The defense team of Mark O’Mara and Don West began their first full day of presenting their case to the jury today, although so far this morning it’s been nothing but O’Mara. Rumors are that the defense plans to call ~25 witnesses, and they moved through a handful of them swiftly this morning.
John Donnelly, Vietnam Combat Medic
The most powerful of these witnesses was arguable the last one to testify before lunch, John Donnelly. A pleasant older man, Donnelly was introduced to the jurors as a physician’s assistant. It also soon emerged, however that he was a close personal friend of Zimmerman’s, and indeed admired the younger man considerably.
The kicker, though, was when it was disclosed that John Donnelly had served as a combat medic during the Vietnam war. The importance of this historical piece of information was revealed as O’Mara progressed through his direct. Here, for the first time, was someone who could genuinely be said to possess personal expertise in being able to correlate a person’s normal speaking voice and their screams in extremis. And George Donnelly, firmly and without the slightest hesitation, identified George Zimmerman as the screamer.
When BDLR sought to impeach Donnelly on cross, he just dug himself a deeper hole. “Isn’t it true that you donated $2,500 to George Zimmerman’s legal defense fund?” asked BDLR “Yes, that plus another $500,” answered Donnelly. “And you also said on direct that you bought Mr. Zimmerman some suits?” “I wanted him to be able to dress with appropriate respect for the court,” Donnelly responded. The more BDLR sought to advance the impeachment of this witness, the more the quiet dignity of the war veteran became associated with George Zimmerman.
That was a theme throughout all of the morning’s witnesses. Each of them at a minimum identified the screamer in the Jenna Lauer 911 call as being George Zimmerman. They also accomplished something more subtle, as well. They associated their own quiet, modest, respectful and hard-working demeanor with George Zimmerman, creating a visceral impression of him that would have been impossible without him taking the stand (and which might not have survived what would certainly have been a vicious cross-examination).
Sandra Osterman, Family Friend, wife of Federal Air Marshall Mark Osterman
The first witness of the morning was Sondra Osterman, the wife of Federal LEO Mark Osterman. She described a very close friendship with both George and Shellie Zimmerman–indeed, she had married them. Throughout her testimony she referred to Zimmerman as Georgie, a nice humanizing touch. O’Mara played the Jenna Lauer 911 call for her and asked her to identify the screamer. “Definitely, it’s Georgie,” she testified.
BDLR sought to accomplish impeachment by questioning her about the book she and her husband had written about the events of February 26, 2012, a subject he was mysteriously permitted to pursue even though the subject of the book had never been raised by O’Mara on direct. He suggested that she had a “stake” in the outcome of the trial, because she and her husband were donating all the proceeds from sales of the book to the Zimmerman legal defense fund. How she had a “stake” when she was keeping none of the money was unclear to me.
BDLR then began what would be a cycle of expletive-laced questioning with every juror. He would play for them the non-emergency call Zimmerman made that evening, in which he refers to those “fucking punks,” and mutters that “these assholes always get away.” When recounting these phrases to each witness BDLR would fairly shout it out in the courtroom, although repetitive playing of the recording only reinforced that Zimmerman’s actual tone was one of resignation and frustration, not ill-will, spite, or hatred–the emotions BDLR wished to associate with the utterances.
BDLR’s typically sarcastic and petulant tone invariably emerged soon into his questioning of each witness. In the case of Sondra Osterman it was when he asked her, “Are you saying that George Zimmerman referring to “these assholes” means he wants to invite them out to dinner?” Sondra stood her ground, saying she didn’t believe Zimmerman sounded angry. That brought in this rather humiliating exchange for BDLR:
BDLR: “You don’t think he was angrey? But you weren’t there that night, right? You’re just speculating.”
SO: [laughs] “I guess we both are.”
On re-direct O’Mara took BDLR’s theory of the case down at the knees. He stepped through the recording almost sentence by sentence, asking after each one, “Does that sound like spite to you? Ill-will? Hatred?” Each time Sondra Osterman responded, “No.”
Mark Osterman, Federal Air Marshall
Next up was Sondra’s husband, Federal LEO Mark Osterman, who had previously been called as a State witness (one who, like many of the State’s witnesses, testified in a manner favorable to the defense).
Mark also identified the screamer as George Zimmerman, but the real value of his testimony centered on Zimmerman’s management of his sidearm. He affirmed such fundamentals as the need for a self-defense firearm to be loaded to capacity, including a round in the chamber and a topped off magazine, as well as the standard that a deadly-force attacker be engaged center-mass. Mark noted that every LEO job he’s ever had used those standards, and that his own wife had a CWL and that’s how he trained her, as well.
BDLR tried to trip him up on cross by re-launching the odd suggestion that the fact that Zimmerman had re-holstered his gun meant Zimmerman had lied when he’d said he was not aware that Martin had died of his wound–after all, BDLR argued, one would keep an attacker at gunpoint until they were deceased, right?
Osterman clarified that in fact one would keep an attacker at gunpoint only so long as they were a threat. Once they were prone on the ground, badly wounded and no longer a threat, it was appropriate to holster one’s sidearm and secure the individual or otherwise ensure safety.
Geri Russo, Co-Worker
Next up was a co-worker of Zimmerman’s, Geri Russo. Her role was simply to identify the screamer as George Zimmerman and she did this with quiet confidence. State prosecutor Guy conducted cross, but simply got nowhere in impeaching or undermining her testimony.
Finally, the last witness before John Donnelly was another colleague of Zimmerman’s, and elderly woman named Leanne Benjamin. She, too identified the screamer as George Zimmerman. Perhaps the most disturbing part of today’s testimony was having to listen to BDLR bark at this poor woman during his cross-examination of her, yet she never lost her balance, and stuck firmly to her identification.
Well, time to grab some lunch. Join us back at the live feed at 1:30PM here:
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% pre-order discount (valid only until the jury returns a verdict), only $40. NRA/IDPA members can also use coupon code LOSD2-NRA at check out for another 10% discount and free shipping.
“The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition” is now also being carried by Amazon.com, at list price but with a commitment for 2-day delivery. A Kindle version to come within a week or so (I hope).
Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for the invitation to guest-blog on the Zimmerman trial here on Legal Insurrection!