Today seemed to begin with a rare and much needed “win” for the State prosecutors. Unfortunately, what followed was a relentless unraveling of that win into a snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory. First, however, we should start with what little good news the State received today.
Court Rules Zimmerman College, Police Evidence Admissible
This morning the parties appeared before Judge Nelson at 8:30AM, thirty minutes before the scheduled start for the jury. The reason was to hold a hearing on whether the State should be permitted to admit into evidence Zimmerman’s records of is criminal justice studies, as well as his rejected application to the Prince William VA police academy, and his application to the Sanford Police Department for a ride-along, a service provided by many departments across the country.
The reason for the submission of this evidence was rather apparently so that the State could argue that Zimmerman had learned the “trade craft” of the police and prosecutors so that he could “game” the legal investigation following his shooting of Trayvon Martin. The police-related records were to serve the purpose of again seeking to make Zimmerman out to be a reckless “wannabe” cop whose over-aggressiveness led to the death of Martin.
Surprisingly, the State seemed far better prepared for this hearing than did O’Mara, who requested a couple of hour continuance so he could research the case law presented by the state. This continuance was denied by Judge Nelson, who told the defense that they’d had all night to research the case law and she was not going to hold up waiting witnesses. This was at least the third continuance made by the defense (I would argue reasonably made) that Judge Nelson has denied.
After hearing detailed case law arguments from Mantei, and a rather wishy-washy counter by O’Mara, Judge Nelson allowed all the evidence into the record, with the exception of some modest redactions. It seemed like an utter loss by the defense, and one couldn’t help but wonder why O’Mara had not fought back with his customary vigor.
Events were to reveal that he may never have truly intended to do so. Indeed, it very much appears now as if O’Mara had successfully convinced the State to toss him into the briar patch.
As a result of the Court’s ruling to allow in the State’s evidence, however, it was necessary to step through a number of administrative witnesses who could attest to the authenticity of the documents. The defense scored minor but valuable points on cross-examination of most of these, but the overall import of their testimony was not substantial enough to warrant in-depth discussion here. These “administrative” witnesses were:
Sonja Boles Melvin, Registrar, Seminole State College
Ms. Boles’ attest to the authenticity of Zimmerman’s college records.
Lieutenant Scott Kearns, Prince William County Police Department, VA
Lt. Kearns testified to authenticate that Zimmerman had applied to and not been accepted at the academy.
Mr. Arzenski, Administrative Services Manager, Sanford Police Department
Mr. Arzenski appeared briefly to authenticate Zimmerman’s application for a ride-along with Sanford PD.
State Calls Zimmerman Professors to Testify
The State did call two of Zimmerman’s professors, however, and based on the intensity with which the State had pursued this theory of the case the expectation was that their testimony would be somehow devastating to Zimmerman. Perhaps this was where the “lid was lifted” and we would gain our first real view of the seething hatred that boiled over that night of February 26, 2012, and led the apparently friendly and meek Zimmerman to murder Trayvon Martin with a depraved mind.
In fact, the testimony of both Professors overwhelmingly favored the defense. Let’s consider each in turn.
Captain Alex Carter, US Army Judge Advocate General (JAG)
Captain Carter, now a JAG officer (a lawyer for the military) had previously been a professor of Zimmerman’s at Seminole State College for a single course. The State’s direct of him was not a particularly interesting, and they seemed to have him there merely to create an evidentiary foundation from which they could spin their speculative theories of the case at closing.
West’s cross-examination of Carter, however, was devastating for the State. Carter described Zimmerman as “one of my best students,” and asked what grade he had assigned he answered, “an A.” (Interestingly, when Captain Carter had first entered the court room he had said, “Hi,” to Zimmerman.) Then West led Carter through a lengthy discussion–a lecture, really–of Florida’s self-defense law. It was like a legal seminar for the jury, and West particularly emphasized that there was no legal requirement to have actually incurred any injury whatever before you can act in self-defense. Carter even opined that you definitely would not want to wait to act in self-defense until you had been seriously injured. As the State saw the narrative spinning against them they repeatedly objected, constraining West’s cross. By then, however, the damage had largely been done to the State’s theory of the case.
Professor Scott Pleasant, Online Criminal Justice Course
Next up was Professor Pleasant, brought into court by way of a (horrifically bad) Skype connection. Indeed, throughout his testimony it seemed his friends and family were swarming his Skype account with requests, resulting in various “beeps” and “boops” emitting throughout the court room. Again, the direct was straightforward, uninteresting, and apparently intended merely to establish an evidentiary foundation in preparation for the State’s closing.
Again on cross, however, things turned badly against the State. Under O’Mara’s questioning it became clear that much of the content put into evidence by the State may have been contained in the class textbook but was never actually covered in class. The greatest blow, however, came with O’Mara’s last question (as has happened before) when he asked Pleasant what Zimmerman had told him about his career goals. Pleasant answered,”he said he wanted to be an attorney, and eventually become a Prosecutor.”
How the State might seek to spin a desire to be a State prosecutor as evidence of a seething hatred that would drive a person to commit depraved mind second degree murder should be interesting to observe.
Amy Siewert, Forensic Analyst, FDLE
The final morning witness was the State’s forensic analyst who studied Zimmerman’s firearm. You can see the original firearm forensics report here:
Again the State’s direct was, well, direct, with little interesting in it. And again, O’Mara’s cross examination gutted the State’s theory of the case. You may recall that the State’s opening statement placed a very considerable emphasis on two forensic facts: (1) that Zimmerman’s gun had been “pressed” into Martin, with a contact shot to Martin’s sweatshirt, and (2) that Zimmerman’s gun had been carried “ready-to-fire” in an apparently careless manner. O’Mara eviscerated both histrionic points in his cross of Siewert. She first testified that although the muzzle of the gun did appear to have been in contact with Martin’s sweatshirt, she was not prepared to testify that it had been pressed into his skin.
Later today Dr. Bao, the real medical examiner in this case, will testify as to his findings in this regard, but having read his autopsy report it is clear there was not muzzle-to-flesh contact shot. You can see the original autopsy report here:
Next she testified at some length that the manner in which Zimmerman carried the gun–loaded to capacity, including a round in the chamber–was the manner in which the gun was intended to be carried, was how law enforcement officers are trained to carry their firearms, and was in no particular way unsafe.
That’s it for the mid-day wrap-up.
Please join us back at our live coverage page as we get back to the courtroom for the rest of the day:
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!