Ruling On Trayvon Martin Shooting Reconstruction Deferred

by
Reuters
A Florida judge on Tuesday deferred a ruling on whether jurors in George Zimmerman's murder trial should see a digital reconstruction of his shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman waits for proceedings to begin as jury selection continues in his second-degree murder trial in Sanford

A Florida judge on Tuesday deferred a ruling on whether jurors in George Zimmerman's murder trial should see a digital reconstruction of his shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

The digital re-enactment, commissioned by the defense, drew objections from prosecutors, who said it distorted events of the fatal encounter between Zimmerman and Martin, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012.

The defense's attempt to introduce the digital reconstruction - created from technology similar to that used in Hollywood movies - comes as the defense team is nearing the end of its case. It remains uncertain whether Zimmerman will testify.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder and faces up to life in prison if convicted, although either side can request that the jury also consider the lesser offense of manslaughter, with a maximum penalty of 30 years.

The case revolves around sometimes murky evidence, including disagreements among witnesses over whose voice - Martin's or Zimmerman's - can be heard in the background of a 911 emergency call on the night that Zimmerman shot Martin.

State prosecutors argued the digital reconstruction of the crime scene failed to show the gun used by Zimmerman and showed details of the neighborhood watch volunteer's altercation with Martin based only on "approximations," including the number of blows during the fight and how each body reacted to those blows, among other objections.

The reconstruction was shown to Judge Nelson while the jury was out on Tuesday morning. It was not viewable by spectators in the courtroom but starts during the 911 emergency call that captured the sound of screams for help.

Daniel Schumacher, a specialist in reconstructing graphic crime scenes and accidents who created the re-enactment, testified he employed the same technology and body motion capture suits used to create action movies. He said he based his depiction on police reports, witness statements and drawings, crime scene and investigative information, testimony in depositions, medical examiner reports and the 911 audio.

"I believe I had everything I would need to create the scene," said Schumacher who previously was qualified as an expert in 16 California counties.

Zimmerman remained free for 45 days after the killing, because police initially declined to arrest him, accepting his claim he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense.

A special prosecutor brought the charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman after protests and cries of injustice in Sanford and several major U.S. cities, as the case sparked a national debate about race, profiling, gun rights, self defense and children.

Prosecutors wrapped up their side of the case against Zimmerman, 29, after nine days of witness testimony on Friday.

In a blow to the prosecution, Judge Nelson ruled late on Monday that defense lawyers can introduce evidence that Martin had the active ingredient of marijuana in his system when he was killed.

Toxicology tests showed THC in Martin's system, and Zimmerman told a police operator just before the shooting that Martin "looks like he's on drugs."

The prosecution argued the evidence was prejudicial, and the defense countered that it was relevant given Zimmerman's observation that Martin could be on drugs.

Medical Examiner Shiping Bao initially reported the THC level was too slight to affect Martin, but Bao testified outside the jury's hearing last week that his further research in preparation for the trial indicated the drug might have had a slight but unknown effect.

When the jury renders its verdict in the Zimmerman case, it seems likely that many Americans will be disappointed however his fate is decided because they have already made up their minds about a killing that became a virtual national obsession for much of last year.

Highlighting fears of racial tensions in Sanford itself, the Broward County Sheriff's Office in south Florida, the state's largest, announced on Monday that it was working closely with the Sanford Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies to coordinate "a response plan in anticipation the verdict."

Sanford's population of 54,000 is about 30 percent black.

"Freedom of expression is a constitutional right. While raising your voice is encouraged, using your hands is not," the Broward Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

"We don't have information about a specific event that might take place at the conclusion of the trial, but we encourage everyone to keep any protests peaceful," Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said.