George Zimmerman sits at the defense table before the start of his trial in Seminole circuit court, in Sanford, Florida, Monday, July 8, 2013. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, in 2012.

Joe Burbank, Mct - Mct

As defense continues in Zimmerman trial, who cried for help is a key question

  • Article by: LIZETTE ALVAREZ
  • New York Times
  • July 8, 2013 - 10:01 PM


– Who yelled “help”?

As the defense continued on Monday to roll out witnesses in the George Zimmerman trial, now entering its third week, that question remains a pivotal one. It may also remain unanswerable.

Several of Zimmerman’s good friends took the stand to say they were sure that the person in distress screaming “help” in the background of a 911 call was Zimmerman, not Trayvon Martin, the teenager he shot and killed. Earlier in the trial, the prosecution put several people on the stand, including Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, who said it was her son’s voice.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that is George Zimmerman,” John Donnelly, a friend of Zimmerman’s who served as a combat medic in Vietnam and is now a physician assistant, testified on Monday.

The two sides have wrangled repeatedly over the issue, which could help determine who the aggressor was in the confrontation. A recording of the 911 call made by a neighbor was played repeatedly on Monday.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was walking to a house where he was a guest on the night of Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator, claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin punched him and repeatedly slammed his head into the pavement. Prosecutors maintain that Zimmerman purposefully followed ­Martin and instigated the confrontation.

FBI testimony

The cries for help on the 911 call are distinct. But an FBI audio expert said the quality of the recording and the short duration of the screams, among other things, made it too difficult to isolate who it was. He suggested that a person who is familiar with either Zimmerman’s or Martin’s voice under similar circumstances might be able to identify the person in the call.

On the stand, Donnelly said he had put off listening to the entire 911 call until recently because he knew he would find it upsetting. But on Saturday, knowing he would have to testify this week, he called up the recording online and listened to it twice.

Donnelly, who described Zimmerman as a “very dear friend,” said he and his wife had donated $3,000 to efforts on his behalf and had spent $1,700 on his court wardrobe.

The prosecution used the testimony during cross-examination to repeatedly play another often-heard recording: the one of Zimmerman referring to the person he found suspicious as “punks” and saying “they always get away.” He used expletives in both remarks.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda suggested to witnesses that Zimmerman was angry or agitated, but his friends disputed that.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara flipped the argument to ask whether Zimmerman sounded full of “hatred,” “ill-will” or “spite.” The answer: no.

Those three words are important because a second-degree murder conviction requires the demonstration of a “depraved mind,” one that harbored hatred, ill-will or spite.

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