Trayvon Martin

Prosecution Rests in George Zimmerman's Trial and Defense Begins

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Video via The Orlando Sentinel

The prosecution in George Zimmerman's murder trial rested its case today after presenting testimony from Trayvon Martin's relatives and the medical examiner who autopsied his body. Both Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and his older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, testified that they recognized the screams in the background of a 911 call as coming from Martin. The point is important because the screams can be heard right before the gunshot that ended Martin's life. If he was the one who was screaming, it would undermine Zimmerman's claim that he shot Martin to prevent his own death or serious injury. If Zimmerman was the one screaming, however, it would support his self-defense claim. Zimmerman says the screams are his, and his relatives say they recognize his voice on the recording. All of these people, of course, have strong motives either to lie or to convince themselves that they are telling the truth, so it is hard to choose between their conflicting accounts. Given the prosecution's burden of proof, the benefit of the doubt here goes to Zimmerman.

Medical examiner Shiping Bao testified that Martin, though doomed, could have lived for as long as 10 minutes after Zimmerman shot him in the chest. He said the autopsy indicated that the gun was not pressed against Martin when it was fired but was instead at an "intermediate distance" up to a few feet away. Neither point confirms or contradicts Zimmerman's description of the fight.

In short, today's testimony did not help the prosecution erase the doubts about Zimmerman's guilt that it has been working hard to create during the last two weeks. It is possible, though by no means certain, that the fight ending in Martin's death unfolded more or less as Zimmerman described it. The evidence presented by the state does not come close to establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting was unjustified, although I'd say there is a pretty good chance that it was.

After the prosecution rested, defense attorney Mark O'Mara moved for a judgment of acquittal, which requires the judge to conclude that the jury could not legally convict the defendant based on the evidence presented by the state, even when that evidence is construed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. O'Mara argued that the prosecution has failed to adequately rebut Zimmerman's self-defense claim and that it has fallen far short of proving second-degree murder, which requires showing that Zimmerman acted "from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent." His references to "fucking punks" and "these assholes" who "always get away" during his call to police are not enough to establish that element, O'Mara said, and even if Zimmerman overreacted in the heat of a fight and used deadly force when it was not justified, that would amount to manslaughter, not second-degree murder.

Rebutting O'Mara's argument, prosecutor Richard Mantei seemed to suggest that the act of shooting Martin through the heart, regardless of the motivation, was enough to demonstrate "ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent." It clearly was not a "benevolent" act, he said. Even if Judge Debra Nelson agrees that the prosecution has not made a case for second-degree murder, Mantei said, she should allow the trial to proceed on the lesser charge of manslaughter. He argued that Zimmerman had exaggerated the severity of the injuries he suffered during the fight with Martin and the threat that Martin posed to him.

Nelson rejected the motion for a judgment of acquittal, finding that the prosecution had presented enough evidence for the second-degree murder charge to be considered by the jury. So there will be a defense. Perhaps it will return the state's favor by helping to make the prosecution's case.

The first defense witness was Gladys Zimmerman, the defendant's mother, who identified the screaming voice on the 911 recording as her son's, just as confidently as Sybrina Fulton had identified it as her son's. The second witness was George Zimmerman's uncle (and Gladys Zimmerman's brother), Jorge Meza, who said he recognized "my nephew screaming for his life" the first time he heard the recording, when he happened to hear it playing on the news without at first knowing the context.