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.