State calls 4 witnesses in George Zimmerman murder trial
Updated On: Jun 25 2013 06:16:30 AM EDT
State prosecutors called their first four witnesses on Monday afternoon in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
[Chat recap with Tony Pipitone from the courtroom]
The first witness for the state was 15-year-old Chad Joseph, son of Tracy Martin's girlfriend, Brandy Green, and the teen Martin went to get Skittles for at the 7-Eleven on Feb. 26, 2012 when the shooting occurred.
Joseph said Martin walked to the 7-Eleven and he didn't go with Martin because he was playing PlayStation 3. Joseph said he asked Martin to get him Skittles and talked to him while he was walking home from the store in the rain. Joseph said he called Martin again afterward but no one answered and that he learned Martin had died after school the next day.
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara questioned Joseph about how long they were playing games and if Martin was around the whole time or on the phone. Joseph said he doesn't remember if Martin was on the phone while playing games.
The state's second witness called was 20-year-old Andrew Gaugh, of Deltona, the 7-Eleven cashier the night Martin went to the store off of Rinehart Road and bought Skittles and Arizona brand fruit drink. Gaugh said he doesn't recall conversation with Martin or having any concern about Martin.
While Gaugh was on the stand, jurors watched the surveillance video of Martin wearing a hooded sweatshirt at the 7-Eleven.
O'Mara questioned Gaugh about if he remembered what he was doing the night of the shooting. On cross-examination, O'Mara stood next to Gaugh, who said he's 5 feet 10 inches, to show height compared to Martin.
The third witness the state called was the Seminole County dispatcher who took Zimmerman's non-emergency call the night of the shooting, Sean Noffke, who has been employed with the department for six years.
Noffke told Zimmerman on the call that he didn't need to follow Martin. The jury listened to the call for the third time on Monday. The state asked if operators want callers to investigate themselves.
"We're trying to avoid confrontation," Noffke said, adding that he heard movement in the phone when he asked if Zimmerman was following Martin. "We're directly liable if we give direct order so we give ... suggestions."
Noffke said he "suggested" Zimmerman stop but didn't "order" him to stop following Martin.
In cross-examination, O'Mara asked Noffke if he heard anger in Zimmerman's voice, to which Noffke said he didn't. O'Mara also asked Noffke if he had any concerns about Zimmerman, including Zimmerman's description of Martin--Noffke said he didn't.
The fourth witness the state called was Seminole County Sheriff's Office Deputy of Communications Director Ramona Rumph, who discussed the difference between a 911 call and a non-emergency call. Rumph said the 911 call's codes can change throughout the call.
The state then played a previous call for a suspicious person from Zimmerman. O'Mara objected to the call on relevancy grounds. The state said the prior calls are relevant to his stated belief from the recent call "they always get away" and prior crimes in the neighborhood, showing Zimmerman's ongoing frustration. Judge Debra S. Nelson said "state of mind" in the prior calls could make the calls relevant.
In the midst of the argument, Nelson recessed court for the day. It will be back in session at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the 911 call issue further.
The jury heard opening statements on Monday morning with the state prosecutor starting off by repeating what Zimmerman said in a non-emergency call the night of the shooting.
In his 35-minute opening statement for the state, prosecutor John Guy started off by exclaiming "(expletive) punks," "these (expletives) always get away."
"Those were the words in the defendant's head, just moments before he pressed that pistol into Trayvon Martin's chest and pulled the trigger," Guy continued.
Martin's father, Tracy, wiped tears from his eyes as Guy proceeded with opening statements. Zimmerman faced forward, not appearing to look at Guy when he pointed at Zimmerman while referring to him during opening statements.
"The murder of Trayvon Martin was the product of two worlds colliding," Guy continued, saying that Zimmerman thought it was his "right to rid his neighborhood of anyone who did not belong."
Guy said Zimmerman "reveals to you his feelings about Trayvon Martin," with his phone call to authorities.
For the first time, the identity of Witness 8 was revealed as Guy said Rachel Gentell was on the phone with Martin when Martin said, "what are you following me for?" before the phone went silent.
Guy then outlined discrepancies between Zimmerman's police interview and his call to the non-emergency police line.
Guy said that when Zimmerman arrived at the Sanford Police Department after the shooting, "that's when he began to spin his tangled web of lies."
No Zimmerman DNA was found on Martin's hands or clothing despite Zimmerman's statement to police that Martin attacked him, Guy continued.
