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Zimmerman declines to testify, defense rests

Published July 10, 2013 5:08 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sanford, Fla. • After taking less than a week to call 18 witnesses, George Zimmerman's defense attorneys rested their case Wednesday in the neighborhood watch volunteer's second-degree murder trial.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys planned to work out the jury instructions before presenting closing arguments on Thursday. Judge Debra Nelson said the case could be sent to six jurors either late that day or the next.

Zimmerman never testified. But jurors saw repeated video recordings of Zimmerman telling his side of the story to investigators. He claims that he shot Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, in self-defense while the teen straddled and punched him.

The defense started its case last Friday, and it presented half as many witnesses in half of the time that prosecutors did. Zimmerman's friends, parents and uncle testified that it's him screaming for help on a 911 call that captured sounds of the fatal fight. Martin's mother and brother had testified for the prosecution that it's Martin yelling for help.

Convincing the jury of who was screaming for help on the 911 tape became the primary goal of prosecutors and defense attorneys because it would help jurors evaluate Zimmerman's self-defense claim.

Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., was the last witness called by the defense on Wednesday, and he said it's his son yelling for help on the call.

Defense attorneys also called a forensic pathologist who testified that the forensics evidence supports Zimmerman's account of what happened.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. On the night of the fatal scuffle in February 2012, Martin was visiting his father and his father's fiancee at the same townhome complex where Zimmerman lived.

Zimmerman observed Martin while driving in his neighborhood, called police and the fight ensued after the neighborhood watch volunteer got out of his vehicle.

Some civil rights activists argued that the delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin's race, and protests were held around the nation in the 44 days between the fatal fight and Zimmerman's arrest. Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.

The defense rested on a day when the judge made two rulings that prevented them from introducing pieces of evidence. Defense attorneys had wanted to present text messages discussing fighting from Trayvon Martin's cell phone and an animation depicting Zimmerman's fatal fight with Martin. But Nelson sided with prosecutors, who had argued the animation is inaccurate and the texts were irrelevant.

Immediately after the defense rested, prosecutors called their first rebuttal witness — Adam Pollock, the gym owner who had trained Zimmerman. But prosecutors decided not to question Pollock after the judge presiding over the case ruled he couldn't be questioned about a video put on his gym's website showing his court testimony at the trial.

Shortly after, court was adjourned until Thursday morning.

Earlier Wednesday, a former neighbor of Zimmerman's, Olivia Bertalan, described how he had helped her find a lock for her townhome's sliding door and offered any help he could after burglars broke into her home.

"I was just appreciative he was offering a hand and said I could spend time with his wife if I wanted to during the day," she said.

Defense attorneys also called public safety consultant Dennis Root to testify that Martin was in better physical shape than Zimmerman, and that the neighborhood watch volunteer wasn't any athlete.

"He would find himself lacking when compared to Mr. Martin," Root said of Zimmerman.

During cross-examination of Root, prosecutor John Guy used a life-sized foam mannequin in front of the jury to simulate the body positions of Zimmerman and Martin at the time of the shooting.

Straddling the dummy, Guy proposed a scenario in which Martin was on top of Zimmerman and asked Root if it was possible that Martin was backing away from Zimmerman at the time of the fatal gunshot.

"Yes," Root said.

Using the same mannequin during further questioning of Root, defense attorney Mark O'Mara challenged the notion of Martin retreating. Root said that while multiple gun angles were possible, he had no specific information to say what position Martin was in when he was shot.

"I think you're not going to be involved in a conflict like this without it being dynamic," Root said.