The defense team continued on what is expected to be the last day of their presentation of their case. The day began and ended with a bang. This morning Judge Nelson denied the defense’s request to introduce their animated movie as evidence, although they will be permitted to use it for demonstrative purposes during closing. Professor Jacobson covered this breaking news this morning here:
Then at the end of Court today the defense rested their case, and it was agreed that the State would present its closing argument tomorrow at 1PM, the defense would present their closing argument on Friday morning, followed by a State rebuttal. After that the jury should be instructed, and deliberations begun.
Judge Debra Nelson, Presiding, Florida v. Zimmerman
After Judge Nelson’s rulings, the defense called their first, and perhaps only, witness of the day, use of force expert Dennis Root. The video of Mr. Root’s testimony follows below that of Judge Nelson, below.
Dennis Root, Use of Force Expert Witness
Defense witness Dennis Root is a use of force expert, whose credentials alone took close to an hour to draw out. The defense then stepped Root through a couple of hours of various use of force hypotheticals. Mr. Guy handled cross examination for the State. As has become a pattern in this trial, the defense witness’ testimony was utterly consistent with George Zimmerman’s narrative of self-defense. In particular, O’Mara on direct extracted from Root his belief that the expletives spoken by Zimmerman do not indicate ill-will, hatred, or spite, but rather simple frustration.
Also familiar, the State on cross seemed, if anything, to be increasing the possible number of ways in which events might have unfolded that night, seeming to increase rather than decrease the degree of reasonable doubt. Indeed, at one point a life-sized dummy was brought into the court room and Guy began to act out the various ways in which the fight might have unfolded. If anything, it seems it must have reinforced how vulnerable Zimmerman would have been with Martin raining down blows from above. Indeed, it was as if for the fourth time or so the State was presenting to the jury George Zimmerman’s narrative of self defense.
Another familiar trend was the State’s tendency to ask questions to which they obviously didn’t know the answers, and getting blown up as a result. For example, Guy sought to have Root state that the likely screamer could have been Trayvon Martin, if Zimmerman were pointing a gun at him. Putting aside the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support such a scenario, the question blew up in guy’s face when Root instead indicated that if he were in Trayvon Martin’s position, beating Zimmerman, and he saw Zimmerman’s gun, his most likely move would be to go for the gun–exactly as Zimmerman says Martin actually did.
On re-cross, O’Mara took full use of the availability of the dummy to do yet another re-enactment of the fight, in a manner most favorable to the defense.
After the lunch recess O’Mara continued with re-direct. He asked Root about his perception of the expletives used by Zimmerman, and Root indicated that to him the remarks reflected frustration, perhaps, but not hate, anger, spite, ill-will. O’Mara cleverly had Root call upon his extensive law enforcement background to compare how Zimmerman sounded saying those words with how genuinely angry people sounded.
Then on re-cross, State prosecutor Guy simply imploded, as the State has so often. Guy asked whether it wasn’t true that GZ had other options, besides using his gun. Root answered, “No, given the totality of the circumstances, I don’t believe Zimmerman had any other option.” It was almost as if the State had never deposed Root before, had simply never met this witness before his testimony in the courtroom.
On re-re-direct, O’Mara explored issues around the use of force continuum. At one point Root noted that if faced with an aggressor, one should try to get away, if you can–a nice affirmation of the #1 rule in “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition.”
Finally Guy was back on cross, and flailing even worse, if that’s imaginable. He challenged Root that he had never testified on behalf of a criminal defendant. “No, I have, twice, it’s in my CV,” answered Root. He challenged Root that the force continuum described was limited in its application to law enforcement. No, Root observed, it’s a simple conceptual model that’s effectively integrated in Florida’s self-defense statutes.
Then Guy challenged Root on whether he could identify the exact moment at which Zimmerman had been struck in the nose. “It’s hard to say,” answered Root, “he was hit a bunch of times.”
Olivia Bertalan, former Twin Lakes resident
The next defense witness was Olivia Bertalan, a former resident of Twin Lakes. On direct by O’Mara she recounted an absolutely horrific story of a home invasion, in which two black men in their late teens broke into her home and began ransacking it. She and her 9-month-old son ran up to his bedroom, locked the door, and huddled in a corner. The 911 dispatcher told her to grab any weapon she could and be ready to use it–the best weapon at hand was a rusty pair of scissors. Moments later one of the intruders was rattling the doorknob on the bedroom door.
Just listening to it was horrifying, but it got worse.
Some time later one of the invaders was identified and arrested. He was, however, a minor and was released from arrest on that basis. And, unimaginably, he himself was a resident of Twin Lakes, living in the neighborhood only a short distance from Bertalan’s own home.
It was very plain that this was still a deeply traumatized woman, even now almost 18 months after the invasion.