"He didn't have bruised knuckles, he didn't have swollen hands. The only injury to his hand that was capable of being photographed was a small abrasion with his left right finger. Trayvon Martin was left-handed," Guy said.
Guy said the jury will hear a "bone-chilling 911 call" where Martin was screaming in the background, stopping when Zimmerman shot him.
The state's opening statements closed by Guy saying Zimmerman "profiled" Martin.
"George Zimmerman didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him because he wanted to," Guy said, thanking the court for their time.
Attorney Don West made much longer opening statements than the state's, filled heavily with recitation of timeline facts for the defense, starting out soft-spoken and quoting one of the potential jurors by saying "there are no winners."
"This is a sad case of course ... one man lost his life, another is fighting for his," West said. "I think the evidence will show this is a sad case that there are no monsters here."
"George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder," West continued.
After the state objected to West referring to motherly advice, he said, unattributed, "sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying."
"I'd like to tell you a little joke," West said, before telling a knock-knock joke about being on the Zimmerman jury. Only one juror grinned. West later apologized for his joke.
West first showed the jurors the aerial view of the neighborhood where Zimmerman fatally shot Martin-- The Retreat at Twin Lakes.
West then told the jury the events of Zimmerman leaving the house on Feb. 26, 2012 to go to Target to get food for his lunches. West said Zimmerman was not "patrolling" that night.
Little did Zimmerman know he was going to be "sucker punched in the face, head pounded into the concrete," West said.
West said that Zimmerman participated in Neighborhood Watch because the community asked him to be involved in it as the Sanford police liaison. He said Zimmerman called the non-emergency number to report the suspicious activity.
West called it "absolutely untrue" that Zimmerman was told by a dispatcher not to follow Martin while he was still in his truck.
"You'll know when Zimmerman got out of the car and you'll know what he was doing when the call ended," West continued, explaining the defense's timeline for the night of the shooting.
The defense then played the non-emergency call in which Zimmerman reported suspicious activity the night of the shooting, where Zimmerman is heard describing Martin as being "up to no good."
As the call was playing, Zimmerman didn't react as the dispatcher is heard asking him if he is following, as he responds "yes," to which the dispatcher says "OK we don't need you to do that." West said Zimmerman then stopped following Martin.
West said that Zimmerman was "following Trayvon Martin at a distance, reporting what he saw to police." West also said when the dispatcher asked which way Martin was running, Zimmerman took that as a cue to get out of his vehicle to find out.
West then focused on how dark it was out that night, and that's why Zimmerman told authorities to call him when they got on scene instead of giving an exact address.
The non-emergency call was then played for the second time in the defense's opening statements.
West then discussed Witness 8's phone call with Martin and said that it tells the moment that it got physical. He said Martin decided to confront Zimmerman and had plenty of time to go home, possibly hiding in the dark.
"That's basically the last thing she heard," West said, "That's when Trayvon Martin made the decision to confront George Zimmerman and say 'what are you following me for?'"
West then played the 911 call from witnesses with screams and the gunshot in the background. Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, walked out of the courtroom as the 911 calls were played.
"Those are the screams of someone in a life-threatening situation," West said. West said there's no scientific way to identify the person screaming in the background of the 911 call.
"I would expect Trayvon Martin's parents to say screams were his," West said, adding that Sybrina Fulton "wants it to be" her now-deceased son. West then told the jurors about how Martin's father, Tracy, told Sanford police officers the screams weren't his son's. Zimmerman's family recognized Zimmerman's screams on the 911 call, West added.
West said some witnesses saw Zimmerman on top of Martin, face down, but it's not possible because Martin was shot in the chest. West said Zimmerman was on top of Martin after the shot was fired.
West said a witness saw Zimmerman and Martin together before the shot was fired. He said the witness could see a person in dark clothes mounted on top of the person with the red shirt hitting him, describing the move as a "ground and pound."
West said the witness tried to tell them to stop fighting and that Zimmerman was crying out for help. The witness said Zimmerman cried out for help until the shot was fired.
The defense showed jurors pictures of Zimmerman's injuries after the shooting. One juror looked at the pictures then looked down to her notes.
West described Zimmerman as calm after experiencing the "most traumatic event of his life," and not showing ill-will, spite or hatred as the state must prove for the second-degree murder charge.
He then showed pictures of Zimmerman's gun and holster, Martin wearing a hooded sweatshirt in 7-Eleven buying a fruit drink and Skittles and Zimmerman's injuries.
