SANFORD, Fla. -- As a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman called police close to 50 times over an eight-year-period to report such things as slow vehicles, loitering strangers in the neighborhood and open garages.
Prosecutors want to introduce recordings of some of those calls during Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, saying they are indicative of his overzealousness in pursuing people he considered to be suspicious - and of his state of mind on the night the unarmed teen was killed.
Defense attorneys object to the introduction of the calls, saying they should not be admissible under the rules of evidence.
Judge Debra Nelson said she would address the matter Tuesday, on the second day of the trial that has stirred nationwide debate over racial profiling, vigilantism and Florida's expansive laws on the use of deadly force.
Jurors are being sequestered for the duration of the trial, which could last several weeks.
In his opening statements Monday, State Attorney John Guy repeated obscenities Zimmerman uttered while talking to a police dispatcher moments before the deadly confrontation with Martin. He quoted Zimmerman as saying that Martin was one of the "F------ punks" who "always get away."
The defense opened with a knock-knock joke about the difficulty of picking a jury for such a widely publicized case.
"Knock. Knock," said defense attorney Don West.
"Who is there?"
"George Zimmerman who?"
"All right, good. You're on the jury."
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for gunning down Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, as the black teenager, wearing a hoodie on a dark, rainy night, walked from a convenience store through the gated townhouse community where he was staying.
Randy McClean, a criminal defense attorney in Florida with no connection to the case, called the prosecution's opening statement "brilliant" in that it described Zimmerman's state of mind. But he described the knock-knock joke as less than stellar.
"If you're defending your client for second-degree murder, you probably shouldn't start your opening with a joke," McClean said.
The case took on racial dimensions after Martin's family claimed that Zimmerman had racially profiled the teen and that police were dragging their feet in bringing charges. Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race.
But in his opening statements, Guy reiterated the Martin family's claim, saying 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.
The prosecutor portrayed the then-neighborhood watch captain as a vigilante, saying, "Zimmerman thought it was his right to rid his neighborhood of anyone who did not belong."
West told jurors a different story: Martin sucker-punched Zimmerman and then pounded his head against the concrete sidewalk, and that's when Zimmerman opened fire.
Showing the jury photos of a bloodied and bruised Zimmerman, the defense attorney said, "He had just taken tremendous blows to his face, tremendous blows to his head."
West said the idea that Martin was unarmed is untrue: "Trayvon Martin armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head."
The prosecutor, however, disputed elements of Zimmerman's story, including his claim that Martin put his hands over Zimmerman's mouth and reached for the man's gun. Guy said none of Zimmerman's DNA was found on Martin's body, and none of the teenager's DNA was on the weapon or the holster.
But West said that doesn't prove anything, arguing that crime-scene technicians didn't properly protect Martin's hands from contamination.
Two police dispatch phone calls that could prove to be important evidence for both sides were played for the jury by the defense. Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, left the courtroom before the second recording, which has the sound of the gunshot that killed Martin.
The first was a call Zimmerman made to a nonemergency police dispatcher, who told him he didn't need to be following Martin.
The second 911 call, from a witness, captures screams in the distant background from the struggle between Zimmerman and Martin. Martin's parents said the screams are from their son, while Zimmerman's father contends they are his son's.
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 used were unreliable.
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The Martin Story Becomes National News
New York's Daily Intelligencer blog details how the Trayvon Martin story, which hadn't received a lot of attention, <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/03/trayvon-martin-shooting-now-a-national-news-story.html">landed on the radars of the national media.</a> A good deal of the national attention and outrage over the case was centered around the fact that Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense, a category with broad meaning because of Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, and was not arrested or charged with a crime for more than a month after Martin's death.
Seminole County State Attorney Convenes Grand Jury
Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger announces that he will be convening a grand jury to determine if Zimmerman should be charged in Martin's death. In a statement, Wolfinger said that he would be "utilizing the investigative resources" of the Seminole County grand jury which he said would be called to session on April 10. "I share in the desire of the family and the community to accurately collect and evaluate all the facts surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin," Wolfinger said. "I respectfully request that the public remain patient as this process continues forward ... As I have previously stated, the public is entitled to no less than a thorough, deliberate, and just review of the facts. We intend to honor that commitment." Lawyers for the Martin family anticipated that the state attorney would call a grand jury, saying that the move is little more than "passing the buck."
Police Chief Under Fire
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/trayvon-martin-case-george-zimmerman-bill-lee_n_1371635.html?1332389437">Sanford's city commission gave a vote of “no confidence” to beleaguered police Chief Bill Lee Jr.</a>, who was under fire for his department’s investigation into the shooting.
Police Chief 'Temporarily' Steps Down
In a brief press conference, Chief Bill Lee announced that he would be "temporarily" steppng down from his position, saying that his role in the case had become a "distraction."
State Attorney Steps Down
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/trayvon-martin-state-attorney_n_1374206.html">Seminole County State Attorney Norman Wolfinger steps down</a> due to "conflict of interest."
President Obama Speaks Out
President Obama <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/obama-trayvon-martin_n_1375083.html?ref=trayvon-martin">issues his first public statement</a> about the case.
Police Video Shows Zimmerman Night Of Shooting
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/trayvon-martin-police-video_n_1386764.html">Newly released video of George Zimmerman</a> at the Sanford Police Department the night he shot Trayvon Martin to death show the neighborhood watch volunteer without blood on his clothing or bruises on his face or head.
George Zimmerman Launches FundraIsing Website
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/travon-martin-george-zimmerman_n_1412693.html?utm_hp_ref=trayvon-martin">Zimmerman launches an official fundraising site</a> to help pay his legal fees.
George Zimmerman Charged With Second-Degree Murder
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/george-zimmerman-trayvon-martin-charged-second-degree-murder_n_1417198.html">Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced</a> that George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder.
Judge Grants Zimmerman Bail
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/george-zimmerman-bail-hearing_n_1440175.html?ref=black-voices">Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set Zimmerman's bond at $150,000</a>
New Photograph Shows George Zimmerman's Bloodied Head
A new photograph released by ABC News shows a bloodied George Zimmerman with injuries on the back of his head. The photo, which was reportedly taken three minutes after Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, could serve as possible evidence supporting the neighborhood watch volunteer's claim of his violent confrontation with the teen.
Zimmerman Bond Revoked
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/george-zimmermans-bond-re_n_1563304.html">A Florida judge revoked bond for George Zimmerman</a>, and ordered that he turn himself in within 48 hours. Prosecutors had asked Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. to revoke Zimmerman's bond because they contend that he was disingenuous at an earlier bond hearing when Zimmerman's family and attorney claimed that he was cash broke. The motion filed by prosecutors claimed that Zimmerman "misrepresented, mislead [sic] and deceived the court."
Shellie Zimmerman Arrested
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/shellie-zimmerman-arrested-george-zimmerman-wife_n_1591153.html?utm_hp_ref=trayvon-martin">George Zimmerman's wife Shellie, was arrested</a> and charged with one count of perjury, according to law enforcement officials.
George Zimmerman Released From Jail
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/george-zimmerman-released_n_1654831.html">George Zimmerman left a Florida jail</a> after posting a $1 million bond that a judge set for him Thursday, Bay News 9 reports. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, who revoked Zimmerman's bond in June for misleading the court about how much money he had, said he set the bail significantly higher to circumvent the possibility of Zimmerman using hidden funds to flee the country.
Judge Ordered To Step Down
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/george-zimmerman-judge-lester_n_1841293.html">Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal rules that Judge Kenneth Lester should enter a motion to disqualify himself</a> in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder case. Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara asked the court earlier this month to overturn a previous ruling by Lester not to leave the case.
Trial Date Set
George Zimmerman's murder trial for the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/17/george-zimmerman-trial-date-set-june-10-2013_n_1973469.html">set for June 10, 2013</a>
Zimmerman Must Remain In County On 24-Hour GPS Monitor Until Trial
George Zimmerman ordered remain under 24-hour GPS monitoring while awaiting trial in the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and must stay in the county despite the defense's concerns about his safety.
George Zimmerman Denied Delay Of Trayvon Martin Trial
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/05/george-zimmerman-denied-trayvon-martin-trial_n_2623282.html?utm_hp_ref=trayvon-martin">A Florida judge rejected a bid by George Zimmerman to delay his June trial</a> for the murder of unarmed, black teenager Trayvon Martin, whom he shot and killed a year ago. Zimmerman is expected to appear in court for an April hearing where his lawyers plan to argue that he should be immune from prosecution in the case because of Florida's Stand Your Ground Law. The National Rifle Association (NRA) heavily lobbied Florida legislators to pass the law in 2005 and encouraged lawmakers not to change it after Martin's death.
The family attorneys have finished speaking.
"Please respect their privacy," Crump said of the Martin family.
"Jurors were given packets of letters from the media containing interview requests. They expressed no interest at this time," Kennedy said.
"Anonymity order is still in effect... Any attempt to identify jurors is a violation of the current order," said Michelle Kennedy, Public Information Officer for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit.
"For Trayvon to rest in peace we must all be peaceful," Benjamin Crump said.
"We are very, very saddened," Darryl Parks said.
"Jury has no desire to speak to media," said Michelle Kennedy, Public Information Officer for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit.
Under Florida law, Zimmerman will get back this gun which he used to kill Trayvon Martin pic.twitter.com/gAk3uZ7ZuO— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) July 14, 2013
"[Martin's family] suffered a tragedy ... Nothing can bring back Trayvon Martin ... But I'm not going to shy away from the fact that the evidence showed George Zimmerman did nothing wrong," O'Mara said.
(Washington, DC)— Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence today called the verdict, “part of a tragic event that could have easily been prevented.”
Gross said, “There is sharp disagreement over the verdict, but there can be no disagreement over the reason why Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman had a gun that night, and the state of Florida allowed him to carry it virtually anywhere despite a violent history. Virtually anybody roaming our neighborhoods with hidden handguns is the gun lobby's vision, but it is not the vision of the rest of the American public, truly committed to safer communities. We will work as long, and as hard as it takes to prevent more tragedies like Trayvon Martin's. We recognize, at the end of the day, this is an enormous tragedy and a young man lost his life. Our sympathies continue to go out to Trayvon’s family.”
The Brady Campaign has been one of the leaders in fighting against “Stand Your Ground” or so called, “shoot first” laws like the one in Florida. As evidenced by the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, these laws have deadly consequences. They promote a dangerous mentality and misperception about weapons, by overemphasizing their value in self-defense relative to the other dangers that they pose.
In the end, George Zimmerman's mentality, and what emboldened him to approach Trayvon, may be debatable. What is not debatable, though, is the fact that Trayvon Martin is dead because Zimmerman had a gun. Zimmerman was given a concealed carry permit by the state of Florida despite an arrest record and a history of violence, as a direct result of the influence of the gun lobby, and if it weren’t for that, this tragedy never would have happened.
The Brady Center, the legal arm of the Brady Campaign, has been at the forefront in fighting concealed weapons laws. They recently filed an amicus brief along with the parents of Trayvon Martin, asking the entire United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to review and reverse a 2-1 decision that held Illinois law restricting the public carrying of firearms unconstitutional.
“Allowing deadly semi-automatic weapons on the streets does not make a community safer. By arguing for a broad constitutional right to carry hidden handguns, the gun lobby wants to deprive law enforcement of the tools it needs to keep guns off the streets. The American people should be allowed to decide whether they want people like George Zimmerman carrying loaded guns in public places where their children walk home,” said Brady Center Legal Action Project Director Jonathan Lowy. “Most courts have properly recognized that reasonable public safety laws do not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. Courts should listen to the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, who lost their sons to people whose states entitled them to carry guns in public.”
The brief was filed on behalf of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, parents of Trayvon Martin; Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, parents of Jordan Davis; Major Cities Chiefs Association; and International Brotherhood of Police Officers by attorneys with the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project and the firm Hogan Lovells US LLP. More information on this can be found at http://www.bradycampaign.org/?q=brady-center-victims’-families-law-enforcement-urge-federal-appeals-court-to-review-and-reverse.
O'Mara said the case should have never became a "focus for a civil rights event."
"He needs to get on with his life," O'Mara said of Zimmerman.
O'Mara said we'll have to wait and see "how many civil law suits are filed as a result of this fiasco."
O'Mara said he hopes, "everyone will respect the jury's verdict, as they should."
West just defended his knock-knock joke. He said, "I still think the joke was funny ... I'm sorry that I didn't tell it better."
West said he felt the prosecution of ZImmerman was "disgraceful."
"We are ecstatic with the results," O'Mara said.
O'Mara's letter to Eslinger expressed his "sincere thanks and appreciation" for their handling of the Zimmerman trial.
The State has finished their presser. O'Mara and West are now up.
"I believe the focus needs to be on how the system worked," Corey said.
"I am disappointed ... This is only my second murder case I have lost," De La Rionda said.
"You had a 17-year-old kid who gets accosted ... followed by an individual who wants to be a cop," De La Rionda said.
"Trayvon had every right to be on the premises ... as [did] George Zimmerman," Corey said.
Corey said the prosecution team has not yet spoken with Martin's family about the verdict.
"We charge what we believe we can prove ... so that's why we charged second-degree murder ... We did everything we possibly could," Corey said.
"I am disappointed, but we accept it," De La Rionda said.