After nearly 18 months, a verdict is just days away in the trial of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Now a jury will have to decide if Zimmerman, 29, shot Martin in self-defense, as he has maintained, or if it was murder.
On Wednesday, Judge Debra S. Nelson asked Zimmerman if he had made a decision about whether to testify—which defense attorney Don West repeatedly objected to—and Zimmerman said he would not take the stand. Then defense attorneys rested their case.
“What is your decision, sir?” Judge Nelson asked.
“After consulting with counsel, not to testify your honor,” Zimmerman responded.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said Zimmerman wanted to testify but he and West felt he had already told his version of events in numerous interviews with police that were played for jurors.
“I think he really wanted to interact with this jury and say to them ‘This is what I did and this is why I did it.’ And, as importantly, ‘This is what was happening to me at the time that I decided to do what I had to do,’” O’Mara said. “So in that sense, yes, I think he wanted to tell his story.”
The prosecution and defense also argued over what charges Zimmerman may face. Prosecutors want him to face second-degree murder along with manslaughter and aggravated assault, but defense attorneys objected. The judge will decide today if the jury can consider lesser charges.
Earlier in the day, Judge Nelson rejected defense requests to allow into evidence text messages from Martin's cell phone about fighting and buying a gun. She said that just because the text messages had come from a phone used by Martin, there was no way to prove he had written them.
“People have children who pick up their phones and play with them,” Judge Nelson said. “I don't have any identifying marks that these text messages were created by or sent by Mr. Martin.”
The judge also refused to allow an animated reenactment of the fight between Zimmerman and Martin, but said it could be used during closing arguments as an example of what may have happened that night.
Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., testified that, like previous family members, he believed it was his son screaming for help on the 911 call with sounds of the gunshot.
In addition, Dennis Root, a fight expert, took the stand to continue the defense’s “George Zimmerman is a wimp” strategy. Root testified that Martin was in better physical shape than Zimmerman, and that the neighborhood watch captain may have felt justified in shooting Martin in self-defense.
“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Martin was a physically active and capable person,” said Root. “Mr. Zimmerman is an individual who is by no stretch of the imagination an athlete. He would find himself lacking when compared to Mr. Martin.”
Root, a former police officer, was on the stand for several hours. Like other expert witnesses, he was paid by the defense. Root usually charges a $1,500 consulting fee and $125 an hour for expert testimony. (Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a gunshot wound expert, who testified on Tuesday, admitted on the stand that he had been paid $2,400 by the defense.)
During cross-examination, the prosecution used a life-sized, foam dummy to simulate different positions during the altercation between Martin and Zimmerman. At one point, prosecutor John Guy straddled the dummy on the floor of the courtroom. Guy asked Root whether it was possible that Martin was backing away from Zimmerman at the time of the fatal gunshot.
"Yes," Root said.
Also, on Wednesday afternoon, heads turned when Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Martin family, returned to the courtroom. Crump had been listed as a possible defense witness and, per the judge’s sequestration rules, could not attend the proceedings. He was asked to leave the courtroom at the start of the trial. Crump was never called to the stand. Did the defense add his name to the witness list simply to keep him out of the courtroom—and away from the media?
Prosecutors will present their closing arguments today at 1 P.M. and defense attorneys will present their statements on Friday. The state will then have an hour to present rebuttal statements. Each side will take three hours. The jury is expected to start deliberating on Friday.