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Skype pranksters interrupt Zimmerman witness testimony

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A professor's testimony via Skype in the George Zimmerman trial Wednesday was interrupted by a series of noisy call notifications and alerts from pranksters, leading Judge Debra Nelson to order the witness and the prosecutor questioning him to "hang up the phone."

Seminole State College professor Scott Pleasants was giving his testimony about a class taken by Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Soon after the testimony started, however, the video call was bombarded with almost non-stop incoming call attempts. Since the live video stream was shown on a screen in the courtroom, the jarring visual and audio interruptions blocked the screen and made it difficult to hear Pleasants' testimony.

"There's now a really good chance that we're being toyed with, just so you know," said Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O'Mara in court, as it became evident the interruptions were not going to stop.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei was using his Skype account so that the jury could see and hear testimony from Pleasants, who was unable to appear in person in the courtroom. Mantei's computer screen, showing his Skype user ID (in other words, his Skype "phone number"), was visible to the jury — and to anyone else watching the televised trial.

Almost immediately, calls started flooding in with Skype's other-worldly ring tones and noises. At first, Mantei asked Pleasants to repeat his answers, but it quickly became evident the calls were not going to stop as O’Mara was about to start his cross examination.

The judge then asked if there was another phone that could be used, a landline, one that didn't show "the popups of people calling." Mantei tried to explain that he was using a landline, but the judge didn't care. "Hang up the phone," she ordered.

"Yes, your honor," said Mantei, who then arranged for O'Mara's cross examination to happen via cellphone.

It's not known what Mantei's Skype settings were, but it's likely he did not have his privacy settings adjusted to avoid interference from strangers. To check your own Skype privacy, go to "Preferences" and have a look at the "Allow calls from" and "Receive calls to my Skype Number from" settings. That will determine who can find you — or not find you — especially when you're in court.

Skype privacy settings

Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.

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