USA TODAY, July 8, 2013
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla. — The father of Trayvon Martin told a jury Monday that he believes a 911 tape contains “my son’s last cry for help” on the night he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman.
Defense attorneys called Tracy Martin to testify about the 911 call and his exchange with Sanford police officers. Martin said he never told officers he didn’t recognize Trayvon’s voice, despite an investigator’s previous testimony that Tracy Martin told him he didn’t think he could hear his son on the tape.
Tracy Martin claimed to the jury on Monday that he was simply unsure and told officials, “I can’t tell.”
The testimony by Tracy Martin and other witnesses who heard the 911 call could be crucial as Zimmerman’s lawyers try to show that Trayvon was the aggressor and that Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.
Tracy Martin said he listened to the 911 call at least 20 times at the Sanford mayor’s office. After that, he said, he was convinced the voice screaming was Trayvon’s.
“I was listening to my son’s last cry for help,” Tracy Martin said. “I was listening to his life being taken.”
Police Officer Christopher Serino, the lead investigator in the shooting death, testified earlier in the day that Trayvon’s father had listened to the 911 calls placed during the confrontation and had said it was not Trayvon heard screaming for help in the background.
Friends and former co-workers of Zimmerman’s also testified, saying it was Zimmerman’s voice screaming for help on a key 911 call.
“I have no doubt in mind that’s his voice,” said Geri Russo, a former co-worker of Zimmerman’s, echoing testimony of several other defense witnesses.
Former Sanford police chief Bill Lee testified that he recommended the 911 recording be played for family members of Trayvon Martin individually rather than in a group to avoid any improper influences.
Sanford’s city manager, Norton Bonaparte, however, didn’t heed his recommendations and instead gathered the family members in a room and played the tape for all of them, Lee said.
The former police chief added that he had offered to be in the room when the 911 recording was played but Bonaparte declined to have him or other law enforcement officials there. Lee added that it was rare for the mayor and city manager to become involved in police investigations.
Bonaparte later fired Lee for the way the police department handled the investigation into Trayvon’s death.
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled Monday afternoon that the jury will learn about a toxicology reporting showing Trayvon Martin had marijuana in his system at the time of his death. State attorneys had tried to keep the information out of trial arguing that the amount of marijuana was minimal and would prejudice the jury.
However, Zimmerman’s attorneys succeeded in arguing that the report was important and would give the jury insight into the night of the shooting.
“It’s absolutely admissible,” Zimmerman’s attorney, Don West, said. “It supports our claim of self defense.”
West added that Trayvon may have ingested the marijuana within hours of his death.
Nelson, in siding with defense lawyers, said not allowing the jury to learn about the marijuana use would be an error.
Shiping Bao, the medical examiner who did the autopsy of Trayvon, said he believes the marijuana may have had some effect on the teen. He initially thought the amount of drugs didn’t have an impact but later changed his opinion and now believes the drugs had an effect. Now, Bao, who testified for the state last week, may be called to testify for the defense.
Another witness, Adam Pollock, owner of Kokopelli’s Gym, said Zimmerman trained at his facility for about a year doing boxing and grappling classes. The business man described grappling as a form of mixed martial arts that involves choking, and arm and leg locks.
Pollock described Zimmerman as “soft” and said that Zimmerman lost between 50 to 80 pounds while training but never became a strong athlete. Pollock says Zimmerman trained two or three times a week in two-hour sessions at the gym, which markets itself as, “The most complete fight gym in the world.”
Still, a year into training, Zimmerman was nowhere near fighting material and was largely a “beginner,” Pollock said.
“He’s still learning how to punch,” said Pollock who explaining that Zimmerman never made it off training on a punching bag.
He added that he saw Zimmerman after the shooting. “He looked emotionally traumatized.”
Later Monday, Trayvon’s family issued a statement saying that Zimmerman, just days after the shooting, told Serino it was not his voice crying for help on the 911 recording.
The defense case has taken center stage in the trial of former neighborhood watch member Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the February 2012 shooting of Trayvon, 17.
The defense case represents the second part of a trial in which for two weeks prosecutors cast Zimmerman, now 29, as an aggressor who profiled and murdered Trayvon. The jury will weigh the prosecution version of events against the defense story of a man who, while trying to be a good neighbor, was attacked by the teen and shot him in self-defense.
“There’s enormous evidence that my client acted in self-defense,” Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, said last week. “There is no other reasonable hypothesis.”
The defense case drew controversy almost before it began. Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei asked Circuit Judge Debra Nelson for a hearing about one defense witness, not identified in the legal motion, who Mantei says plans to present a “computer animated ‘re-enactment'” of the shooting.
The defense witness revealed in a July 2 deposition that he or she had created the animation and showed prosecutors still frames of the creation. The animation does not “represent a complete or accurate record of the evidence,” Mantei wrote, adding that the state thinks the animation is “speculative and irrelevant.”
Mantei said the animation doesn’t accurately depict the lighting on the night of the shooting, “deliberately fails to show or even symbolize the murder weapon,” and relies on Zimmerman’s version of events for the positioning of bodies during the struggle.
Mantei also said the animation was completed by Zimmerman’s defense team using employees wearing “motion capture suits.” The animation includes audio from 911 calls, assumed positions of witnesses, and fails to include witnesses who contradict Zimmerman’s story, Mantei said.
The state prosecutor argues the animation, if admitted, would be “prejudicial and confusing to the jury.” It has not been announced whether the animation would be allowed in court.
O’Mara said Friday that he didn’t know whether his client would take the stand.
“I said I would have to convince myself first that the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt before I decide exactly how to handle that,” O’Mara said. “I’m still considering that. We are going to start presenting our witnesses and we’ll see if that includes George.”
The defense began Friday with Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys Zimmerman, briefly testifying that it was her son screaming for help in a 911 call that recorded the fatal shot. “That’s George’s voice,” she said.
She said Zimmerman was terrified before shooting Trayvon. “The way he is screaming describes anguish, fear,” she said.
George Zimmerman’s uncle, Jorge Meza, also testified that the voice screaming belonged to George Zimmerman.
Meza knew his nephew had been involved in a shooting, he testified, but he said he knew nothing about a 911 call until he heard it on TV at home and immediately recognized Zimmerman’s voice.
“It was George Zimmerman screaming for his life,” Meza said. “I felt it inside of my heart that it is George.”
Earlier, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, testified that the voice heard screaming belonged to Trayvon.