Today began with the expectation that it would the the day on which the State rested its case. That proved true, and it was. It was also among the most bizarre and disturbing days of a lengthy trial full to the brim with bizarre and disturbing days.
Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s Mother
The first State witness of the day was, as anticipated Sybrina Fulton. She had two missions for her appearance: (1) identify the screamer in the background of the Jenna Lauer 911 recording as her son, Trayvon Martin; and (2) avoid saying anything nice about the reputation or character of her son that would open the door to the defense introducing into evidence Martin’s history of violence and drug use. She accomplished both.
There was never, of course, any question that she would say exactly that, nor that the defense would fail to point out the suggestive conditions in which the identification initially took place–in the Mayor’s office, surrounded by family and family lawyers/advisors, and without any law enforcement officer present. Ms. Fulton’s credibility was also substantively damaged when she claimed that she had not known before hearing the tape that it was believed to contain the sound of her son’s last, desperate screams. That the persons responsible for playing that tape would not have prepared her beforehand for the shock–to not do so could only be described as monstrous.
Jahvaris Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s Half-brother
Next up was Martin’s half-brother, Jahvaris Fulton, also a son of Sybrina Fulton. He testified on the stand that the screamer was Trayvon Martin. On cross-examination, as so often has happened to State witnesses, the credibility of his testimony quickly vanished. Defense counsel O’Mara pointed out that two weeks after first hearing the recording played Jahvaris was still stating to reporters that he wasn’t sure that the recorded screams were those of Trayvon. When pressed, his answers became a series of “don’t know,” “not sure, ” can’t remember,” almost as if he’d been pushed outside the boundaries of the coaching for his testimony.
After Jahvaris the State introduced Dr. Shiping Bao, the medical examiner who had conducted the actual autopsy on Trayvon Marting. I can come up with no positive way to describe Dr. Bao’s testimony, nor the time at present to make the herculean effort to do so, but perhaps will touch on it in a post this weekend. Let it just be said that not only was his testimony not compelling of guilt, it would seem prudent for Dr. Bao to be exploring alternatives to his present employment.
State Rests, Defense Motions for Directed Verdict of Acquittal, Nelson Denies
At that, the State rested its case. The defense, in the person of Mark O’Mara, then made a rather desultory oral motion for a directed verdict of acquittal (in addition, presumably, to written motions separately submitted to the court). Unlike O’Mara’s usually energetic demeanor, this presentation was made in the tone of a lawyer speaking on a point of great importance on which he knew the judge had already decided against him.
Mantei provided the State’s counter to the motion for a directed verdict in a manner that cannot readily be described in language suitable for a family-accessible blog. To say it was histrionic, lacking in factual evidence, and rife with abject fabrications, would be to put the matter too kindly. O’Mara returned with fire in his belly to counter Mantei, showing the kind of firm but fierce determination we’ve come to expect from the defense.
After these lengthy arguments by both sides, Nelson rejected the motion for an acquitted verdict in a two sentence statement from the bench, which was disappointing but totally in keeping with her track record in this trial–nearly perfect reflexive support of the State prosecutors and disfavor of the defense.
What WAS surprising is when she immediately insisted–demanded, really–that the defense immediately call their first witness. This is notable because of the hour–5PM on a Friday afternoon in a long, long trial. For those not familiar with state courts, if you ever need to test fire a cannon without risk of human injury, any courthouse in the country at 5PM on a Friday is a pretty safe testing ground.
Gladys Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s Mother
The first defense witness was a bit of a surprise, but the kind I’ve come to expect from O’Mara and West–George Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys Zimmerman. She was here on a similar mission to that of Sabryna Fulton–to testify that the voice screaming for help on the Jenna Lauer 911 recording was her son. This she did. On cross Bernie de la Rionda took the tack of suggesting that one couldn’t really be expected to accurately match a person’s normal voice to that of them screaming–a deeply ironic approach considering that only before he had expected just that of Sabryna Fulton, and indeed had argued for such a matching through many days and experts of a Frye hearing. Asked if she had ever before heard her son scream like on the tape, Mrs. Zimmerman could only be honest–no, not exactly like that.
O’Mara came back strong, however. Is that scream of anguish, fear, and terror without question your son’s voice?” “Yes,” she answered.
Jorge Meza, Orange County Courthouse Deputy, Uncle of George Zimmerman
The second defense witness was George Zimmerman’s uncle, Jorge Meza, an Orange County Courthouse deputy with 36 years experience in uniform (Orange County abuts Seminole County). He appeared this day not as a law enforcement officer, however, but simply as George’s uncle. He testified that he had been at home working on his computer while his wife separately watched the news on television when he heard the scream come from the TV.
Instantly, he said, he knew it was George. “All I heard on the TV was the scream, it was my nephew screaming for his life, without question. It WAS George screaming.” He explained the sound was so familiar to him because George had long played with his own sons, and he was familiar with their laughs and screams together. “I felt the screams in my heart,” he testified firmly but emotionally. It is notable that this is the first member of either family who has claimed to have identified the voice absent a suggestive environment.
Officer Meza was the last witness of the day, and so the last two witness the jury will mull over the weekend will be Zimmerman’s mother and uncle having identified George Zimmerman as the screamer on the 911 call.
Final Thought for the Week: Get Ready for a Brutal Defense
One aside before I fully wrap this up. To me, the biggest take home message of the day was not the scream identification of either the Martin or Zimmerman family, but rather the mid-trial motions and response by the State. Mantei’s web of half-truths and claims utterly unsupported by any evidence whatever showed the State was as hungry for George Zimmerman’s hide as they must have been when first handed the political prosecution of their careers. They would see George Zimmerman do life in prison, whether warranted by the evidence or not, or they would die in the effort. Given the almost complete lack of direct evidence, and the need to wildly interpret the available circumstantial evidence–and particularly following the utter debacle that was the Dr. Bao testimony–one could only imagine that their fervor would have diminished. Not so.
O’Mara’s response was that of a sheepdog to a wolf. If the State wanted Zimmerman’s hide, they’d have to fight for it, hard, and at high cost. Any thought that there might be a relatively brief defense was cast aside. I expect that not only will there be a vigorous defense, it will be a 10 gauge double-barreled coach-gun defense, to the head.
One cannot but draw the natural parallel–just as Trayvon Martin sought to punish George Zimmerman and discovered at the cost of his life that Zimmerman was not the easy target he’d perceived him to be, now it is the turn of Zimmerman’s defense team to similarly disabuse the State prosecutors. Their lives, of course, are secure. I would not, however, want my professional reputation to be at the wrong end of the defense’s considerable talent and righteous attention.
Have a Great Weekend! Keep Eyes Open for Analysis Moving Forward
OK, that’s it for today. This weekend I’ll write up a lengthier post about both side’s oral arguments in their mid-trial motions today, and what it suggests for their respective strategies moving forward. If time permits, I’ll also try to put some additional detail into the remarkable detail of Dr. Shiping Bao today–the most remarkable piece of courtroom testimony I’ve ever seen by someone who is presumably a professional at such appearances.
Other than that, I wish you all a safe and secure weekend,
P.S. Some exciting news: “Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition” and I got quoted extensively in both the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune of the last couple of days. Read all about it, including links to the actual news pieces, 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% “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.
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