Sanford police lead investigator testifies at George Zimmerman trial
Updated On: Jul 02 2013 06:22:43 AM EDT
Jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial on Monday heard his first recorded Sanford police interview in which the former neighborhood watchman said, "These guys always get away,” referring to suspicious people in his neighborhood, including Trayvon Martin.
[Chat recap: Tony Pipitone inside courtroom]
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Martin in a Sanford gated community.
Sanford Police Department lead investigator Chris Serino and Detective Doris Singleton testified on Monday as the state tried to show discrepancies in Zimmerman's accounts of what happened the night he shot and killed Martin.
The state called Serino to testify as the 24th witness. Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda asked Serino about any discrepancies with his interview with Zimmerman. Serino said Zimmerman claimed in his interview to have an associate's degree, but he discovered that wasn't true.
Zimmerman also didn't include the "homey" epitaph in his re-telling of Martin asking him if he had a problem. Zimmerman did tell Serino that Martin was going for Zimmerman's gun, Serino said.
"'He told me he was going to kill me,'" Serino said Zimmerman told him. Serino called Zimmerman's injuries as "minor" when asked by de la Rionda if they were major or minor.
The jury then saw portions of the video of Zimmerman reenacting the shooting scene the next day. Some clips were redacted based on legal determinations because of relevancy. The jury was able to hear, in Zimmerman's own words, what he says happened the night of the shooting and why he found Martin appearing to be "suspicious."
"That's what threw me off was its raining," Zimmerman said. "I can't understand why somebody would be just stopping in the rain."
Jurors also watched a 45-minute video interview Zimmerman gave to police after shooting. In the video, Serino asked, "had this person been white, would you feel the same way?" Zimmerman replied "yes."
Zimmerman is also seen on the video saying, "I prayed to God someone videotaped it."
"Did it ever occur to you to juts ask this person what he was doing out there?" Serino asked Zimmerman in the video.
"I didn't want to confront him," Zimmerman replied, adding that the person had his hand in his waist band. Serino said in the video that Martin was probably holding his fruit drink can.
In the video, Zimmerman repeats that Martin asked him if he had a problem, to which Singleton said, "but you kind of did have a problem," noting that Zimmerman followed Martin.
Singleton is also seen in the video suggesting Martin might have found Zimmerman "creepy."
Zimmerman was also questioned about where he was when he was heard on the non-emergency 911 call saying "these a******* they always get away." He first said he was at the clubhouse when he said that but later claimed to have moved or been moving.
"I wasn't following him. I was going in same direction he was," Zimmerman said on the recording to Serino.
"That's following him," Serino said. Singleton added, "it sounds like you're running, too."
"You're concerned about walking past this guy when you've been chasing him, essentially?" Singleton asked Zimmerman.
In the audio recording from Feb. 29, 2012, Serino played the screams in the 911 call.
"I can't pinpoint where you were smothered," Serino said to Zimmerman. Singleton added, "sounds like continuous screaming."
After the recording played, de la Rionda asked if Zimmerman said "that doesn't even sound like me" when Serino played the screams in the 911 calls. Serino said Zimmerman did, in fact, say that.
Also in the interview, Serino told Zimmerman, "had you stayed in your car we probably wouldn't be be here right now."
Defense attorney and former Local 6 legal analyst Mark O'Mara cross-examined Serino. Serino agreed with O'Mara that witness John Good is the only eyewitness to the encounter before the gunshot.
O'Mara asked if Serino noticed significant differences in Zimmerman's first two statements.
"At that point, no," Serino said, saying he wasn't concerned Zimmerman followed Martin as O'Mara notes dispatcher Sean Noffke asked twice what Martin was doing.
The state then objected to O'Mara showing Serino the picture of Zimmerman's injuries and asking about Zimmerman's "minor injuries."
O'Mara asked Serino if he felt Zimmerman was uncaring after he said he couldn't come back the next day for follow-up because he had class.
"Appeared odd he had that on his mind," Serino said.
O'Mara also asked if anything told Serino's "spidey sense" something was wrong with Zimmerman's story in the interview, to which Serino said there wasn't.
The state objected after O'Mara asked if Serino had information that Zimmerman acted in self-defense and a bench conference was held. Judge Debra S. Nelson then told the jurors they had a matter they needed to take up outside of their presence.
Nelson ruled the state's objection would be sustained.
O'Mara then questioned Serino's tactics in interviewing Zimmerman, calling it a "challenge interview" to reveal new information. O'Mara asked if Serino presented Martin positively in the interview, to which Serino said he didn't know anything to think otherwise.
Serino also said he didn't mean to make the interview a "challenge interview" and that it was "just another interview."
Serino said he thinks Zimmerman was telling the truth about what happened with Martin, but recommended manslaughter charge when his department wouldn't arrest Zimmerman.
Singleton, who got the first sworn statement from Zimmerman, his first taped statement and participated in the video reenactment the day after the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting, took the stand earlier Monday.
De la Rionda questioned Singleton about Zimmerman's appearance, injuries and if he was under the influence the night of the shooting.
The jury then heard part of Singleton's first recorded interview with Zimmerman as she read Zimmerman's Miranda rights. In the interview, Zimmerman told Singelton, "I decided to start a Neighborhood Watch program."
In the recording, Zimmerman told Singleton, "these guys always get always get away," and that he hadn't seen Martin before. Singleton asked for a contact to get surveillance video and brought back Zimmerman's phone so he could look it up for police.
"I see him circling my car and then he goes back into the darkness," Zimmerman told Singleton in the recording, saying he got out of his car because he didn't know the name of the street and wanted to know where Martin went.
Zimmerman said as he was walking back to his vehicle, he was attacked and punched in the face by Martin after he jumped out of the bushes.
