We covered the morning’s events with our mid-day update, available here at the link below. If you’ve already viewed it, be aware that I have just now added to that post the video recordings of the morning testimony, so if you are interested in seeing those, that’s the place to go:

Zimmerman Update Exclusive — Mid-Day 7 — Serino more ambivalent, Osterman supports self-defense

Video: George Zimmerman on Sean Hannity Show, FOX

The next “witness” after the lunch recess wasn’t a witness at all. Rather the State introduced into evidence a recoding of George Zimmerman’s appearance on the Sean Hannity show FOX. In it, Zimmerman engaged in a back and forth dialogue with Hannity about the events that night. Given the State’s later comments, it seems that the main, perhaps only, purpose for introducing this visit was to show the moment when Hannity asks Zimmerman if he was familiar with Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and Zimmerman answers in the negative.

A negative response does not ring true, if only because Zimmerman’s possession of a Florida Concealed Weapons License–which you can see here, in comparison to my own FL CWL –would have required him to take training that included coverage of Stand Your Ground and other Florida defensive-force laws. [CORRECTION (7/3/13):  I have been informed by commenters that in fact Florida's training regulations vis a vis obtaining a CWL do NOT require training in any particular Florida use-of-force statutes, including Florida's Stand Your Ground law.  It is thus possible that Zimmerman would not have received such training from his CWL instructor.  I suppose the only way to know would be to call the instructor to the witness stand. (I was personally not required to take any additional training for my Florida CWL, as I had other qualifications that were satisfactory to the State.)]  Florida’s Stand Your Ground law can be seen here: FL 776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm. Focus on section (3).

Of course, we have already heard and seen Zimmerman “testify” numerous times that he has a poor memory. In any case, Florida v. Zimmerman is not and never has been a Stand Your Ground case, as at the moment Zimmerman used deadly force in self defense there was no safe avenue of retreat, and therefore no duty to retreat even in a jurisdiction that requires retreat. (The duty to retreat is part of the 4th Principle of the Law of Self Defense, as discussed here.)

Valerie Rao, Medical Examiner, Jacksonville

After the video we were introduced to Medical Examiner Valerie Rao. Having previously obtained the Medical Examiner’s report and autopsy, something struck me as odd. That WAS the medical examiner’s name . . . wasn’t it? So I double checked. Wait a minute, the medical examienr who did the actual autopsy was Dr. Shiping Bao. Rao . . . Bao, close, but no cigar. Incidentally, if you’d like to see the actual autopsy report, you can find it here:

So, who was this Rao. It turns out she’s a medical examiner from the district that includes Jacksonville, which just happens to be the home city of this team of Prosecutors–including Angela Corey, Bernie de la Rionda, and the others–who was brought in at the Governor’s orders to displace the existing local team of prosecutors that had failed to bring a second degree murder charge against Zimmerman.

Still, just because the prosecutors were brought in from Jacksonville doesn’t mean the medical examiner needs to be. Indeed, the actual autopsy had been done months ago, within a day or two of the shooting, by the local Medical Examiner, Dr. Bao, presumably a perfectly competent forensic pathologist.

Was perhaps Dr. Rao, from Jacksonville even more competent than Dr. Bao?

A quick Google search disabused me of that notion. Indeed, not since the Frye hearing was an expert in the case perhaps as subject to questioning on such issues than Dr. Rao. Indeed, at her previous State appointment as medical examiner in a different part of the state, there were years of complaints about her unsanitary procedures, including such [STOP IF EATING DINNER] pleasantries as Dr. Rao washing her feet in the autopsy sink, using her bare hands during procedures, and even accusations of exposing doctors to deadly diseases. Ultimately she was removed from that position. To read the original news article, see:

Former employee speaks out about medical examiner

(NOTE: Unless the above facts are somehow introduced into evidence, the jury will not be aware of them, and even if aware will be instructed to not take that knowledge into consideration in evaluating Dr. Rao’s testimony.)

