National News

July 2, 2013

Judge strikes detective statements on Zimmerman

SANFORD, Fla. — A prosecutor in George Zimmerman’s murder trial on Tuesday tried to pick apart the statements of a Sanford Police detective who was called as a prosecution witness a day before but gave testimony that seemed to benefit the defense.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked the judge to strike from the record a statement Detective Chris Serino made Monday in which he said he found credible Zimmerman’s account of how he got into a fight with Trayvon Martin.

De la Rionda argued the statement was improper because one witness isn’t allowed to give an opinion on the credibility of another witness. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara argued it was proper because Serino was vetting Zimmerman’s veracity in his probe.

Judge Debra Nelson told jurors to disregard the statement.

“This is an improper comment,” the judge said.

De la Rionda then questioned Serino about his opinion given Monday that he didn’t believe Zimmerman displayed any ill will or spite to Martin. Prosecutors must prove there was ill will, spite or a depraved mind by the defendant to get a second-degree murder conviction.

The prosecutor played back a police call Zimmerman had made to report Martin in the neighborhood: Zimmerman uses an expletive, refers to “punks” and then says, “These a-------. They always get away.” The prosecutor asked the investigator if those words showed some spite, and Serino conceded it could be construed that way.

Next, de la Rionda challenged Serino’s contention that he found Zimmerman’s story without major inconsistencies. The prosecutor played back Zimmerman’s police interview in which investigators question Zimmerman about small differences in the neighborhood volunteer’s story. The prosecutor also pointed out Zimmerman claimed that after he shot Martin, he spread out the teen’s arms. But a photo taken immediately after the shooting shows Martin’s arms under his body.

“Is that inconsistent with the defendant’s statement he spread the arms out?” de la Rionda asked.

“That position, yes it is,” Serino said.

But under cross examination, Serino said Zimmerman’s description of Martin’s body position was consistent with the medical examiner’s report.

Later, in response to Serino’s cross-examination testimony that he’d seen a convenience store video that showed Martin in a hooded sweatshirt, de la Rionda asked, “Are you saying in Seminole County, it’s illegal for someone to wear a hoodie at night?”

“No sir. I’m not,” Serino said.

It was Serino’s second day on the witness stand. He and another investigator, Doris Singleton, testified Monday about their investigation as jurors heard a series of police interviews in which the detectives grew more pointed in their questioning.

In an early interview, just hours after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting, Singleton recounted that Zimmerman noticed a cross she was wearing and said: “In Catholic religion, it’s always wrong to kill someone.”

Singleton said she responded, “If what you’re telling me is true, I don’t think that what God meant was that you couldn’t save your own life.”

But in an interview days later, Singleton and Serino suggest that Zimmerman was running after Martin before the confrontation. They also ask Zimmerman why he didn’t explain to Martin why he was following him. The officers insinuate that Martin may have been “creeped out” by being followed.

“Do you think he was scared?” Singleton asked Zimmerman in one video interview.

Under cross-examination, though, Serino said Zimmerman seemed straightforward in his answers and didn’t show any anger when talking about Martin. Serino said the increasingly pointed questioning is a tactic known as a “challenge interview,” where detectives try to break someone’s story to make sure they’re telling the truth.

Late in the morning the prosecution called Mark Osterman, a federal air marshal who described Zimmerman as “the best friend I’ve ever had.”

He testified that he spoke with Zimmerman both the night of and the day after the shooting. Osterman later wrote a book about his recollections of what Zimmerman told him.

Under examination by De la Rionda, Osterman said that Zimmerman told him Martin had grabbed his gun during their struggle, but that Zimmerman was able to pull it away.

That account is different from what Zimmerman told investigators in multiple interviews when he only said it appeared Martin was reaching for his gun prior to the shooting. He never told police the teen grabbed it.

“I thought he had said he grabbed the gun,” Osterman said. “I believe he said he grabbed the gun.”

Zimmerman has said he fatally shot the unarmed black teen in self-defense in February, 2012, because he says Martin was banging his head into a concrete sidewalk behind townhomes in a gated community. Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

The state argued during its opening statement that Zimmerman profiled and followed Martin in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teenager got into a fight. Zimmerman has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race, as Martin’s family and their supporters have claimed. A 44-day delay in Zimmerman’s arrest led to protests around the nation; he was ultimately charged by a Florida special prosecutor. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

———

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

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

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Remembering an officer slain after bombs went off

    Like many other youngsters, Sean Collier wanted to be a police officer. Unlike most, he brought that dream to life — and then died doing it, becoming a central character in one of the most gripping manhunts the nation has ever seen.

    April 18, 2014

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87

    Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez crafted intoxicating fiction from the fatalism, fantasy, cruelty and heroics of the world that set his mind churning as a child growing up on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

    April 18, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday.

    April 17, 2014

  • Why high oil prices are actually good for airlines

    Airline executives frequently complain about fuel costs. But the truth is higher prices actually have been good for business.

    April 17, 2014

  • Armed robber was never told to report to prison

    After he was convicted of armed robbery in 2000, Cornealious Anderson was sentenced to 13 years behind bars and told to await instructions on when and where to report to prison. But those instructions never came.

    April 17, 2014

  • Hot models at this year’s New York Auto Show

    With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the U.S. auto industry. Here are some of the vehicles debuting this year. The show opens to the public Friday.

    April 17, 2014

  • Study: Diabetic heart attacks and strokes falling

    In the midst of the diabetes epidemic, a glimmer of good news: Heart attacks, strokes and other complications from the disease are plummeting.

    April 17, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

    April 17, 2014

  • Players protest rehiring of fired Minnesota coach

    The University of Minnesota-Mankato football team Wednesday boycotted the fired head coach who won his job back in an arbitrator's ruling last week, nearly two years after fighting accusations of child pornography and other misconduct.

    April 16, 2014

  • A year after background check defeat, modest goals

    Democratic worries about this November’s elections, a lack of Senate votes and House opposition are forcing congressional gun-control supporters to significantly winnow their 2014 agenda, a year after lawmakers scuttled President Barack Obama’s effort to pass new curbs on firearms.

    April 16, 2014