SANFORD, Fla. — The jury deciding George Zimmerman’s fate will hear two starkly different stories Monday as lawyers make opening statements in the closely watched case.
During two weeks of jury selection, prosecutors and defense attorneys have hinted at their trial tactics, saying Zimmerman either profiled and murdered Trayvon Martin or shot the teen in self-defense. Now, both sides will try to convince a jury of six women and four alternates to believe their version of what happened Feb. 26, 2012.
“A really good opening is a really good story,” said Jules Epstein, a Widener University law professor who directs an institute to teach students how to argue cases effectively. “The prosecutor has to show that Zimmerman was way over the top — confrontational and provocative. The defense wants to talk about fear, the injuries to George Zimmerman’s head and how quickly things can spiral out of control.”
Epstein added that an opening sets the tone and perspective of a trial. In doing so, the prosecution is likely to focus on Trayvon, 17, being a young, unarmed man killed in his prime. Defense attorneys will most likely quickly concede that Zimmerman, 29, shot Trayvon and then try to make jurors relate to Zimmerman’s viewpoint the night of the shooting.
“We’re all neighbors, and when we see something that looks out of place in our neighborhood, it’s OK to walk over and see what’s going on,” Epstein said they may argue.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. The former neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Trayvon in self-defense after being attacked. Prosecutors say Zimmerman acted “imminently dangerous” and demonstrated a “depraved mind without regard for human life” — Florida’s definition of second-degree murder.
A 911 call that recorded screaming and the gunshot will be a key part of the trial. However, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled Saturday that prosecution experts who said the voice screaming was Trayvon’s will not be allowed to testify. Witnesses familiar with the voices of Zimmerman and Trayvon can testify to whom they believe is screaming, the judge ruled. That means Trayvon’s and Zimmerman’s families may testify.
“It’s a very significant piece of evidence,” said Mark O’Mara, an attorney for Zimmerman. “What we need to do is play it and let the jury make a decision.”
The list of potential witnesses numbers 200, including a young woman, “witness eight,” who says she was on the phone with Trayvon right before he was killed.
The jury is likely to hear Zimmerman’s call to police in which he says Trayvon looked suspicious, that Zimmerman is following him for a moment and later that police should call Zimmerman when they arrive.
Photos of Zimmerman’s injuries, including a bloody nose and several cuts to his head, will most likely be seen along with pictures of Trayvon’s body, killed by a single shot to his chest.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have foreshadowed what they will argue happened on the dark, rainy night that Zimmerman and Trayvon met.
“The facts are that he was told not to follow anyone,” Assistant State Attorney John Guy said in court last week.
Later Guy said the state may talk about race and the ways people can be profiled, including race, age, dress and even being somewhere at a certain time or place. Five of the six jurors are white.
Zimmerman has maintained that he acted within Florida’s self-defense law and protected himself from Trayvon who pummeled him.
“George said within a minute after the shooting, ‘I was screaming for help and nobody came,’” O’Mara said. “There is no evidence to contest that.”
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Article and Picture Courtesy of WKYC Channel 3 News