Defense lawyers for George Zimmerman, charged with the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, rested their case on Wednesday, on a day when Zimmerman told the judge he did not want to testify on his own behalf.
"I think we have a very, very good chance with the jury," Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's defense attorney, said at a press conference after court ended on Wednesday evening.
Zimmerman, 29, says he was acting in self-defense when he shot Martin on a rainy night last year in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge against him, saying the 17-year-old attacked him when the two encountered each other on Feb. 26, 2012.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could face up to life in prison. Jury deliberations will begin on Friday afternoon, the judge presiding over the case said Wednesday.
It was a difficult decision for Zimmerman not to testify, O'Mara told reporters later.
"He's very worried. I mean, I think he's happy with the way the evidence got out and that he's finally had an opportunity to have his lawyers present his case for him. But, you know, we still have a case where the state of Florida is trying to put him behind bars for the rest of his life. That's a very scary position to be in," O'Mara said.
The defense rested after briefly hearing testimony from Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s father, and Olivia Bertalan, a resident at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community where Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer and where he and Martin had their fatal encounter.
Bertalan had been robbed while she was home with her young son by what she told the court were two teenagers about six months before Martin was killed. She said Zimmerman came over to her house and offered her a lock for her sliding glass door.
"We were terrified when this happened," she said. "He was just saying he wanted to make sure we were OK."
She added that Zimmerman said she could go spend time with his wife if she was too scared to be home alone during the day. Bertalan, who has since moved out of the Retreat at Twin Lakes, estimated she discussed the robbery about 20 times with Zimmerman after it occurred.
Robert Zimmerman, the defense's final witness, testified that on 911 calls from the night of the shooting, screams of “help” were “absolutely” his son George, despite conflicting opinions from others, including Martin's mom,that the yells could be from Martin. George Zimmerman’s mom, Gladys, testified the screams belonged to George Zimmerman, as did several other people.
Earlier Wednesday, Dennis Root, a former law enforcement officer, was called to the stand as the defense’s first witness of the day.
Root, who has instructed various police departments on the correct method of handcuffing and is an expert on the use of force, told the court he became involved in the case after calling defense attorney O’Mara.
“I thought I had a unique perspective,” he told the court.
Root said he evaluated witness statements for the defense team, spoke to Zimmerman once, and went to speak to a gym trainer who instructed Zimmerman in boxing and grappling. Root said the trainer, Adam Pollock, told him Zimmerman experienced weight loss from his time at the gym – but didn’t really gain skills in fighting.
“Mr. Zimmerman was described as being a very nice person, but not a fighter,” he said.
Asked by O'Mara to evaluate Zimmerman's physical abilities, Root said, "Mr. Zimmerman is an individual who is by no stretch of the imagination an athlete.” He added that Zimmerman would likely find himself “lacking” compared to Martin’s physical abilities.
Root was shown a foam mannequin and competing re-enactments of what may have happened the night Martin died by attorneys from each side, with both Assistant State Attorney John Guy and O'Mara straddling the dummy.
Guy pushed Root on why he went to the defense to assist in the case.
"Anybody that does their homework about me knows the fact that I'm dedicated to finding the truth and supporting the truth," Root said. He did acknowledge, when pressed by Guy, that he was being paid $175 per hour for testimony and travel and wait time.
The cross-examination also included some pointed questions about Root's visit to the crime scene.
"You actually went to the scene for the purpose of getting an idea of the lighting, right?" Guy asked.
"Yes sir," Root responded.
"But you didn't get an idea of the lighting, did you?"
"No, I failed to take into account the change in season, so it was still daylight, or dusk," Root said. Upon further questioning, he said he couldn't remember the exact date of his visit, and confirmed to Guy he did not go back on a second visit.
While still under direct examination, Root gave the court his opinion on the biggest worry with interviewing people who have been involved in shootings: memory issues.
“People, when they’re involved in a high-stress event, can have what they call critical-stress amnesia, or they can have temporary memory holes, I call them,” he said. “Sometimes it takes up to 72 hours before they truly get their full memory back about everything that took place. And for some, depending on the stress of the event, they may never remember everything that took place.”
He recommended delaying getting a police statement until 72 hours after a shooting has taken place to get the most accurate account.
Zimmerman was interviewed by police the night of the shooting, the following day, and then again on Feb. 29, 2012 – three days after the shooting.
Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.
First published July 10 2013, 7:33 AM