(MCT) SANFORD, Fla. — After compelling testimony from Trayvon Martin’s mother and brother — and uneven testimony from the doctor who performed an autopsy on the slain teen — prosecutors rested their case against George Zimmerman on Friday afternoon.
The state finished its initial case after more than 30 witnesses and 18 days of trial — including jury selection — in the closely watched murder trial in this Central Florida town.
Prosecutors made their announcement to jurors after Seminole Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, without the jury present, declined to acquit Zimmerman directly. Judgments of acquittal are rare in criminal courts, with judges usually allowing jurors to decide on a defendant’s guilt.
“The state has presented enough direct and circumstantial evidence for the case to go to the jury,” Nelson told lawyers.
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of Martin, 17, of Miami Gardens. He shot to death the unarmed Martin during a violent confrontation inside a gated Sanford community.
A neighborhood watch volunteer with a penchant for calling 911, Zimmerman claimed he fired in self-defense after Martin beat his head into the concrete and appeared to reach for his weapon. The initial delay in arresting Zimmerman sparked racially tinged outrage from Martin’s family and civil rights leaders, who staged rallies in Sanford and other U.S. cities.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed prosecutors from Duval County to oversee the case, and Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the shooting.
During the trial, prosecutors have sought to portray Zimmerman as a frustrated cop wannabe who took out his frustration over neighborhood security by profiling and chasing Martin, who was visiting his father in the town just north of Orlando.
On Friday, prosecutors called Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, and Jahvaris Fulton, the teen’s brother, both of whom were highly anticipated.
Sybrina Fulton, who over the past 17 months has been highly visible in pushing for justice for her slain teenage son, identified his voice as the one screaming out for help on a 911 call that captured sounds of the shooting.
“I heard my son screaming,” Fulton said.
Fulton started out her testimony with an emotional, if frank, description of her son: “My youngest son is Trayvon Benjamin Martin. He’s in heaven.”
She also told Zimmerman’s defense attorney, during a short cross-examination, that she wished “that this would have never happened and he would still be here.”
Martin’s older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, also took the stand and identified his sibling’s voice on the 911 call — although the defense pointed out that Jahvaris Fulton once told a Miami television reporter that he wasn’t sure.
Jahvaris Fulton acknowledged he hadn’t always been certain, saying his first listening of the tape “was clouded by shock and sadness and denial.”
For prosecutors, their testimony is key because it suggests that Zimmerman was the aggressor in the violent scuffle that led to Martin’s death. Their words were more important because a Seminole circuit judge refused to allow testimony from state audio experts who suggested the cries belonged to Martin.
For their final witness, prosecutors also called Seminole Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Shiping Bao, who performed the autopsy on the teen.
Bao described Martin’s fatal injury — one bullet to his lower left chest that pierced his heart. He said Martin likely remained alive for one to 10 minutes after being shot, “still in pain, still in suffering.”
Jurors’ eyes were glued to the projector as autopsy photos were shown of Martin’s body and his bloodied sweatshirt. They passed around a bag containing bullet fragments taken from Martin’s chest.
During cross examination, Bao repeatedly emphasized that he did not remember specifics from the autopsy on Feb. 27, 2012, saying he only knew what was contained in his notes and the official autopsy.
Before the lunch break, Bao also revealed that he was reading from private notes he had prepared in anticipation of his cross examination.
Judge Nelson ordered the notes be provided to the defense, which then noted that Bao had only recently come to the conclusion that Martin could have survived for up to 10 minutes. He initially said up to three minutes.
West also noted that Bao changed his mind on whether the marijuana found in Martin’s blood could have affected him that night — the doctor initially said it didn’t, but then backtracked.
But Nelson, sticking to a pretrial ruling, did not allow the defense to question Bao about the teen’s marijuana use.
©2013 The Miami Herald
Distributed by MCT Information Services