SANFORD (AP) — Prosecutors on Wednesday presented evidence about George Zimmerman’s work in a college criminal justice course, which, they say, shows the neighborhood watch volunteer knew about Florida’s self-defense law and had aspirations of becoming a police officer.
Zimmerman had maintained in an interview with Fox News last year that he did not know about the law. Prosecutors say he did have knowledge of it, because the subject was covered in the college class. They called as a witness, Alexis Francisco Carter, the military attorney who taught Zimmerman’s class that covered Florida’s stand-your-ground law which says a person has no duty to retreat and can invoke self-defense in killing someone if it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. Carter described Zimmerman as one of his better students and said the neighborhood watch volunteer got an “A” in his class.
Under cross-examination, Carter gave two definitions of legal concepts that seemed to bolster the defense’s case. He explained that a person can make a self-defense argument if the person has a “reasonable apprehension” of death or great bodily harm.
Judge Debra Nelson also ruled Wednesday that prosecutors can show the jury Zimmerman’s job application to a police agency in 2009 and his application to ride around with Sanford police in 2010.
Lt. Scott Kearns of the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia testified that Zimmerman wasn’t initially hired
because of a less-than-stellar credit history.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Miami Gardens resident Trayvon Martin, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012 while the teen visited his father in Sanford. Zimmerman, 29, claims he acted in self-defense.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement analyst Amy Siewert testified that residue and tearing on Trayvon’s sweatshirt showed Zimmerman’s gun was touching the teen’s chest when it fired. She also demonstrated for jurors how the gun is fired by holding the 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and, under cross-examination, said the gun was safe to carry around loaded because it won’t fire unless the trigger is pulled.
Prosecutors said Zimmerman’s ability to understand criminal investigations and desire to be a police officer doesn’t show wrongdoing but is relevant to his state of mind on the night Trayvon was killed.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said Tuesday that if prosecutors start bringing up Zimmerman’s past, the defense will dig into Trayvon’s past, including fights. The judge ruled previously that the teen’s past fights, drug use and school records couldn’t be mentioned in opening statements.
The judge also tossed out a Florida police detective’s statement that he found Zimmerman credible in his description of the fighting with Trayvon.
Other efforts by prosecutors to attack Zimmerman’s version of events included cross examination of a friend he called after shooting Trayvon and the testimony of a doctor who found the defendant’s injuries to be insignificant.
Prosecutors took the unusual step of trying to pick apart the statements of a Sanford police investigator they’d called as a prosecution witness because some of what he said appeared to help the defense. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked the judge to strike Detective Chris Serino’s statement that he thought Zimmerman was credible when he described how he got into a fight with Trayvon. Serino was the lead investigator on the case.
The judge told jurors to disregard the statement as “an improper comment.”
Zimmerman could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. To win a conviction on the charge, prosecutors must prove there was ill will, spite or a depraved mind in the defendant.
The prosecutor also questioned Serino about his opinion that Zimmerman didn’t display those negative emotions toward Trayvon.
De la Rionda played back Zimmerman’s call to police to report the teen walking through his gated community. Zimmerman uses an expletive, refers to “punks” and then says, “These a——-. They always get away.”
The detective conceded that Zimmerman’s choice of words could be interpreted as being spiteful.
The prosecution questioned Mark Osterman, a Zimmerman friend who spoke with him after the shooting and later wrote a book about the case.
Under questioning by de la Rionda, Osterman said that Zimmerman told him Trayvon grabbed his gun during their struggle but that he was able to pull it away.
That account is different from what Zimmerman told investigators in multiple interviews. In those interviews, he said it appeared Trayvon was reaching for his gun prior to the shooting. He never told police the teen grabbed it.
A Sanford Police Department fingerprint examiner testified that none of Trayvon’s prints were found on the gun.
Prosecutors also called to the witness stand a medical examiner who had reviewed evidence for them. Dr. Valerie Rao testified that Zimmerman’s injuries were insignificant, bolstering the prosecution’s claims that his life hadn’t been in jeopardy during the fight. Rao was not the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Trayvon.
“They were so minor that the individual who treated and examined Mr. Zimmerman decided stitches weren’t required,” Rao said.
O’Mara told CNN that he believed prosecutors may finish presenting their case this week and that defense attorneys will be calling witnesses most of next week.