Noted Forensic Pathologist Says Zimmerman Story “Consistent” with Evidence, As Defense Case Nears End
By far the biggest news of the day came mid-afternoon when defense attorney Mark O’Mara informed Judge Nelson that his next witness, Elouise Dilligard, would be his last of the trial, and that he expected the defense to rest their case tomorrow. Given the expectations of many, including this lawyer, that the defense would drive their case forward through the entire week, this news came as a considerable surprise.
The expectations of a lengthy defense case, however, had been set following the mid-trial motions for a judgment of acquittal, during which the State ruthlessly twisted evidence and fabricated facts in their desperate efforts to avoid a JOA they richly deserved. In the several days since the defense case has simply brutalized what little of the State’s theory of the case had survived through last week. O’Mara may simply have decided that to continue to beat this dead horse would be counterproductive, in that it might begin to alienate a jury that has been sequestered since the start of the trial proper.
The most interesting of today’s defense witnesses were Dr. Vincent Di Maio, forensic pathologist, and Ms. Elouise Dilligard, a friendly neighbor of Zimmerman’s.
Dr. Vincent Di Maio, Forensic Pathologist
It seemed to take the entire first hour of Dr. Di Maio’s testimony simply to work though his background and credentials. He has spent on the order of 40 years working as a forensic pathologist, having personally conducted some 9,000 autopsies and overseen tens of thousands more. Defense attorney stepped through these qualifications in his usual deliberative manner.
In addition to his work conducting autopsies, Dr. Di Maio had also served in the military in a capacity in which he was able to study terminal ballistics and gun shot wounds. He stepped through the process by which a gun fires a cartridge, focusing particularly on the matter ejected from the muzzle, including the hot expanding gases, the bullet, and unburned gun powder.
Zimmerman’s Muzzle Not Pressed Into Martin’s Body
He noted that the autopsy report noted a 2″ x 2″ area of gun powder tattooing (from unburnt gun powder) around the gun shot wound on Trayvon Martin’s chest. He was able to determine from this that them muzzle of the Mr. Zimmerman’s Kel-Tech PF9 had been between 2″ and 4″ from Mr. Martin’s chest. He was also able to definitely exclude the State’s claim that the muzzle of the gun had been pressed against Martin’s chest, because in that case the unburnt gun powder would have ended up in the wound rather than on Mr. Martin’s skin.
ME Bao’s Collection and Preservation of Evidence Disastrously Flawed
West also had Dr. Di Maio testify as to matters of evidence collection and preservation, particularly the wet clothes that had been stored in plastic bags (thus degrading any DNA that might have otherwise been detectable), the failure to bag Trayvon Martin’s hands in order to properly preserve any evidence there (such as Mr. Zimmerman’s DNA on Martin’s knuckles), and the fact that the photos taken by Medical Examiner Bao were only taken after Martin’s body had already been washed. This undercuts a variety of State claims, including that the lack of Zimmerman’s DNA on Martin’s hands suggests that Martin did not, in fact beat Zimmerman around the head. In essence, this line of questioning should have destroyed whatever little remaining confidence the jury might have still held in the testimony of Dr. Bao.
Martin Would Have Been Able to Pull Hands Under Body After Shooting
Dr. Di Maio further testified as to how long Mr. Martin might have been able to have controlled movements considering the injuries caused to his heart by Mr. Zimmerman’s bullet, indicating a minimum period of 10 to 15 seconds. This would have been more than enough time for Martin to pull his hands in under his body. This undercuts the State’s argument that Zimmerman must be lying when he said he moved Martin’s hands away from his body.
Injuries to Zimmerman’s Head Were Potentially Life Threatening
Further testimony from Dr. Di Maio emphasized the life-threatening danger of blows to the head. He noted that intracranial bleeding is hidden, and often does not cause death until some hours after the injury that caused it. He also noted that axonal injury can occur even besides bleeding, causing brain damage. This undermines the State’s arguments that the blows to Zimmermans’ head were inconsequential and could not h ave represented the reasonable threat of death or grave bodily harm necessary to justify Zimmerman’s use of deadly force in self-defense.
BDLR’s Cross-Examination–Odd, As Usual
On cross-examination by State prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda the focus of the State was largely on matters that Dr. Di Maio did not know, and could not have known unless he had actually been physically present at the time of the shooting.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of BDLR’s cross was the way it kept beating on the theme of uncertainty. Dr. Di Maio had presented one possibility, BDLR argued, but isn’t it true that there was a second possibility, and a third possibility? How such a cross was intended to drive the jury closer towards proof beyond a reasonable doubt is unclear.
BDLR also repeated his tendency to ask questions on cross to which he clearly didn’t know the answer, and getting “blown up” by the reply. In his direct testimony Dr. Di Maio had mentioned studying gunshot patterns on live animals. Now BDLR acted aghast that Dr. Di Maio would have harmed poor innocent little beasts (the fact that there is at least one serious pet owner on the jury may have promoted this line of questioning).
No worries, Dr. Di Maio assured him, the experiments were all run using a Federally-approved methodology, in a Federally-approved facility.