But Dr. Rao got a very lucky break, indeed, in the form of the favor of State Prosecutor Angela Corey, a powerful figure in State politics. Corey provided Dr. Rao with an interim appointment as Medical Examiner in Jacksonville, a position later changed to a permanent appointment by the Governor.

Then Corey’s prosecution team asked Dr. Rao to testify in Florida v. Zimmerman. She couldn’t very well re-do the long-ago completed autopsy, and indeed they focus wasn’t on Trayvon Martin at all. Instead, they asked her if she could express an opinion on the severity of the injuries suffered by George Zimmerman at the hands of Trayvon Martin on the night of February 26, 2012. She would be constrained, they cautioned her, by not actually having access to the patient himself, but would have to work from photographs and written medical reports from doctors that had examined Zimmerman.

As evidenced by her appearance as a State witness today, Dr. Rao was more than happy to help out.

Before we get into her testimony it is worth noting that the whole line of discussion is profoundly irrelevant to this case. The defense’s theory of the case is that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in lawful self-defense. In order for this defensive use of deadly force to have been justified, Zimmerman must have been in reasonable fear of death or grave bodily harm. He need NOT, however, have ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED death or grave bodily harm. Indeed, he need not have suffered so much as a scratch before he could use deadly force in self defense, so long as he reasonably perceived the force he was defending against as capable of causing death or grave bodily harm.

Despite this patent irrelevance under the law, Bernie de la Rionda and others of the prosecution have repeatedly challenged (their own) witnesses on the matter of the severity of Zimmerman’s injuries, almost as if a person is required by law to accept some minimal level of beating before they can act in self defense.

Strange.

The legalities of whether injury must be actually suffered to justify defensive force are covered in considerable detail, including reference to the relevant Florida statutes, here:

Zimmerman Update — How Much Injury Is Required Before Self-Defense is Justified?

In any case, on direct examination Dr. Rao was repeatedly asked if this or that particular injury were particularly series, and she repeatedly noted that the injuries were minor, insignificant, not life threatening. She testified that Zimmerman’s injuries were “consistent with” someone whose head suffered only three blows.

Valerie Rao, Jacksonville Medical Examiner, Jacksonville, Part 2

Valerie Rao, Jacksonville Medical Examiner, Jacksonville, Part 3

Valerie Rao, Jacksonville Medical Examiner, Jacksonville, Part 4

On cross, however, O’Mara quickly dug into the matter of her appointment, and it’s somewhat shady circumstances, noting in particular her appointment to the interim position by Corey, and her close working relationship with all the prosecutors on the team. He then challenged her on her claim of three blows, asking if it ws her position that Zimmerman may have experienced “only three impacts of his head on cement.”

“Concrete,” she corrected, adding that, “yes,” that was her position.

But, asked O’Mara, you don’t KNOW how often he was hit, you weren’t there? No, she agreed.

And then O’Mara once again began the bloody photo parade, asking her about each and every contusion, abrasion, and laceration on and about Zimmerman’s head and face. At various times she would simply refuse to acknowledge an apparent bruise or swelling, at which point O’Mara would point clearly at the area that other medical experts had already testified were injuries and say, “You’re sure, you don’t see anything right there, that spot?” Whether she held firm or began to prevaricate, the lesson for the jury was clear–this Doctor could not or would not see what every other witness with medical knowledge, even witnesses possessing mere common sense, had already identified as areas of injury. At one point she was arguing, as BDLR had done the day before, that some of what O’Mara was identifying as bruises and swelling were merely natural variations and bumps in Zimmerman’s head.

He then dug into her “consistency” statements. So, he asked, these injuries are consistent with a single blow? Absolutely, she replied. How about two blows? Yes. Even more blows? Yes. This line of cross continued through innumerable bloody photos, and each question and answer seemed to take another chunk out of Dr. Rao’s credibility.

He then asked her about Martin’s injuries, and she noted that he merely had to small injuries on his hands. Consistent with striking someone? Yes, she acknowledged.

O’Mara even asked her whether she understood that the extent of Zimmerman’s injuries had nothing to do with this case, a clever way to reinforce the jury’s existing knowledge of self-defense law that he had first established in his final voir dire.

