July 9 (Bloomberg) -- Trayvon Martin’s use of marijuana will be shared with the jury in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer accused of shooting the unarmed Florida teenager.
Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, who earlier blocked any mention of drug use in opening statements, ruled yesterday that Zimmerman’s lawyers may tell jurors about a toxicology report showing that Martin’s blood at the time of his death included traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“We know the level of THC in his body is enough to cause some level of impairment,” Don West, a lawyer for Zimmerman, argued before the judge’s ruling.
Nelson, who rejected arguments from the prosecution that evidence of drug use would be too prejudicial, said that failing to allow Zimmerman’s lawyers to present the toxicology information would be an error that might cause an appeals court to throw out the trial’s verdict.
The ruling capped the first full day of Zimmerman’s defense. His lawyers called to the witness stand in state court in Sanford, Florida, five of his friends, two police officers who investigated the shooting, and Martin’s father to cast doubt on the prosecution’s contention that the yelling heard in the background of a 911 call was by Martin.
The 911 call, on which the screams end with the sound of a gunshot, may be pivotal in the case in which prosecutors allege that Zimmerman, 29, 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. A resident of the condominium complex where Martin was killed made the call after hearing what sounded like a fight. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting.
Nelson earlier barred testimony by prosecution experts who said the voice captured on the 911 recording was Martin’s. Their methods were too unreliable to be used in the trial, she ruled, while letting friends and relatives of Martin and Zimmerman tell jurors who they believed was screaming.
“Do you know the voice in the background screaming?” O’Mara, Zimmerman’s lawyer, asked the first witness of the day, Sondra Osterman, after playing the recording in the courtroom.
“Yes, it’s Georgie,” said Osterman, who met Zimmerman in 2006 while the two worked at a mortgage company.
John Donnelly, a former physician’s assistant who has known Zimmerman for a decade, recounted his days as an Army medic during the war in Vietnam, where he said he learned to discern the screams of his fellow soldiers during combat operations.
“That is George Zimmerman, and I wish to God I didn’t have that ability to understand,” Donnelly replied.
The Feb. 26, 2012, killing 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 faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. His lawyer, Mark O’Mara, has said he expects the defense to finish its case this week.
On cross-examination, prosecutors asked defense witnesses whether Zimmerman seemed angry -- addressing the state of mind needed for a second-degree murder charge -- during a call he made to police after he spotted Martin walking through his condominium complex. They were asked about the expletives Zimmerman used to describe criminals in his neighborhood seen previously and his frustration at the failures of authorities to apprehend them.
Before Trayvon’s father Tracy Martin was called by the defense, two Sanford police detectives told jurors that when he heard the recording for the first time at Sanford Police headquarters, he said the screams weren’t his son’s. At trial, he testified that they were.
“I can’t tell,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, said yesterday he told police on Feb. 28, 2012, when they first played the call for him. “I never said ’no it wasn’t my son’s voice’.”
After listening to the recording 20 times in the weeks following the shooting, Tracy Martin said he came to believe it was his son on the recording.
He told the six-woman jury that he was in shock the first time heard the fatal shot from Zimmerman’s semi-automatic handgun captured on the recording.
“That was the shot that killed my son,” Martin said. “I was listening to my son’s last cries for help. I was listening to his life being taken.”
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