: And tell me. After you committed this crime and you spoke to the police...

    Doesn't it only count as a crime if he was not justified in his shooting, which was the topic of the hearing? Seems to be a loaded question to me.

  • Brutus||

    It begs the question.

  • TELLMOFF||

    This is an argument, not a question. It requires an objection by counsel.

  • Paul.||

    Whoa whoa, I caught the same thing. Where was the objection? The trial is where we establish if there's been a crime or not...

  • db||

    I wondered why zimmerman's counsel didn't object to that.

  • ||

    I wish that Zimmerman himself would have objected.

    "But before you committed this crime on February 26---"

    "I'm sorry, I wasn't aware it has been established that I committed a crime."

  • heartburn||

    My instinctive response to that question was, "Why do you beat your wife?"

  • ||

    Is there something different about a bail hearing that makes it safer for the accused to take the stand?

    No, anything you say in open court is on the record and can be used against you by the prosecution. The safest thing to do is to shut up and not talk to the cops or court officers, at all, until the prosecution has rested their case.

    That being said, when you have a political case like this, it might be a risky but necessary gambit to try to make the defendant look sympathetic to potential jurors by giving an apology.

    The defense lawyer seems incompetent, IMO -- he did not object when the prosecution asked this loaded question where he was trying to get the defendant to essentially stipulate that he committed a crime: "Prosecutor: And tell me. After you committed this crime and you spoke to the police"

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yes, but that's weak for claiming it's an admission. Frankly, that wasn't a good examination.

  • ||

    Still, right after that question was asked, the defendant should have looked at his lawyer, and waited for the objection to be offered, and if the objection was not forthcoming, say something like this, "Your honor, may I have a moment to consult with my attorney about how that question was phrased?"

  • Pro Libertate||

    You'd think, but this comes across as Zimmerman telling the truth and the prosecutor trying to twist it all up and play games. The judge won't be impressed. Sometimes, knowing when not to object is a skill, too.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I have a relative who is an experienced trial lawyer and he says the same thing. He doesn't object to every little thing, as long as he's happy with where the testimony is going.

  • tarran||

    Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    That is exactly what he said! lol

  • db||

    I can see the wisdom in that. I would be livid if subjected to that question, however.

  • LarryA||

    Bingo. "I didn't commit a crime!" isn't very apologetic.

    OTOH "After you committed this crime..." sounds lawyer-tricky.

  • TELLMOFF||

    A bail hearing has nothing to do with contrition or evidence. The magnitude of the crime and probability of the defendant showing up for trial is all that matters.

  • ||

    That being said, when you have a political case like this, it might be a risky but necessary gambit to try to make the defendant look sympathetic to potential jurors by giving an apology.

    Or he really did want to make an apology to the fam.

    catholic Hispanic man who volunteered for the neighborhood watch..

    It fits the MO.

    Now if I was giving an apology for killing a man while he was trying to kill me...yeah feel free to lay on the cynicism.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Prosecution sounds a little weak already to me. If Zimmerman is telling the truth and comes across as credible, they're dead, as they've already probably aimed beyond what they can prove.

  • plu1959||

    I'm beginning to think that Zimmerman may be one of the lucky few who don't get their nuts in a ringer by being open and guileless with the system.

  • R C Dean||

    If Zimmerman is telling the truth and comes across as credible, they're dead, as they've already probably aimed beyond what they can prove.

    This is a trial. Arriving at the truth would be a happy accident.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Oh, yes, I agree--good catch. I just meant that if he's telling the truth he's less likely to stumble.

  • LA Liberty||

    Where's his attorney yelling "objection" every time the prosecutor says "you committed this crime"?

  • plu1959||

    It's a risk/reward calculation. I suspect Zimm's lawyer was thinking that it's better to let his boy be seen as a straight-up guy while the prosecutor grandstands, as opposed to objecting repeatedly and giving the impression (to the teevee) that they're dicks & have something to hide.

  • TELLMOFF||

    How his boy is seen is not important. This is not a trial. Public relations is best handled at a news conference.