"When I walked back that's when he came out of the darkness and I guess he was upset that I called the police."
Zimmerman said Martin said, "what the f***'s your problem, homey?" Zimmerman said he had no problem and then Martin punched him, making him fall backwards as Martin "wailed" on his head and Zimmerman yelled for help.
Zimmerman then told Singleton that Martin said to him," you're going to die tonight."
Zimmerman told Singleton about the confrontation and how Martin was pushing his head on the pavement.
"He's still trying to hit my head against the pavement ... tried to bang my head again, I pulled my firearm and shot him," Zimmerman said.
The state then played a portion of the interview where Singleton asks Zimmerman to show on a map where the altercation happened and where he parked.
He said Martin first looked into his vehicle but didn't circle it at the clubhouse. Zimmerman said he lost Martin so Zimmerman drove, parked and then Martin circled the vehicle.
De la Rionda had Singleton read Zimmerman's written statement aloud to the jury, in which Zimmerman repeatedly used the word "suspect" to refer to Martin. Singleton said she had never used the word "suspect" to describe Martin.
Zimmerman wrote that it "felt like my head was going to explode" and sensed Martin was going to get firearm unholstered. Zimmerman said he was "in fear for my life."
After lunch recess, de la Rionda questioned Singleton about Zimmerman's injuries and showed pictures of the injuries taken the night of the shooting at Sanford Police Department.
A video of Zimmerman giving samples to police in the interview room was then shown to jurors. Singleton then told a story about Zimmerman asking her about a cross she was wearing and if she was Catholic.
O'Mara cross-examined Singleton, asking how Zimmerman reacted to hearing Martin had died. Singleton said Zimmerman asked, "he's dead?" then dropped his head and shook it.
Singleton also said Zimmerman never refused to speak to police. The state objected to the defense citing evidence that Zimmerman said he was the one screaming on the call but Nelson overruled the objection.
O'Mara described Singleton's questioning of Zimmerman as a "virgin interview" where neither party knew evidence or witnesses yet. He also discussed Zimmerman's reaction to finding out Martin died and Singleton's religion conversation with Zimmerman.
O'Mara also asked Singleton about Zimmerman's statements and any inconsistencies.
Singleton said she saw "no inconsistencies" in statements, adding "Most people don't tell you the same story the exact same way two times." She also said she saw no "significant discrepancies in Zimmerman's interviews with her compared to the statements he gave Serino.
Singleton also said she suspected Zimmerman didn't get out of his car to look for street signs, rather he wanted to get out of the vehicle. She said she would have thought Zimmerman knew the street signs because he was part of the Neighborhood Watch program.
O'Mara then asked if Singleton found it unusual that Zimmerman called Martin a "suspect" in statements. She also said she didn't think it was significant that Zimmerman said Martin came from the bushes and then said he didn't know from where Martin came from. She was shown pictures of the bushes.
During redirect, de la Rionda got Singelton to agree what is significant or not is up to the jury.
De la Rionda asked if Singleton knew what was in Zimmerman's heart or mind when he followed Martin, calling him an "unarmed 17-year-old boy." Singleton said she only knew what Zimmerman told her.
O'Mara then asked if Zimmerman seemed spiteful or angry, to which Singleton said he didn't.
Entering the second week of testimony Monday, prosecutors first called Federal Bureau of Investigation forensic examiner Hirotaka Nakasone, a senior audio electronic engineer. Nakasone previously stated he couldn't identify if it was Martin or Zimmerman screaming in background the 911 call.
Prosecutor Richard Mantei questioned Nakasone about his previous testimony on the reliability of speaker recognition technologies. Nakasone said he was asked to analyze eight recordings for the Zimmerman case, including 911 calls made by neighbors who heard the shooting.
Nakasone said guessing age from voice recording can be "a little complicated" and can often result in mistakes. He said people can identify familiar voices even after a few words. If that were to be true, Martin's mom, Sybrina Fulton, may have been able to identify her son's voice and Zimmerman's family may have been able to identify his voice.
"For this particular case, best approach would be familiar voice recognition by an individual who has heard him in his whole life speaking, uttering in a variety of conditions including screaming, yelling, under similar setups," Nakasone said.
Nakasone said where it gets "tricky" is with unfamiliar voices. Nakasone said comparing two unfamiliar voices is very difficult. He said it's "better" to identify a voice by human recognition than using technology. Juror 5, E6, nodded gently, as if agreeing.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Don West asked about the reliability of voice analysis software. Nakasone said most scientists agree voice analysis of screams are unreliable. Nakasone also added there could be "bias" in voice recognition.
West then asked Nakasone about his opinion on law enforcement practices. The state objected and Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled she wouldn't allow the question.
West then attempted to have Nakasone say "listener bias" was an issue when the 911 call was played for Martin's parents. West asked if the call was played for more than one person, if there was an increased risk of infecting the reliability of identification, to which Nakasone responded it could if bias was built in.
"Did you consider screams to be of someone in a life-threatening situation?" West asked.
"Yes ... extreme emotional state," Nakasone said, adding that it's not possible to determine age by listening to screams and undercutting the state's previous witness who testified that they thought it was screams of a younger person.
During redirect, Mantei asked Nakasone if bias was only an issue with unfamiliar voices, but Nakasone said a safeguard against bias also is needed with familiar voices. He said he would recommend listening to the audio clip separately and not in groups.
Nakasone previously testified as a witness for the defense in a Frye hearing, which resulted in state audio experts not being able to testify in Zimmerman's trial.
More than 20 witnesses testified during the first week of a trial that has opened up national debates about race, equal justice, self-defense and gun control.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder and has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.
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