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Defense in George Zimmerman murder trial prepares to finish case

July 10, 2013|By Michael Muskal

George Zimmerman's defense expects to finish its case as soon as Wednesday, meaning the Florida jury could begin deliberating before the weekend over the slaying that sparked civil rights demonstrations across the nation. 

But first, Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson will rule on whether to admit a defense animation that depicts Zimmerman's version of events, as well as texts from Trayvon Martin's cellphone that the defense contends shows his interest in fighting.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin, 17, an unarmed African American, during a confrontation on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman maintains he acted in self-defense when Martin attacked him in the gated community that the teen was visiting. The prosecution contends that Zimmerman, who identifies as Latino, racially profiled Martin, followed him and killed him during an altercation. 

Attorney Mark O’Mara told the judge he needed one more day to finish presenting the defense. Zimmerman has not testified and it is unclear whether he will take the stand, which would subject him to cross-examination.

The jury of six women has heard Zimmerman’s voice, however, since the neighborhood watch volunteer was interviewed by police and took authorities on a tour of the scene. That tour was recorded on video.

All of the recordings were played for the jury, and statements Zimmerman made to police have been admitted into evidence.

But his statements have a series of inconsistencies that the prosecution has exploited. For example, Zimmerman at one point told authorities that he was beaten dozens of times, which the prosecution has maintained isn’t possible given the relatively light nature of the wounds. Zimmerman had a bloody nose and two lacerations to the back of his head.

Most of Tuesday was taken up with questions for a defense forensic pathologist who testified that the medical evidence was consistent with Zimmerman’s version of events. Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a recognized expert in forensics who has testified in numerous forums including the Phil Spector murder trial in Los Angeles, said the medical evidence was consistent with the statement Zimmerman gave police during the recorded video tour.  

Zimmerman said Martin was on top of him and beating him when Zimmerman drew his weapon with his right hand and fired. Di Maio testified that gun powder residue on Martin showed that the teenager was 2 to 4 inches from the weapon, which supported Zimmerman's version of events.

But prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda scored points as well. Under cross-examination, Di Maio conceded that the gunshot could also be consistent with Martin pulling away from Zimmerman, which the jury might see as an argument against self-defense.

In a series of rapid-fire questions, De la Rionda also got Di Maio to admit that the pathologist’s analysis was limited in scope and only dealt with the fatal gunshot.

“You’re not saying who attacked who,” De la Rionda asked Di Maio.

“No.”

“You can’t testify who threw the first punch,” the prosecutor pressed.

“No.”

“You can’t testify if there was a first punch,” he went on.

“No,” Di Maio agreed.

Late Tuesday, after jurors had been sent home, defense attorney Don West called a cellphone expert to testify, asking the judge to admit evidence from Martin's phone that showed he was a competitive fighter and wanted to buy or sell a handgun.

The judge also listened to more than four hours of testimony about whether to allow into evidence the defense animation about the fight that shows Martin on top, as Zimmerman contends. The prosecution objects, saying the animation is not accurate. 

She said she would rule on both issues Wednesday, adjourned court after 10 p.m. and walked out as West continued to protest the possible exclusion of the texts.

The Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report. 

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