BDLR also assailed Dr. Di Maio’s opinion on the nature and extent of Zimmerman’s injuries, saying that the notes of the emergency medical people who treated Zimmerman had not indicated such serious injuries. Di Maio explained with some patience that ambulance crews are focused overwhelmingly on treating the patient, not taking exhaustive and accurate notes.
The questioning then swung rather bizarrely over to whether the injuries to Mr. Zimmerman’s head might have been caused by a tree or a sprinkler box, rather than the sidewalk. Given the punctate nature of several of the injuries it was rather obvious that the rough surface of the sidewalk, known to be in the immediate vicinity of the fighting, was most likely to have caused the injuries that would a hypothetical tree or sprinkler box.
Severity of Zimmerman’s Injuries Re-Emphasized on Re-Direct
On re-direct by cross, the focus shifted back to the seriousness of Zimmerman’s injuries. Dr. Di Maio noted that sporting events have physicians on the sidelines specifically because of how dangerous head injuries can be. He also noted that it is not uncommon for a person who has suffered a head injury to appear to be OK for some hours, only to die as a result. “The police should have taken Zimmerman to the hospital.”
On Re-Cross BDLR Seems to Foster, Rather Than Reduce, Reasonable Doubt
On re-cross, BDLR hit Di Maio with a blizzard of questions, each hypothesizing some alternative explanation of the forensic evidence to that proposed by Dr. Di Maio. Again, this would not seem likely to move the jury to eliminate a reasonable doubt. In any case, Dr. Di Maio simply repeated his statement that the forensic evidence was consistent with George Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, and that was the issue on which he was in court to opine.
To sum up, Dr. Di Maio’s testimony was extremely favorable to the defense, and quite destructive to the State.
Elouise Dilligard, Friendly Neighbor of Zimmerman
The next most interesting witness today was the defense’s last witness, Elouise Dilligard. Ms. Dilligard was ill in bed at home, and was “brought into” court via the use of Apple Facetime. She was a neighbor of the Zimmerman’s at Twin Lakes, and had driven upon the scene while the police were still present. She testified as to the location of Zimmerman’s truck and some other small matters, including having been shown at the scene a photos on an iPhone of both Zimmerman and Trayvon. She was able to identify Zimmerman, and spoke to his bloody injuries.
By far the most important aspect of her testimony, however, was not the actual words, but who was saying them and how they were said. Elouise Dilligard described George Zimmerman as a friendly neighbor, and her testimony as to how she sought to locate Shellie Zimmerman to tell her what had happened, and then returned later that night to check up on the Zimmerman’s again, spoke to her affection for the couple.
Elouise Dilligard is also an African-American woman. Having this older black woman, calling into court from her sick bed, testify with such affection for the Zimmerman’s and George in particular, completelly gutted the State’s characterization of George Zimmerman as some kind of seething racist who was actively seeking out a black boy to kill.
Daubert Hearing: Animated Video
Another matter taken up by the court today, but still left unaddressed as of this writing, is the Daubert hearing on whether to admit the animated recreation produced by the defense. The defense naturally wants this video to be admitted as evidence, not merely as a demonstrative, and the State is vehemently opposed.
This morning’s testimony on the matter (embedded below) was halted before completion by Judge Nelson, as she had felt the jurors had been kept waiting long enough, and is currently being heard again now that the jury has been dismissed for the day.
Norton Bonaparte, Jr. City Manager
The only remaining witness of the day was Norton Bonaparte, the Sanford City Manager. He was questioned by O’Mara on the nature of the playing of the Jenna Lauer 911 tape (and other tapes) for the Martin family and their lawyers in the Sanford Mayor’s office. Although much of the background for this event seems cloaked in an in limine order.
It did emerge through Bonaparte’s testimony, however, that the reason no law enforcement officers were present during the playing of the tapes–as would normally be the case–was at the direct request of the Martin family.
Expectations for Tomorrow
The defense seems prepared to rest its case tomorrow, but only after making a proffer or several pieces of evidence. One of these will be the animated recreation that is the subject of today’s Daubert hearing.
Another issue to be taken up by the Court tomorrow is an 8:00AM hearing to discuss the matter of defense witness Donnelly apparently having sat in the courtroom and observed testimony of other witnesses before testifying himself. The State seems to wish to strike Donnelly’s compelling testimony identifying the screamer on the Jenna Lauer 911 tape as George Zimmerman, as they have previously attempted.
The whole matter, however, seems overblown. First, the State will need to show that the defense orchestrated Donnelly’s presence, or at least was only negligently unaware of his presence, in order to have a chance at the most extreme remedy of striking Donnelly’s testimony. Second, the State will have to show that they were prejudiced in some manner by Donnelly’s earlier presence in the courtroom, an argument they already failed at before Judge Nelson on other grounds. Finally, the very act of ordering the jury to not consider Donnelly’s testimony only serves to refresh the jury’s recollection of that testimony immediately prior to the jury being instructed.
That’s it for today. Don’t forget to join us again tomorrow for our all-day live coverage of the court testimony, all public hearings (starting at 8:00AM for the Donnelly hearing), as well as our scrolling Twitter feed of selected contributors.
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.)
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