George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, began his defense by calling his mother to the witness stand moments after prosecutors concluded their case.
Gladys Zimmerman, who spent just a few minutes testifying yesterday in state court in Sanford, Florida, told jurors that the screams recorded on a 911 call the evening Martin was killed were her son’s. Earlier in the day, Martin’s mother made the same claim about her son.
The voice is “my son George,” Gladys Zimmerman said after the call, made by a resident of the condominium complex where the fatal encounter occurred, was played in court. She said she’d never heard him scream like that before.
The 911 call, on which the screams end with the sound of a gunshot, could be pivotal in the case where prosecutors allege that Zimmerman, a 29-year-old Neighborhood Watch volunteer, was the aggressor. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense after Martin, 17, punched him in face, knocked him to the ground and threatened to kill him. While the resident called police after hearing what sounded like a fight, there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting.
Gladys Zimmerman was followed to the stand by her brother, Jorge Meza, who also identified his nephew as the person screaming in the background of the call.
“I heard my nephew screaming for his life,” he said.
Meza said he first heard the recording while his wife was watching the evening news as he worked on a computer, paying no attention.
“The voice just came on and it hit me,” he said. “I just heard that. I not only heard it, I felt it in my heart.”
The Feb. 26, 2012, shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a man whose father is white and mother Hispanic prompted rallies and protests across the U.S. and elicited a comment from President Barack Obama that if he had a son, that child would have looked like Martin.
Officials initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, saying it appeared he had acted within the bounds of the state’s Stand Your Ground law. The statute allows individuals who feel threatened in a public place to “meet force with force.”
Zimmerman is accused of second-degree murder and faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s lawyer, told reporters in a news conference after trial broke for the weekend, that he expects the defense case before the jury of six women to be finished by July 12.
Earlier testimony on Zimmerman’s college studies may have opened the way for witnesses to talk about Martin’s background, O’Mara said. Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson earlier ruled that testimony about Martin’s school troubles wouldn’t be admitted.
Nelson yesterday denied Zimmerman’s lawyers’ request to acquit their client because the prosecution couldn’t prove he exhibited the ill-will, spite or hatred necessary for conviction at the time he shot Martin.
After nine days of testimony, prosecutors wrapped up their case yesterday by asking two members of Martin’s family to identify the person screaming on the 911 call.
Nelson had earlier barred testimony by prosecution experts who said the voice captured on the 911 recording was Martin’s. She ruled their methods were too unreliable to be used in the trial.
Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, said she was certain the voice was her son’s.
Martin’s brother, Jahvaris Fulton, also said the voice on the recording was Martin’s.
“When I first heard it, I didn’t want to believe it was him,” he said.
The case is State of Florida v. Zimmerman, 1712FO4573, Florida Circuit Court, 18th Judicial Circuit, Seminole County (Sanford).
To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Christopher Boyd in the Sanford, Florida, courthouse
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com