When O’Mara finally relented and Prosecutor Guy came back on cross, the State once again fired up the “but his injuries weren’t life-threatening” line, and Dr. Rao agreed they were not.

This observer was struck by the observation that this was the first State witness, other than the seriously questionable testimony of Rachel Jeantel, whose testimony clearly favored the interests of the State (although even here those “interests”–advancing the idea that Zimmerman’s injuries were minor–is of little actual relevance to the issues in dispute).

College Transcripts, Course Records, Police Academy Application, and Ride-Along

After Dr. Rao was dismissed, there began an unexpected discussion (without the jury present) of some additional evidence that the State sought to admit to court. In particular, they wished to admit Zimmerman’s college transcripts and his course records, including textbooks, from his criminal justice studies at a local junior college. They also sought to admit his application to a police academy in Virginia (where Zimmerman had previously lived), as well as his application to do a police ride-along, as offered by many departments.

Hearing: Zimmerman’s College Records, etc., Part 2

Omara objected on grounds of relevancy. The State claimed that the records were relevant to prove that Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop” who decided to act like a sworn law enforcement officer that night, and that decision led to the confrontation that ended Martin’s life.

Both O’Mara and the Judge seemed unprepared for the issue, although gradually the Judge made a very compelling argument of the State’s position. No decision was immediately made, and the matter seems destined to be heard tomorrow morning at 8:30AM before the jury is brought in. At the close of discusson, however, she seemed favorably disposed to the State’s position.

One interesting component to this is that the self-defense law matters that the State seeks to get admitted under the guise of Zimmerman’s criminal justice studies would also have been covered in the training class that Zimmerman took for his Florida Concealed Weapons License (CWL). So why go the college records route?

One reason is that they are more recent. Another might be that the human being necessary to testify about the college records, Zimmerman’s then-Professor, may be perceived by the State as willing to testify in a manner favorable to them. That, of course, is speculation on my part. Time will tell.

On the issue of the application to the police department and for the ride-along, the defense has already largely gutted this avenue of attack by the prosecution by repeatedly soliciting from the professional law enforcement witnesses their pride in their honorable profession. If it was not bad to be a cop, how could it be bad to want to be a cop. In any case, Zimmerman had been offered the opportunity to become a kind of hybrid civilian/LEO, complete with a department issued patrol vehicle and a uniform of sorts, and had turned the opportunity down. This hardly seems likely to be a fruitful avenue for the State.

Kristine Benson, Latent Print Analysis

Next up was a fingerprint expert. She testified that a “print card” had been provided to her for identification. A print card is a means by which a fingerprint listed from an object can be preserved for later examination. She testified on direct that she was unable to match the print to anyone.

On cross O’Mara dug further into this, revealing the apparent purpose for the State to call her was to suggest that because Trayvon Martin’s fingerprints had not been found on the gun, that it undermined Zimmerman’s claims about Martin reaching for his gun.

First O’Mara explored with Benson the issue of whether an object could be touched and not leave a print, or if a print was left that print could be removed by any of a variety of environmental facts, such as rain. She acknowledged this to be the case.

So, he continued, the fact that a particular person’s print was NOT found on an object did not necessarily mean that they had not touched the object. Agreed. And it certainly did not mean that they had not reached for the object. Agreed, again.

There was no re-direct, and very quickly. Ms. Benson was back on her way.

End of Day

With that the Court essentially shut down a bit early for the day.

We do, however, expect to be back in session at 8:30AM tomorrow morning for a hearing, sans jury, regarding the school records and other evidence the State seeks to admit. Be sure to join us then!


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. UPDATE: July 5, 2013 is the LAST DAY to take advantage of the 30% pre-order discount, only $35, plus free shipping. To do so simply visit the Law of Self Defense blog.

BREAKING: ”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!

You can follow Andrew on Twitter on @LawSelfDefense (or @LawSelfDefense2 if I’m in Twitmo, follow both!)on Facebook, and at his blog, The Law of Self Defense.

 
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