Monday night at 10 p.m ET on a special edition of HLN After Dark, Vinnie Politan is one-on-one with the Zimmerman prosecution team to try to find out what happened. HLN has been all over this case, and nothing is off-limits in this primetime interview.
As the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial now goes to the jury, the six women tasked with determining his fate will have both the closing arguments and this week's defense presentation fresh in their minds as they begin deliberations.
While the defense's case revolved around three key factors -- identifying the voice heard screaming for help on a 911 call, the respective body positions of Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in their fatal struggle, and the injuries sustained by Zimmerman in that fight -- to prove their self-defense claim, the closing arguments began with prosecutors rewinding back before any of that happened.
Bernie de la Rionda reinforced the State's narrative that none of this would have happened if a gun-carrying "wannabe cop" had not pursued the unarmed teenager without any provocation -- and also if Zimmerman had not gone against a police dispatcher's request to stay in his car and wait for police to arrive. "In this defendant’s mind he automatically assumed that Trayvon Martin was a criminal," de la Rionda said.
The prosecutor said that, in confronting the teenager, Zimmerman failed to do any of the following: ask Martin if he needed help, roll down his window and identify himself as neighborhood watch, wait for police or wait inside his car. Instead, as John Guy put it during the State's rebuttal closing argument, Zimmerman chose to instigate a confrontation "with hate in his heart… and a loaded gun" following "a child in the dark."
"Did he have to shoot Trayvon Martin?" Guy asked Friday. "No, he did not."
A day earlier, de la Rionda peppered his closing argument with a series of questions that strike at the heart of the State's case: Why was there no blood on Martin's hands? How could Zimmerman have screamed if he was choking on his own blood as he's claimed? Why did Zimmerman get out of the car if he feared Martin, as he said he did? De la Rionda also told jurors it would be physically impossible for Martin to have reached for Zimmerman's gun while punching him and covering his mouth all at the same time, as the defense's version of events claims.
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To prove the "depraved mind without regard for human life" aspect necessary for securing a second-degree murder verdict, de la Rionda hammered away at Zimmerman's mindset when he spotted and decided to pursue Martin, as evidenced by his call to the police dispatcher in which he spoke of "these f---ing punks" and "a--holes" who "always get away."
"Use your God-given common sense," the attorney repeatedly implored of the jury.
Or don't. "Be careful with your common sense," defense attorney Mark O'Mara cautioned as he began the defense's closing arguments Friday. "Because common sense is the way we run our everyday lives, the way we make those snap decisions we have to make every day."
In painting the prosecution's case as containing holes and mental leaps, he said "You've got two dots and they're this far away," spreading his arms before the jurors. He warned them not to connect those dots for themselves back in the deliberation room.
"How many 'coulda-beens' have you heard from the State in this case? How many 'what ifs' have you heard from the state in this case? They don't get to ask you that. No, no, no," O'Mara said.
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He spent most of the morning explaining to jurors how they could legally find Zimmerman not guilty because he was acting in self-defense when he killed Martin on a rainy February night in Sanford, Florida. "He does not have to think he was going to die. He does have to think he was going to be injured greatly," O'Mara said. "The statute is clear -- reasonable fear of bodily harm… The injuries? Icing on the cake of self-defense."
O'Mara also used some theatrics to drive home two of his key points: That Martin waited to ambush the night watchman and that the teen actually did have a weapon: sidewalk concrete. He let the courtroom sit in silence while four minutes passed to illustrate how much time ticked by between when Martin is first seen running by Zimmerman and when the altercation began. The defense charged that it was more than enough time to go home, but instead Martin hung around. O'Mara later brought out a concrete block to deflect the assertion Martin was unarmed.
"That was somebody who used the availability of dangerous items, from his fist to the concrete, to cause great bodily injury against George Zimmerman," he said.
Casting Martin as the aggressor was the central component to the defense's case. They found a surprising ally in supporting that claim earlier in the week, when two police officers testified that the teenager's own father, Tracy Martin, said two days after the shooting that a voice heard screaming "Help!" on a 911 call was not his son's. The prosecution countered that when the elder Martin said "no" it could have been an anguished "no" uttered in disbelief by a grieving father hearing his son's last word.
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"As I said over and over, that was my best friend in life. To have him gone is a tragedy," Martin testified Monday. About two weeks after hearing the call that first time, he listened to it again along with members of his family and identified the voice as Trayvon's.
That same day, two of Zimmerman's friends testified that the panicked voice on the call was his.
If the 911 call was an essential part of the defense's claim that Zimmerman was defending himself, so too were the injuries sustained by the former neighborhood watch captain. Testimony on Tuesday by famed forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent