No matter what happens as the trial of George Zimmerman moves into its third week of testimony, the path to a verdict is already evident: Whether Zimmerman is found guilty of murder or a lesser crime or is found not guilty of anything will turn on which of two mothers -- Sybrina Fulton and Gladys Zimmerman -- a jury of six women finds more believable. Five of those jurors are themselves mothers.
The testimony of witnesses for the prosecution and for the defense -- including law enforcement officers, forensics specialists, neighbors in the Retreat at Twin Lakes development, the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin when he was confronted by Zimmerman and even character witnesses who will swear that Zimmerman is no racist -- is important. But not nearly as critical as about 45 seconds of a 911 tape that captured in the background the faint sound of a male's agonizing cries for help before a gunshot from a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol is heard.
Sybrina Fulton and Gladys Zimmerman each hears something quite different when for the umpteenth time she listens -- and each tried to convince that jury last week that the voice was that of her son. The lead prosecutor asserted: "There are two people involved here. One of them is dead, and one of them is a liar." That may be dismissed as courtroom dramatics. But the jurors cannot easily dismiss those two moms, each of whom believes her son has been wronged.
Trayvon, a 17-year-old on his way to the residence he was visiting after a brief trip to a nearby 7-Eleven store, was shot to death by George, an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer who thought Trayvon fit the description of a garden variety up-to-no-good black male. In fact, when he called 911 to report his suspicions about a teenager wearing a dark hoodie, Zimmerman said: "We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood. There's a real suspicious guy... This guy looks like he's up to no good. He's like he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about... He's just staring, looking at all the houses... Something's wrong with him. Yes, he's coming to check me out."
Sybrina Fulton and Gladys Zimmerman acquitted themselves well on the witness stand. But Fulton might have made a greater impression, leaving jurors to doubt whether Trayvon -- if he was anything like his poised, dignified, articulate, unflappable mother -- could be the street thug Zimmerman's supporters would have us believe. Gladys Zimmerman believes that the 911 tape proves her son was being attacked and that he is the male heard screaming for help just before the gunshot rings out. Sybrina Fulton believes the voice was Trayvon's as he screamed for his life.
"Who do you recognize that to be?" a prosecutor asked her. "Trayvon Benjamin Martin," she replied without hesitation or hedging. Later, when pressed by the lead defense attorney, she said: "I heard my son screaming." Sybrina Fulton was the 38th and last prosecution witness in this phase of the trial.
When the defense began its case, Gladys Zimmerman was just as sure the voice was that of her George. Asked how she knew, she said without wavering the slightest: "Because it's my son."
We can all listen to the tapes and draw our conclusions about Zimmerman's state of mine and what transpired when two men crossed paths on Feb. 26, 2012, near the clubhouse at a Sanford, Fla., housing development called Retreat at Twin Lakes. One man lost his life that night; the other is fighting for his now in a Sanford courtroom.
But the verdict will come down to the moms.