The defense has also prepared an animation re-creating the movements of Zimmerman and Martin the night of the shooting. It has not been introduced to the jury yet.
Judge Debra S. Nelson called a lunch recess as West's opening statements neared the 2-hour mark.
Upon returning from lunch, West refuted the state's claim that Zimmerman pressed the gun into Martin's chest by saying the gunshot was from an intermediate range, not contact, according to the autopsy. West said the hooded sweatshirt was separated from the skin by several inches caused by Martin leaning over and by the full fruit drink in the sweatshirt pocket.
West said gunshot forensics support eyewitness accounts that Martin was on top.
"He did have the gun and thank God because...he was able to retrieve the gun when he couldn't take it anymore," West said.
West then showed pictures of Martin's pants, showing dirt on the knees and suggesting Martin was on top of Zimmerman.
The state objected to West bringing up Martin family lawyers and the public's pressure to release 911 tapes, to which Nelson sustained, saying West was getting too deep into pre-charge controversy.
Nelson again shut down the defense casting doubts on motives and statements of Martin's family, saying that West's comments about evidence are for closing arguments, not opening statements.
Nelson also wouldn't let the defense argue the self-defense law in openings.
West then discussed Zimmerman's lifestyle change to lose weight before the shooting occurred by taking boxing classes at a Lake Mary gym. According to the gym manager, Zimmerman was described as "not athletic" and "soft," West said, adding that Zimmerman only did bag work and didn't box in the ring.
West slips in that Zimmerman "has been living in hiding for the last year" to explain Zimmerman's weight gain from February 2012.
To close his opening statements, West said that Martin armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to bash Zimmerman's head.
"That is a deadly weapon," West said. "No different that if he picked up a brick or bashed his head against a wall."
The first matter taken up on Monday was the state invoking its rule of sequestration, with the defense seeking exception for Zimmerman's mother and father. Nelson said any Zimmerman family who could be witnesses must leave the courtroom and can come after the state concludes its case.
Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, and his parents then left the courtroom. The defense then sought the Martin's family attorney Benjamin Crump, calling him a "substantive witness," to leave.
Nelson held the hearing after opening statements were completed on Monday. Defense attorney and former Local 6 legal analyst Mark O'Mara questioned if Crump in court prejudiced Zimmerman.
"As long as Mr. Crump is going to be remaining on the witness list he will not be allowed to be in court," Nelson ruled after lunch on Monday, saying they don't need a "lawful representative" since the family is in the court room.
O'Mara then said Tracy Martin cursed at a member of the Zimmerman family in the courtroom and that he has not asked that Trayvon Martin's mother be forced to leave. Nelson responded by saying that it didn't occur in open court, because if so, she would have admonished him.
The defense then called Zimmerman's friend, Timothy Tucholski, to the stand to discuss when Tracy Martin cursed at him in the courtroom as he was holding the door for him two weeks ago in court. Tucholski said he then told Shellie Zimmerman.
Tucholski said Tracy Martin "looked down at my badge or chest area" and cursed at him under his breath, calling him a "mother******."
Nelson ruled that Martin's parents can remain in the courtroom since she saw no prejudice or no emotional reactions.
O'Mara then asked if Zimmerman's family could be in the courtroom, to which Nelson said "can we still stay on focus?" Nelson said Zimmerman's mother and father aren't allowed in the courtroom because they're on the witness list.
All 24 public seats for the Zimmerman trial were claimed on Day 1 of Zimmerman's trial. A certain amount of seats were also set aside for local law enforcement, pastors and local leaders. Sanford Police Chief Cecile Smith and Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger were in the courtroom for Day 1 of Zimmerman's trial.
Martin's parents both spoke just before opening statements on Monday asking for prayers during the trial.
"As the court proceedings continue today we as a family love and cherish and hold on to the memories that Trayvon left us with. As we enter court seeking justice we hold on to his smile which strengthens us and ask that you continue to pray for us," said Tracy Martin.
"I'm here today as Trayvon's mother. As I have been every day I will attend court to try and get justice for my son," Sybrina Fulton said. "I ask that you pray for me and my family because I don't want any other mother to have to experience what I'm going through now."
The all-female jury was seated on Thursday after more than eight days of jury selection. They will be sequestered for the remainder of the trial, which could last up to a month.
Watch Local 6 for more on this story.