The prosecution in the George Zimmerman trial rested its case and the defense began putting on witnesses Friday – a day of testimony bookended by the appearance of two mothers on the witness stand.
As the state wound down its presentation, it called Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, to identify her son as the person screaming in the background of a 911 call made during his confrontation with Zimmerman.
Eight hours later, the defense called as its first witness Gladys Zimmerman, who told the court she was certain the screams came from her son. The defense case continues on Monday.
Prosecutors brought 38 witnesses to the stand during nine days of testimony. Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and contends that he shot Martin in self-defense after being attacked.
After the last state witness was done, the defense asked Judge Debra Nelson to issue a judgment of acquittal, arguing it was clear Zimmerman acted in self-defense and without the ill will needed to support a second-degree murder charge.
““It was a sad and tragic affair but Trayvon Martin did in fact cause his own death, and this man should not face a jury any longer than he has already,” lawyer Mark O’Mara said of Zimmerman.
Prosecutor Richard Mantei argued that there was enough direct and circumstantial evidence to show that Zimmerman acted maliciously and then concocted a self-defense story.
“There are two people involved here: one of them is dead and one of them is a liar,” Mantei said.
Nelson rejected the acquittal motion saying the state had presented “sufficient evidence” for the case to go to the jury, which chose to hear from the first defense witnesses instead of breaking early for the day.
The 911 call was played for Gladys Zimmerman, and O’Mara asked her who was screaming.
Gary W. Green / Pool via Getty Images
George Zimmerman's mother Gladys Zimmerman takes the stand during his trial in Seminole circuit court on July 5, in Sanford, Fla.
“My son, George,” she answered, later adding that she heard “anguish” and “fear” in his voice.
The call had also been played for Fulton in the morning.
“That screaming or yelling – do you recognize that?” prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked her.
“Travyon Benjamin Martin,” she said.
On cross-examination, O’Mara suggested that Fulton wanted to hear her son’s voice because if Zimmerman was screaming, “you would have to accept the probability that it was Trayvon Martin that caused his own death.”
“I heard my son screaming,” said Fulton, who said she first heard the recording during a family meeting inside Sanford City Hall in March 2012.
“You certainly would hope that your son Trayvon Martin did nothing that could have led to his own death?” O’Mara pressed her later.
“What I hope for is that this wouldn’t have never happened and that he would still be here,” Fulton replied, adding that she did not believe Martin was responsible for his death.
Her eldest son, Jahvaris Fulton, 22, also testified the “yelling and screaming” was Martin’s but confirmed under cross-examination that after he heard the tape for the first time he told a local TV reporter he wasn’t “completely positive.”
“I guess I didn’t want to believe that it was him so that’s why during that interview I said I wasn’t sure. I guess listening to it was clouded by shock and denial and sadness,” he said.
A police report shows that Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, heard it during an interview days after his son's death, before the City Hall meeting.
According to the report, Martin told lead investigator Chris Serino that the voice was not his son's. He did not testify on Friday morning.
The witness who was on the stand the longest Friday was the medical examiner who did the autopsy on Martin – who revealed that he had changed one of his findings just three weeks ago.
Under questioning by the prosecution, Dr. Shiping Bao said Martin may have lived for up to 10 minutes after being shot in the heart.
Gary W. Green / Orlando Sentinel pool via EPA
Volusia and Seminole County associate medical examiner Shiping Bao MD testifies during George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole Circuit Court in Sanford, Fla., on July 5.
“His heart was still beating. Every time his heart was beating, some of the blood would go from right ventricle to the pulmonary artery to the lung and supply his brain,” Dr. Shiping Bao said on the ninth day of testimony in the trial.
“I believe — it is my opinion — that he was still alive, he was still in pain, he was still in suffering,” he added, though the judge upheld an objection to that characterization.
Later, during a hearing outside the presence of the jury, Zimmerman lawyer Don West pointed out that Bao said during a November deposition that he thought Martin would have been alive just one to three minutes.
The doctor said he changed his opinion three weeks ago after his office handled the autopsy for a case “very similar to Trayvon Martin’s case.”
When the jurors were brought in, there were several sharp exchanges between West and Bao and at one point Judge Debra Nelson chided them.
Bao led the court through his autopsy report, testifying that the bullet was fired at an “intermediate range,” with the muzzle in “loose contact” with Martin’s clothing, and traveled a straight path from his chest to his back.
He also told the court there were three abrasions on Martin's left hand and testified that “this could have occurred two hours before he died, could have happened right after the shooting, on the way down to the ground, could have happened during the physical struggle.”
When the defense began cross-examining him, Bao said he could not remember anything about the autopsy and was relying on his notes, the report and photos. He went on to say that no one could remember something that happened almost two years earlier and began reading from his personal research into memory lapses.
Jacob Langston / AP
George Zimmerman, shown here with defense attorney Don West in court on July 3.
Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.
First published July 5 2013, 7:51 AM