Day 10: 4 witnesses take stand during Zimmerman trial testimony



SANFORD, Fla. - Jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial have been dismissed for the day after listening to opening statements from the prosecution and the defense, as well as hearing testimony from four witnesses.

Judge Debra Nelson had the jurors leave Monday as they were listening to the fourth witness for the prosecution. The witness was a custodian of police dispatch calls.

During her testimony, prosecutors started playing police calls Zimmerman had made in the months before he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.

Defense attorneys objected, claiming the calls were irrelevant.

The judge said she would address the matter Tuesday and sent the jurors to their hotel where they are being sequestered for the duration of the trial that could last up to a month.

The first witness to take the stand was 15-year-old Chad Joseph, the son of Martin's father's girlfriend. Joseph testified that he and Martin were playing video games before Martin left the home to go to the store.

Joseph said he told Martin he wanted Skittles, which is when Martin left the home to go to a 7-Eleven convenience store.

Joseph, then 12, said he talked to Martin on the phone minutes before he was shot and killed.

The jurors saw surveillance video of Martin at the convenience store and interviewed Andrew Gaugh, who was Martin’s cashier that night.   

Gaugh said Martin purchased iced tea and the candy before leaving. He said he didn’t find the teenager suspicious.

The state’s third witness was Sean Noffke, the Seminole County Sheriff's dispatcher who took Zimmerman's call to police that night.

The defense asked about Zimmerman's demeanor on the phone.

“Any concern with the way presented that, any anger in his voice, any animosity that you can detect?" asked defense attorney Mark O’Mara.

“No, sir,” replied Noffke.

But later, Noffke said there could have been signs of hostility.

To prove second-degree murder, the state has to prove that Zimmerman shot Martin out of spite, ill will, hatred or depravity.

At one point, Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, broke down in tears as the prosecution outlined how officers tried to save the teenager's life.  Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, walked out of the courtroom after hearing the fatal shot played during one of the 911 calls.

Following the lunch break and before testimony began, the defense called Zimmerman's friend to the stand, who said the Sheriff's Office was told about how Tracy Martin insulted him as they passed each other just outside the courtroom doors.

The defense was using the situation to convince the judge that if Martin was allowed to stay in court after breaking the rules, that Zimmerman’s parents should also be allowed, even though they are all listed as witnesses.

Nelson, however, said only the alleged victim's family is allowed that exemption.

Earlier Monday, opening statements were held.  

A prosecutor told jurors then that Zimmerman fatally shot Martin "because he wanted to," not because he had to, while a defense attorney said the neighborhood watch volunteer shot the teen in self-defense to stop him from smashing Zimmerman's head into a concrete sidewalk.

Defense attorney Don West used a joke in his opening statements to illustrate the difficulty of picking a jury amid such widespread publicity.

   "Knock. Knock," West said.

   "Who is there?"

   "George Zimmerman."

   "George Zimmerman who?"

   "Ah, good. You're on the jury."

Just before opening statements began, Martin's parents sent out an urgent plea to their supporters to pray with them for justice, while their family attorney, Benjamin Crump, described the case as clear cut. 

"There are two important facts in this case: No. 1: George Zimmerman was a grown man with a gun, and No. 2: Trayvon Martin was a minor who had no blood on his hands. Literally no blood on his hands. ... We believe that the evidence is overwhelming to hold George Zimmerman accountable for killing Trayvon Martin," Crump said.

Prosecutor John Guy's first words to jurors recounted what Zimmerman told a police dispatcher in a call shortly before the fatal confrontation with Martin: "F------ punks. These a-------, they always get away."

Zimmerman was profiling Martin as he followed him through the gated community where Zimmerman lived and Martin was visiting, Guy said. He said Zimmerman viewed the teen "as someone about to a commit a crime in his neighborhood."

"And he acted on it. That's why we're here," the prosecutor said.

Zimmerman didn't have to shoot Martin, Guy said.

"He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to," he said.

West told jurors a different story: Zimmerman was being viciously attacked when he shot Martin, he said. He was sucker-punched by Martin, who then pounded Zimmerman's head into the concrete sidewalk.

"He had just taken tremendous blows to his face, tremendous blows to his head," said West, after showing jurors photos taken by Zimmerman's neighbors of the bloodied and bruised neighborhood watch volunteer.

   Later, West said it was not true that Martin was unarmed. 

   "Trayvon Martin armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head," West said.

   West also played for jurors the call to a police dispatcher in which Zimmerman used the obscenities.

Martin had opportunities to go home after Zimmerman followed him and then lost track of him, but instead the teen confronted Zimmerman, West said.

Guy argued, however, that there is no evidence to back up other claims by Zimmerman, including that Martin had his hands over Zimmerman's mouth. Guy said none of Zimmerman's DNA was found on Martin's body. The prosecutor also said Zimmerman's claim that he had to fire because Martin was reaching for his firearm is false since none of Martin's DNA was on the gun or holster.

   Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming self-defense. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

   On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated townhome community where Zimmerman and the fiancee of Martin's father lived. There had been a rash of recent break-ins and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.

   The two eventually got into a struggle and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest with his 9mm handgun.

He was charged 44 days after the shooting, only after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the case and after protests. The delay in the arrest prompted protests nationwide.

   Two police dispatch phone calls will be important evidence for both sides' cases.

The first is a call Zimmerman made to a non-emergency police dispatcher, who told him he didn't need to be following Martin.

   The second 911 call captures screams from the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin. Martin's parents said the screams are from their son while Zimmerman's father contends they belong to his son.

   Nelson ruled last weekend that audio experts for the prosecution won't be able to testify that the screams belong to Martin, saying the methods the experts used were unreliable.

Opening statements were made two weeks after jury selection began. Attorneys picked six jurors and four alternates after quizzing the jury pool questions about how much they knew about the case and their views on guns and self-defense.

   The prosecution took a little more than a half-hour to make an opening statement. The defense took more than 2 1/2 hours.