The first week of testimony was tough on the prosecution. Proving the murder charge will be a task for them, as with any case similar to this since the eyewitnesses are limited and the case is somewhat circumstantial as to the intent. There were several witnesses to testify last week whose testimony will be crucial to the case in upcoming weeks.
The main witness for the prosecution was Rachel Jeantel, the last person besides George Zimmerman to talk to Trayvon Martin before he was killed. Her testimony was crucial to the fabric of the prosecution’s case. She testified that she was on the phone with Trayvon and that he was afraid of a creepy man following him. Trayvon ran from the man who chased him and was finally accosted by him. Jeantel testified that she heard Trayvon say “get off, get off,” indicating that a struggle ensued by that point. This is important to establish the foundation of the prosecution’s case.
It shows that Trayvon was running and attempting to get away from Zimmerman, which are important facts to show that Zimmerman was the aggressor.
Another prosecution witness, John Good, testified that he was a witness to the fight that ensued between Zimmerman and Trayvon. Although the prosecution called him, it appeared that Good helped the defense with his testimony. Good testified that he saw two men tussling and the man on top appeared to be a darker skinned man and the man on bottom was lighter skinned. Essentially, his testimony is stating that Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman. Additionally, he concluded the screams for help came from Zimmerman and not Trayvon, since the screams would logically be from the person on the bottom. However, he is not certain.
The testimony of Good is important because the defense is claiming that Martin was attacking Zimmerman. However, the prosecution should provide expert testimony in reference to the aggressor not necessarily being the winner of a fight.
As we all know, a person can start a fight but may not win. Since Zimmerman was trained in MMA (Mixed Marital Arts), he may have thought he had the skill to beat Martin. However, when the tables were turned while Martin defended himself, Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed youth.
Another former neighbor of Zimmerman named Jonathan Manalo testified. He testified that Zimmerman did not appear in shock shortly after the shooting and was very calm. Manalo called Zimmerman’s wife to let her know what happened and while he was on the phone giving her details of how the shooting occurred, Zimmerman dryly said, “Just tell her I shot someone.”
This is important because the jury considering this case may feel Zimmerman appeared cold. This characterization would be extremely harmful to the defense.
Other key testimony came from Lindzee Folgate, a family practice physician assistant who treated Zimmerman for injuries. She testified about Zimmerman’s wounds and that he was training in MMA three days per week. That was harmful to the defense because it showed that Zimmerman was training as a fighter. This appears to go with the theory of the prosecution that Zimmerman was overzealous and attempted to fight Martin, was losing the fight, and finally shot to kill him.
The prosecution must concentrate on continuing the development of their case and theory. In cases such as this one, the prosecution must carefully paint a complete picture for the jury. Due to the type of evidence presented in cases like these, there are rarely slam dunks.
I expect the prosecution to match the 911 call that Zimmerman made to the information that Jeantel offered. They need to pair those two crucial pieces of evidence to show Zimmerman’s state of mind and intent. The prosecution needs to present evidence of the aggressor not necessarily being the winner of a fight. They may need to call an expert to testify that being an aggressor does not mean that the aggressor wins the fight. That type of testimony may be acquired through police officer testimony, but preferably from a mixed martial arts fight instructor, since Zimmerman was training in MMA.
The direct link of a mixed martial arts instructor and Zimmerman’s training in MMA can show the jury that he may have been the aggressor, which is paramount in the case to prove murder.
Further, it is necessary for the prosecution to use Zimmerman’s words against him to indicate that Zimmerman was the aggressor. Zimmerman stated “These A**holes, they always get away,” which shows Zimmerman’s state of mind and his desire to make sure the “a**holes don’t get away.”
Once the prosecution presents that tape into evidence, Zimmerman’s own words should become the cornerstone of their case. For example, statements to the jury such as “These a**holes, they always get away… Zimmerman made sure Trayvon didn’t get away which is why he attacked him while running” should be repeated and left resonating in the minds of the jurors. Additionally, if he was making sure “they” didn’t get away, that means he would chase the person who was retreating and running and hold him there or inflict his personal justice by either fighting utilizing his MMA training or shooting him with the pistol he carried, or, as in this case, both.
Also, during the 911 call, Zimmerman stated that he lost the “suspicious man,” which corroborates the testimony of Jeantel. If Trayvon was running and approached by Zimmerman during that dark, rainy night, Trayvon may have been fighting for his life, which is what any reasonable person would do in a similar situation.
Again, prosecution’s presentation of evidence and testimony should be tied to Zimmerman’s phrase “These a**holes, they always get away.”
Further, it is important for the prosecution to show that Zimmerman is a liar.The defense worked hard to make the prosecution witness, Jeantel, appear to be a horrible liar because she left out some details. The prosecution has the opportunity to do that to Zimmerman. For one, they may be able to show evidence of him lying to the judge about his finances to be released from jail. That shows he would lie or do anything to get out of trouble. That equates to him similarly lying about this case to prevent conviction.
He lied to get out of jail and he is lying to get out of a conviction. If Zimmerman testifies, the judge will instruct the jury to consider several things in the weight of the credibility of testimony. They may consider any bias that the witness may have. That said, they can consider if Zimmerman will lie to save his own skin, which they already have proof of.
The prosecution is left with the task of tying the entire case together. Criminal trials are like puzzles because each piece means something. Although each piece alone may not mean much, when they are all put together, the image appears. Similarly with trials, each piece of evidence alone may not mean much, but, when put together they give the entire picture of what actually happened.
Eric L. Welch Guster is founder and managing attorney of Guster Law Firm in Birmingham, Ala., handling criminal and civil matters, catastrophic injuries, criminal defense, and civil rights litigation. Mr. Guster has become a go-to lawyer for the New York Times, NewsOne, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Black America Web, and various radio programs about various court issues and high-profile cases.
UPDATED 6/24/13, 12:08 p.m.:
Opening statements in the George Zimmerman trial have already had some interesting moments. The craziest moment, though, was the defense literally making a knock-knock joke about the jury:
George Zimmerman who?
All right. Good. You’re on the Jury.
This “joke” is a huge insult to the jury.
The defense seems to be implying that the jurors are idiots and the only reason they are there is because they don’t know Zimmerman.
As a defense attorney, you must be careful to never insult a juror. Words and actions must be carefully made. That was a clear insult and the defense will have to attempt to rebound from that gaffe in order to gain the jury’s trust again.
The first opening statement was made by the prosecution who laid a great foundation for their case stating the following:
1) Trayvon Martin was young, slim, and unarmed
2) Zimmerman was more slender than he is now; Zimmerman attended a martial arts gym
3) The only wounds on Trayvon Martin were the gunshot wound and one wound on his left hand. Martin was right handed.
4) Zimmerman was told to not follow the young man and wait on police.
Quite simply, if Zimmerman followed instructions from the dispatcher, the incident would have never happened