National News

July 10, 2013

Judge rules against Zimmerman on evidence

SANFORD, Fla. — A Florida judge ruled Wednesday that Trayvon Martin’s cellphone text messages about fighting and a defense animation depicting the struggle between Martin and George Zimmerman won’t be introduced as evidence at Zimmerman’s trial. Defense attorneys had wanted to use those pieces of evidence as they conclude their presentation.

Judge Debra Nelson made her ruling a day after she heard arguments on the matter.  Prosecutors had claimed the texts were irrelevant and taken out of context. They also objected to the computer animation, questioning its accuracy and saying it would mislead jurors.

“This is a murder trial. This isn’t ‘Casablanca.’ This isn’t ‘Iron Man,”’ prosecutor Richard Mantei said.

The judge seemed concerned about the animation’s accuracy during arguments. While the animation can’t be introduced as evidence that can be reviewed by jurors during their deliberations, defense attorneys may be able to use it during closing arguments, she ruled.

“To have an animation go back into jury room that they can play over and over again gives a certain weight to something that this court isn’t exactly certain comports with the evidence presented at trial,” Nelson said Wednesday night.

The judge agreed with prosecutors’ concerns about introducing the 17-year-old’s text messages. But defense attorney Don West had argued the texts were relevant since they showed Martin’s interest in fighting and physical capabilities.

After lunch Wednesday, the judge asked Zimmerman if he had made up his mind on whether to testify. He said he hadn’t. Defense attorney Don West objected several times to the judge’s question but the judge overruled him.

Defense attorneys on Wednesday called one of their last witnesses as they started winding down their case. Public safety consultant Dennis Root testified that Martin was in better physical shape than Zimmerman, and that the neighborhood watch volunteer wasn’t any athlete.

“He would find himself lacking when compared to Mr. Martin,” Root said of Zimmerman.

During cross-examination of Root, prosecutor John Guy used a life-sized foam mannequin in front of the jury to simulate the body positions of Zimmerman and Martin at the time of the shooting.

Straddling the dummy, Guy proposed a scenario in which Martin was on top of Zimmerman and asked Root if it was possible that Martin was backing away from Zimmerman at the time of the fatal gunshot.  

“Yes,” Root said.

Root also said he may have taken different actions if he were in Zimmerman’s situation, but said that “it’s just a matter of what you as the individual view as options.”  

Using the same mannequin during further questioning of Root, defense attorney Mark O’Mara challenged the notion of Martin retreating. Root said that while multiple gun angles were possible, he had no specific information to say what position Martin was in when he was shot.  

“I think you’re not going to be involved in a conflict like this without it being dynamic,” Root said.

Martin was unarmed and returning from a store when he was fatally shot by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, during a struggle on a dark, rainy night in February 2012. Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic. Some civil rights activists argued that the initial delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin’s race. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and says he shot Martin in self-defense.

Defense attorneys have said they are likely to wrap up their presentation on Wednesday after less than a week of calling witnesses. Much of the testimony in previous days has concerned a 911 call made by a witness during the confrontation that includes screams for help. Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., was the last witness Wednesday to testify it’s his son yelling for help on the call.

Convincing the jury of who was screaming for help on the tape has become the primary goal of prosecutors and defense attorneys because it would help jurors evaluate Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. Relatives of Martin’s and Zimmerman’s have offered conflicting opinions about who is heard screaming.

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khightower.

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP.

 

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