O’Mara then asked her about her interactions with Zimmerman in the aftermath of these events. Bertalan responded that they were terrified, and just so appreciative of George’s offers to help them, to make sure that they were OK. He even arranged for Bertalan to spend some time with his wife Shellie, as she was too frightened to stay at home alone.
The testimony of Bertalan was reminiscent of the compelling testimony of Elouise Dilligard the day before, also a Zimmerman neighbor. The Zimmerman these people described, this kind, caring neighbor, could not be further from the evil, seething, racist murdered of young black boys that the State continues to try to sell to the jury.
Robert Zimmerman, Sr., George Zimmerman’s father
Next called for a brief appearance was Robert Zimmerman, Sr., George Zimmerman’s father. He appeared, it seems, solely to identify the screaming on the Jenna Lauer 911 recording as the voice of his son, and there was no meaningful cross-examination.
In typically classy fashion, the State prosecutors noted to the Court that the witness was still subject to recall–meaning that he would still not be able to be present in court to support his son.
George Zimmerman, Defendant–Decides Not to Testify
In a brief exchange with the Court, George Zimmerman indicated his decision to not testify on his own behalf in this case.
Defense Makes Oral Motion For Acquittal–Denied by Judge Nelson
At this point the defense rested its case, and O’Mara made another motion for acquittal. Essentially he argued that as little basis existed for continuing the trial at the end of the state’s case was now even further reduced to the point that an acquittal was the only reasonably outcome. H explicitly asked that the State be required to “identify their factual scenario, their theory of the case, anything, articulating in some way Zimmerman’s guilt.”
Judge Nelson did not take him up on this offer, and instead ruled that there existed substantial evidence both direct and circumstantial to allow the second degree murder charge to go to the jury.
State Rebuttal: Adam Pollack, Gym Owner
I’m running of of destructive descriptives to characterize the State’s case, but almost unimaginably it sunk even lower. They notified the Court that they intended to call three rebuttal witnesses. The first to appear was Adam Pollack, the owner of the gym where Zimmerman had gone to exercise. The first question posed to him–are you using Zimmerman’s exercise program at your gym for promotional purposes–was immediately objected to by O’Mara. The basis was both that it was beyond the scope of rebuttal, as well as that it was an improper effort by the State to impeach. Ultimately, Pollack was released by the court without testifying.
After a brief huddle the State told the court that their second rebuttal witness would not be brought to the stand after all–presumably they had intended to use this witness for equally impermissible reasons.
Their third rebuttal witness, they said, might be available the next day, they weren’t sure. It turned out this witness was to be one of the ATF agents that George Zimmerman had been arrested for battering some 8 years prior. The State sought to introduce that testimony to counter the defense’s testimony of Zimmerman’s peaceful character.
O’Mara pointed out that the circumstances of the even, as well as being 8 years prior, were such that the charges were immediately reduced to a misdemeanor and Zimmerman placed in a diversion program which Zimmerman completed and the charges were completely dismissed. In nay case, it was prior bad act evidence, inadmissible in this case. Plus, O’Mara cautioned, if the State called this one witness to testify that Zimmerman was violent, he would bring more than 30 counter witnesses to testify to Zimmerman’s peaceful character.
Whether this witness will be called remains uncertain, at this point.
John Donnelly, Other Alleged Violations of Sequestration
At this writing, the Court was hearing arguments about whether there was a violation of the witness sequestration rules by John Donnelly, the Vietnam combat medic. Donnelly was present on days 2 and day 3 until the morning break. This is the testimony he was exposed to in that course. He did here from Wendy Doraval. He also heard Donald O’Brien, and he also had a chance to listen to Ms. Bahador. Sergeant Raimondo, and Diane Smith, but neither had anything to do with the scream. The second day he was here for Sudyka’s testimony, but she did not speak to the 911 recording.
Ultimately, Judge Nelson denied the State’s request the Donnelly’s testimony be stricken from the record.
Moving Forward: State to Close Tomorrow, Defense to Close Friday, State Rebuttal
It appears that the closing schedule will involve the State presenting their closing arguments tomorrow at 1PM. The defense will then present their closing arguments on Friday morning, after which the State will have a rebuttal closing.
Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense,” now available in its just released 2nd Edition, which shows you how to successfully fight the 20-to-life legal battle everyone faces after defending themselves. Take advantage of the 20% “Zimmerman trial” discount & free shipping (ends when the jury returns a verdict). NRA & IDPA members can also use checkout coupon LOSD2-NRA for an additional 10% off. To do so simply visit the Law of Self Defense blog. (Coupon works ONLY at www.lawofselfdefense.com.)
Note also that “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition” is also available at Amazon.com. They set their own price, and it can very each day, so you might want to check there to see if they are offering the best deal today.
Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for the invitation to guest-blog on the Zimmerman trial here on Legal Insurrection!