  • Proprietist||

    This was my big question also. And Zimmerman didn't clarify that he didn't commit a crime each time as he should have, not that the questions were phrased in a way to make that easy. Technically he agreed that he committed the crime, but it does look to a third party observer like this was a prosecutor trying to trip him into a confession.

  • Dan Bongard||

    Lawyers usually prefer for their clients not to take the stand because their clients are usually guilty, and thus have to be able to convincingly lie.

    Zimmerman has the advantage of being innocent of the actual charges against him. That gives him the advantage of being able to answer truthfully.

  • Douglas Fletcher||

    Sounded to me like the prosecutor was off balance the whole time.

  • ||

    To be clear.

    If someone is bashing my head on the asphalt and I am armed and able I will shoot them.

  • NL_||

    Wouldn't say I'm a legal eagle, but I think the trick here is that Zimmerman admits he shot Martin so there's less to give away. Or maybe that's the theory, at least.

    Testifying still seems risky to me, but the main facts are already out so I guess this is an attempt to humanize Zimmerman. Until now, the main thing most people knew of him was an overweight guy in an orange shirt who said "fucking [garbled]" to the 911 operator.

  • Paul.||

    This scenario is specifically addressed in the required viewing of: Don't talk to the cops.

  • Sean Mack||

    What that exchanged proved to me: people who serve the state as prosecutors are indeed the most repulsive d-bags in the known universe.

  • Paul.||

    Meh, it's an adversarial system.

    The idea is that in the perfect world, the prosecutor isn't supposed to bring a case to trial that they don't already believe is winnable.

    So yeah, if you're fuzzy on the guy's guilt.. the prosecutor's going to look like a douchbag.

    If you're a family member of someone who was murdered and you're staring at the defense attorney during cross, he's going to look like the doucher.

  • Sean Mack||

    Right you are. It's an adversarial system where one of the adversaries is served exclusively by an army of total dicks.

  • shamalam||

    Yeah, but the prosecutor's first concern is supposed to be justice (quaint, I know). If the prosecutor does not believe that a defendant is guilty no charge should be leveled in the first place.

    See the affidavit of probable cause. Alan dershowitz said, "a good judge will dismiss the charge (murder 2) here".

  • Cyto||

    He's got potential as a comedian. With celebrities and politico's coming within a hair's breadth of issuing death threats in this case, it will be shocking if anyone short of the jury sticks their neck out for Zimmerman.

    And maybe not the jury, depending on who they pick. You'd have to be pretty principled or pretty disconnected to live in the Orlando area and not have formed an opinion one way or the other.

  • GILMORE||

    "Your comment contains a word that is too long (50 characters)"

    No, it didn't, "Reason Filter". #!@($@ you and your digital incompetence!

  • CE||

    Are prosecutors always allowed to say "when you committed this crime" in their questions to people who plead not guilty?

  • West Texas||

    Reads to me like they're trying to set him up for perjury. So if he gets something wrong here, hey - at least he's still in jail, amiright?

    And the "when you committed this crime" nonsense seems kind of like badgering or slandering. I guess the prosecutor can say that stuff because he's supposed to be biased.

  • Alice Bowie||

    !!! FREE George ZIMMERMAN !!!

    Yea yea yea, they arrested good-ole boy George. But now that he's out on bail, the defense is going to dance, sing, and cha-cha this case to the sun-set.

    I'll tell you know, if George Zimmerman was black and the SAME THING happened and Travon Martin was dead, George Zimmerman would be in JAIL awaiting trial for murder with NO BAIL. And this is the ONLY PART OF THIS Case where RACISM is involved. George was not out on the classic n-gger lynching exercise.

    The way SYG is written in Florida, George Zimmerman is INNOCENT.

    The spirit of the SYG law is to immune the killer from prosecution when an individual (not Black) kills another (not black or member of law enforcement) and there's no physical evidence, videos, or witness to dis-prove the shooter's self defense claim.

    !!! FREE George ZIMMERMAN !!!

  • Azathoth!!||

    SYG doesn't apply. This is simple self defense.

    Thank you for playing. Please pick up your consolation prize on your way out.

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