Zimmerman Trial Grows Tense Over Whether He Will Testify

by
Reuters
A Florida judge and George Zimmerman's defense lawyer engaged in a testy exchange on Wednesday when the judge asked Zimmerman directly whether he intended to testify in his own defense in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

A Florida judge and George Zimmerman's defense lawyer engaged in a testy exchange on Wednesday when the judge asked Zimmerman directly whether he intended to testify in his own defense in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

With testimony in the case nearing its end and the jury absent, Seminole County Court Judge Debra Nelson reminded Zimmerman in court he had the right to remain silent and she wanted him to state for the record if he planned to so.

Zimmerman has said he shot Martin in self-defense, an incident that has captured national attention as a window into race relations and gun laws in America.

The judge's questioning of the defendant led to one of the more animated set-tos in the trial, now in its third week of testimony and being televised nationally.

While defense lawyer Don West objected, Nelson repeatedly overruled him and Zimmerman appeared stunned.

After Zimmerman said he needed more time to decide, Nelson asked how much time, all the while attempting to silence West, who tried to answer for Zimmerman by saying "the case isn't completed yet."

Nelson insisted on an answer from Zimmerman, who said the answer depended on the length of afternoon recesses. "Maybe the end of the day," Zimmerman said.

"I object to the court inquiring of Mr. Zimmerman about his intention to testify," West said.

"Your objection is overruled," Nelson said sharply.

Earlier on Wednesday, Nelson refused to allow a computer generated re-enactment of Zimmerman's encounter with Martin to be introduced as evidence, but she agreed to allow the jury to see it in closing arguments.

The ruling was a partial victory for each side. While Zimmerman's lawyers wanted the video presented as official evidence, the jury would at least see it in court.

Nelson also dealt the defense a setback by blocking the jury from hearing testimony purportedly showing Martin discussing his experience as a fighter in text messages and other data on his cellphone.

Nelson issued the two rulings at the start of what defense lawyers said could be their final day of evidence in the trial.

The case could go to the jury before this weekend.

Prosecutors had opposed letting Zimmerman's lawyers use the animated reconstruction in the guise of unbiased evidence.

"The computer animation will not be introduced into evidence, but it may be used by the defense as a demonstrative exhibit," Nelson said.

Jurors may see a "demonstrative exhibit" in closing statements but not during deliberations, as they can with all admitted evidence, she said.

Daniel Schumaker, a specialist in reconstructing graphic crime scenes and accidents who created the re-enactment, testified that he employed the same technology used in the production of Hollywood 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 911 emergency audio.

One of the scenes in the animation shows Martin approaching Zimmerman and throwing the first punch, which is based on Zimmerman's statement to police.

Nelson on Wednesday also blocked a defense witness, Richard Connor, from testifying about hidden text messages retrieved from Martin's cellphone.

The defense argued that the messages demonstrated Martin was an experienced fighter, but prosecutors said they were irrelevant and that anyone could have sent the texts that wound up in the memory of the phone.

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

A special prosecutor brought the charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman after protests and cries of injustice in several large cities and in Sanford, the small central Florida city where the incident occurred.

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