SANFORD – Several times in six months neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman called police to report suspicious characters in the gated townhouse community where he lived. Each time, when asked, he reported that the suspects were black males.
On Tuesday, the judge at Zimmerman’s murder trial in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin listened to those five calls and ruled Wednesday that she would allow the recordings at trial.
Prosecutors want to use them to bolster their argument that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with repeated burglaries and had reached a breaking point the night he shot the unarmed teenager.
The recordings show Zimmerman’s “ill will,” prosecutor Richard Mantei told Judge Debra Nelson.
“It shows the context in which the defendant sought out his encounter with Trayvon Martin,” Mantei said.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara argued that the calls were irrelevant and that nothing matters but the seven or eight minutes before Zimmerman fired the deadly shot into Trayvon’s chest.
The prosecution is “going to ask the jury to make a leap from a good, responsible, citizen behavior to seething behavior,” O’Mara said.
The judge said she would issue a ruling after reviewing past cases.
In the calls, Zimmerman identifies himself as a neighborhood watch volunteer and recounts that his neighborhood has had a rash of recent break-ins. In one call, he asks that officers respond quickly since the suspects “typically get away quickly.”
In another, he describes suspicious black men hanging around a garage and mentions his neighborhood had a recent garage break-in.
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon as the young man walked from a convenience store. Zimmerman followed him in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight.
Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, saying he opened fire after the teenager jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, has denied the confrontation with the black teenager had anything to do with race, as Trayvon’s family and its supporters have charged.
A Sanford police sergeant who was the second officer to arrive on the scene also testified Tuesday. Sgt. Tony Raimondo said he tried to seal a bullet wound in Trayvon’s chest with a plastic bag and attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Bubbling sounds indicated air was escaping the teen’s chest, Raimondo said. Trayvon was pronounced dead a short time later.
During Raimondo’s testimony, prosecutors showed jurors a photo of a dead Trayvon face-down in the grass, another of his body face up with his eyes slightly open and a third of the bullet wound. Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, walked out of the courtroom during the testimony. His mother, Sybrina Fulton, looked down and then also walked out.
Wendy Dorival, former coordinator of the Sanford Police Department’s neighborhood watch program, testified she had worked with Zimmerman to set up a watch in his neighborhood.
When asked by prosecutor John Guy if neighborhood watch participants should follow or engage with suspicious people, she said no.
“They are the eyes and ears of law enforcement,” Dorival said. “They’re not supposed to take matters into their own hands.”
Similarly, Donald O’Brien, president of Zimmerman’s homeowners association, said it was his understanding that neighborhood watch members are supposed to “stay at a safe distance” and “let the police handle it.”
Dorival said she was impressed with Zimmerman’s professionalism and dedication to his community.
As the trial began Monday, a prosecutor told jurors in opening statements that Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon “because he wanted to,” not because he had to, while the neighborhood watch volunteer’s
attorney said the shooting of the teen was carried out in self-defense.
Defense attorney Don West used a joke in his opening statements to illustrate the difficulty of picking a jury amid such widespread publicity.
“Knock. Knock,” West said.
“Who is there?”
“George Zimmerman who?”
“Ah, good. You’re on the jury.”
Included among the millions likely to be following the case are civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who joined national protests in the weeks before prosecutors filed second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman in Trayvon’s February 2012 killing. The charges came 44 days after the shooting.
Opening statements were made two weeks after jury selection began. Attorneys picked six female jurors – five whites and a Hispanic – and four alternates after quizzing the jury pool about how much they knew about the case and their views on guns and self-defense.
Prosecutor John Guy’s first words to jurors recounted what Zimmerman told a police dispatcher in a call shortly before the fatal confrontation with Trayvon: “F—— punks. These a——-. They always get away.”
Zimmerman was profiling Trayvon as he followed him through the gated community where Zimmerman lived and the teen was visiting, Guy said. He said Zimmerman viewed Trayvon “as someone about to a commit a crime in his neighborhood.”
“And he acted on it. That’s why we’re here,” the prosecutor said.
Zimmerman didn’t have to shoot Trayvon, Guy said. “He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to.”
West told jurors a different story: Zimmerman was being viciously attacked when he shot Trayvon, he said. He was sucker-punched by Trayvon, who then pounded
Zimmerman’s head into the concrete sidewalk.
“He had just taken tremendous blows to his face, tremendous blows to his head,” West said, after showing jurors photos taken by Zimmerman’s neighbors of a bloodied and bruised neighborhood watch volunteer.
West also played for jurors the call to a police dispatcher in which Zimmerman used the obscenities.
Trayvon had opportunities to go home after
Zimmerman followed him and then lost track of him but, instead, the teen confronted the neighborhood watch volunteer, West said.
Guy argued, however, that there is no evidence to back up other claims by Zimmerman, including that Trayvon had his hands over Zimmerman’s mouth. Guy said none of Zimmerman’s DNA was found on Trayvon’s body. The prosecutor also said Zimmerman’s claim that he had to fire because Trayvon was reaching for his firearm is false since none of Trayvon’s DNA was on the gun or holster.
The killing happened on Feb. 26, 2012, when Zimmerman spotted Trayvon, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated townhome community where Zimmerman and the fiancee of Trayvon’s father lived.