The Backwards Trial: After Two Bizarre Weeks, Zimmerman Prosecution Rests
The second week of testimony in the George Zimmerman trial closely followed the pattern established in the first: the prosecution presents its witnesses; they promptly support the defense’s case. Yet the prosecution’s trial strategy was revealed: present Trayvon Martin as a small, innocent child profiled and ruthlessly hunted down by a racist George Zimmerman, a wannabe cop whose frustrations at a string of burglaries and thefts in his neighborhood built to a rage that exploded in murder when he saw Martin apparently casing a home that had recently been burglarized. The evidence of this hatred and depravity is Zimmerman muttering obscenities about the criminals plaguing his neighborhood during his non-emergency call to police to report a suspicious person, and that he carried his handgun fully loaded and with a round in the chamber. (Of course, this is precisely how it was designed to be carried, and how the police carry theirs.)
The following summarizes the witnesses from the second week.
Dr. Hirotaka Nakasone
Dr. Nakosone is a renowned FBI expert in voice analysis, and was an impressive witness. The prosecution’s sole purpose for Dr. Nakasone’s testimony was to elicit an admission that a person familiar with someone’s voice might be best qualified to identify someone screaming in terror. However, Dr. Nakasone cautioned that such identification would only be the best of abysmal methods. This is enormously ironic in that it was Dr. Nakasone’s testimony in large part that cut the legs from under the prosecution’s desperate and unsuccessful attempt to allow “experts” that would have -- using non-scientific criteria and methods -- testified that it was Martin rather than Zimmerman screaming for help.
The obvious strategy of prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda was to later put Sybrina Fulton -- Martin’s mother -- on the stand to testify that the screaming voice is Trayvon Martin's. Yet Dr. Nakasone warned of the problem of listener bias, of hearing what one wants to hear, and unfortunately for the prosecution, the defense would later produce multiple Zimmerman family members who convincingly identifed the voice as Zimmerman’s. In addition, John Good’s testimony comes solidly down on the defense side, and Jenna Lauer’s testimony -- that the screaming voice was only one person and never changed -- will also be helpful.
Doris Singleton, Sanford Police Officer
Among the most important tasks of any defense counsel is to humanize their client for the jury, a difficult task with most criminals. Singleton’s testimony, including a recording of her interview with Zimmerman, fully supported his account. Particularly harmful to the prosecution was this exchange:
Singleton: "I had a silver cross on and he asked me if I was Catholic. I said, 'No. I'm Christian. Why are you asking?'"
Zimmerman replied that he noticed a silver cross she was wearing and said it’s "always wrong to kill" someone.
Singleton replied: “If what you're telling me is true then I don't think that's what God meant -- you couldn't save your own life.”
She testified that Zimmerman, who appeared to be shocked, said: "He's dead?"
She replied: "I thought you knew that.”
Investigator Chris Serino, Sanford Police Department
Serino is a controversial figure who is said to have favored prosecuting Zimmerman, but one would not know that by his testimony -- it almost entirely supported Zimmerman’s account. Serino depicted Zimmerman as a mild, even meek man who repeatedly told Serino he did not want to confront Martin, had no intention of catching him, and followed him only to keep him in sight to inform the police.
Under cross examination, defense attorney Mark O’Mara elicited from Serino that, throughout multiple interviews, Zimmerman remained consistent. He agreed that Zimmerman was completely cooperative and that nothing Zimmerman told him contradicted the physical evidence, officer statements, witness evidence, or any other facts. Zimmerman never displayed anger or disdain toward Martin. O’Mara asked if Zimmerman was ever “cagey” or “less than straightforward.” Serino replied: “No, he was being straightforward in my opinion.” Serino also testified that he saw no racism in Zimmerman or his actions.
In one particularly brilliant line of questioning, O’Mara asked if there was anything in Zimmerman’s words that would suggest an uncaring attitude. Serino replied: “No.” O’Mara asked if Zimmerman, during his first interview with Serino at 12:05 a.m. on February 27, 2012, was ever “cavalier,” like: “Can I go home now? Are we done here?” Serino replied that Zimmerman was not.
This is particularly ironic in that Rachel Jeantel, upon learning she would need to return for a second day of testimony, behaved exactly that way and spoke words to that effect.
Serino acknowledged he was under great pressure to complete the investigation, and that it caused him to proceed more quickly than he liked. Surprisingly, he volunteered:
In this particular case, he [Zimmerman] could have been considered a victim too.
One of the week’s most destructive revelations for the prosecution occurred just before the court adjourned for the first day. In an attempt to trick Zimmerman, Serino suggested that Martin’s cellphone might have recorded video of everything that happened. He told Zimmerman: “If it’s there and you haven’t told us, it will be very bad for you.” The cell phone was dead, but Zimmerman didn’t know that. Zimmerman immediately replied:
Thank God. I was hoping someone videotaped it.