SANFORD, Fla. - The first police officer to interview George Zimmerman after he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin said Zimmerman didn't yet know that the teen had died.
Officer Doris Singleton said Zimmerman seemed surprised when she told him Martin was dead during an interview at the police station.
"He's dead?" Singleton recounted Zimmerman saying before he lowered his head.
“I said, ‘I thought you knew that. I thought you knew he was dead,’” said Singleton. “And he just kind of slung his head, just shook it.”
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said Singleton’s description of Zimmerman’s reaction may have helped the defense in the case.
According to Channel 9’s Kathi Belich, when prosecutors asked Singleton to read Zimmerman's statement of what happened, she wasn't prepared.
Sheaffer said the prosecution should have better prepared her to read such a key piece of testimony, because the statement allowed the jury to hear Zimmerman's side of the things.
Now, the defense may not have to put Zimmerman himself on the stand.
When asked by defense attorney Mark O'Mara whether Zimmerman showed any anger or ill will in talking about Martin, the officer said, “No."
On Monday, jurors in the second-degree murder trial heard a recording of the neighborhood watch volunteer describing his fatal encounter with Martin to Singleton.
Zimmerman said in that first police interview that he saw Martin walking through his neighborhood on a dark, rainy night while Zimmerman was driving to the grocery store. He told Singleton that he didn't recognize Martin and that there had been recent break-ins at his townhome complex.
"These guys always get away," Zimmerman told Singleton, a statement similar to one that prosecutors have used previously to try to show that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with the burglaries and his encounter with Martin was a breaking point.
Zimmerman told the police officer that he lost track of Martin and got out of his truck to look for a street name he could relay to police dispatcher.
When the dispatcher suggested Zimmerman didn't need to follow Martin, Zimmerman started to head back to his vehicle.
At that point, Zimmerman said Martin jumped out of some bushes, punched him and he fell to the ground.
Zimmerman said that Martin began hitting his head against the sidewalk as Zimmerman yelled for help. Zimmerman said Martin “reached for my gun and said, ‘You're going to die tonight, and I pulled the gun out and fired.”
With Zimmerman's shirt and jacket pushed up during the struggle and his holstered gun now visible, he thought Martin was reaching for his firearm holstered around his waist. Zimmerman told the officer that he shot Martin and the teen said, "You got me."
By playing those recordings, in effect, the jury has already now heard Zimmerman testify over and over again, according to Sheaffer.
The state has made sure of it on Monday by playing excerpts of his many voluntary statements to police.
“It's one thing to say I pulled a gun and shot someone because I'm losing the fight,” said Sheaffer. “It's another to say I pulled my gun and shot someone because they were going for the gun and I was in fear for my life.”
Sheaffer said no one can refute that evidence, so now Zimmerman most likely will not have to testify unless the state uncovers major inconsistencies in Zimmerman's statement.
The jury is also hearing Zimmerman's numerous voluntary statements to police, which shows Zimmerman pretty much told investigators the same story every time.
Later, however, police started asking why Zimmerman didn't approach Martin, identify himself as neighborhood watch and ask who Martin was.
In interviews with law enforcement, they challenged that Zimmerman had stopped following Martin.
“I wasn't following him,” Zimmerman said. “I was just going in the same direction."
Martin's father shook his head when he heard the statement in court.
“Did you pursue this kid? Did you want to catch him?” asked Detective Chris Serino.
“No,” said Zimmerman.
“That's not you, that's not what you're about?” asked Serino.
Investigators asked whether Zimmerman could have made Martin anxious by following him, but Zimmerman told them he did not know where Martin was.
Serino also asked if race was a factor in Zimmerman's belief that Martin was suspicious.
“Would you have thought he was suspicious if he was white?” asked Serino.
“Yes,” said Zimmerman.
During cross-examination, O’Mara asked Serino if Zimmerman was “cagey. Did he try to sidestep your answers?”
“No,” said Serino.
Prosecutors played the police interview Monday after calling an FBI audio expert to the witness stand. Prosecutors called FBI expert Hirotaka Nakasone to focus on the issue of who was screaming for help on 911 calls during the confrontation.
Jurors were played the 911 calls several times last week.
The recordings are crucial pieces of evidence because they could determine who the aggressor was in the confrontation. Martin's family contends it was the teen screaming, while Zimmerman's father has said it was his son.
Even though he was a pretrial witness for the defense, prosecutors called Nakasone to set up later testimony from the teen's mother or father that they believe it was their son yelling for help.
During his pretrial testimony, Nakasone testified that there wasn't enough clear sound to determine whether Zimmerman or Martin was screaming on the best 911 sample, an assertion he repeated Monday.
"It's not fit for the purpose of voice comparison," Nakasone said.
Nakasone also said guessing a person's age by voice is "complicated" in general, and it was impossible to determine with the 911 sample he heard.
The FBI expert said that it's easier for a person with a familiarity of a voice to identify it than someone who has never heard it previously. That is especially true if the recording is of a subject screaming and the person trying to identify the voice has heard the subject under similarly stressful circumstances previously, Nakasone said.
But under cross-examination by defense attorney Don West, Nakasone said there was a risk of increased listener bias if people trying to identify a voice are listening to a sample in a group, as Martin's parents did, rather than individually.
"There might be a risk of bias included in the end results," Nakasone said.
Nakasone's pretrial testimony, along with other defense experts, helped keep two prosecution audio experts from testifying. One prosecution expert ruled out that it was Zimmerman screaming on the 911 call and the other thought it was the teen.
Judge Debra Nelson ruled that the methods used by the experts aren't reliable.
More than 20 witnesses last week testified during the opening week of a testimony in a trial that has opened up national debates about race, equal justice, self-defense and gun control.
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 teen got into a fight.
Zimmerman has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race, as Martin's family and their supporters have claimed.