The Backwards Trial: Zimmerman Prosecutors Stumble as Defense Wraps Up

Guy had no reply, but he wasn’t done. After a brief last series of questions by O’Mara, Guy took a final, foolish run at the first rule and demanded that Root tell him the exact moment when Zimmerman was struck in the nose. Notice that this question presupposes his acceptance that Zimmerman was struck in the nose, something the prosecution has continually tried to deny. Root replied in his consistently deadpan manner:

It’s hard to say; he was hit a bunch of times.

Olivia Bertalan, Former Retreat At Twin Lakes Resident: She provided a nightmarish story to which women may relate (recall, we have an all-female jury here). An attractive and sympathetic young woman wearing glasses, on August 3, 2011, Bertalan was home during the day with her infant child when someone began knocking repeatedly on her front door. Alarmed, she retreated upstairs where she could look out, and saw two young black males who were obviously casing her home. She called the police -- as the burglars broke into her home. She locked herself in her child’s bedroom, and -- scared to death -- stood holding her child on one hip and a pair of “rusty scissors” in her other shaking hand.

Bertalan described one of the burglars rattling the doorknob of the room in which she was hiding.

Fortunately, the burglar did not break into the room. The police arrived only after the burglars made off with her camera and laptop and other items. There was a semi-happy ending when one of the burglars, a then-juvenile Emmanuel Burgess who lived nearby, was identified and caught. Bertalan moved out shortly thereafter, and Burgess was released only to be arrested again shortly after she left the neighborhood.

During her retelling of this story, her voice quavered and she shook. She is obviously still traumatized by the ordeal.

Bertalan also testified that, at the suggestion of the police, she bought a dog. Media talking heads often characterize testimony as “powerful.” Bertalan’s was indeed powerful because it was real, raw, and draped in honest emotion. She likely had the effect on the jury O’Mara sought: she convinced them the criminal threat against her neighborhood was real and deadly dangerous; therefore in viewing Martin suspiciously, Zimmerman was acting reasonably, even nobly.

On cross, John Guy tried to question her about Zimmerman on topics clearly outside the scope of her testimony. The jury was removed and he continued that line of questioning. It was a clever trap by O’Mara, and Guy smugly walked right into it. He got Bertalan to say that shortly after the home invasion burglary, Zimmerman came to her home and gave her his phone number. Zimmeman also spoke with her about the incident some 20 times. Guy was foolishly trying to suggest that Zimmerman was a “wannabe” cop, a busybody.

After the jury returned, Guy repeated the questions and got the same answers from Bertalan. O’Mara sprung the trap. Bertalan testified that she really appreciated Zimmerman’s attention and concern, and explained that his subsequent contacts were for the sole purpose of checking in to see that she was okay.

Zimmerman even told her that if she was afraid, she could go to his home and stay with his wife Shellie whenever she wanted, something else that meant a great deal to Bertalan.

Zimmerman also brought her a lock to secure her sliding glass patio door, the door the burglars used to enter her home and a common security problem in the neighborhood.

O’Mara finally asked:  “Was George Zimmerman’s behavior helpful to you?” “Very,” she replied.

Robert Zimmerman Sr., George’s father: A soft-spoken man, he was the final defense witness and testified only to identifying George’s voice on the Lauer 911 recording. He heard it in the prosecutor’s office in the same building, and upon hearing it, told them “absolutely, it’s my son George.”

De la Rionda handled cross, but accomplished nothing for the prosecution, and the defense case was done.

Earlier in the day, Judge Nelson badgered Zimmerman -- over the strong objections of Don West -- demanding to know if he intended to testify. There is clearly no love lost between West and Nelson. It initially appeared that he might testify, but ultimately decided not to do so.

This too may have been a defense ploy. When it appeared that he might testify, the camera rested on Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, whose head was down in a laptop. Doubtless she was anticipating her assistants having the chance to question Zimmerman, but it was not to be.

O’Mara made another argument for acquittal, and though very brief, he hit exactly at the heart of the issue by suggesting that she compel the prosecution to “identify their factual scenario, their theory of the case, anything, articulating in some way Zimmerman’s guilt.” As expected, Nelson denied O’Mara’s motion.

The prosecution’s initially called Adam Pollock, the owner of the gym where Zimmerman trained. Pollock had earlier testified that Zimmerman had virtually no martial skills and was in terrible shape. Mantei began by asking questions that were not in any way a rebuttal, a move that could be nothing other than a bad faith attempt to smear Zimmerman in any way possible. O’Mara objected and Pollock was eventually excused without testifying at all.

They intended to call a second witness, but changed their minds. Mantei then tried to introduce a witness having to do with an alleged bad act by Zimmerman committed eight years earlier -- a clearly inadmissible matter, and a witness having nothing to do with rebuttal. O’Mara quickly explained that there was no bad act -- Zimmerman has no criminal record -- but Nelson was, as usual, reluctant to make a decision and left the matter hanging.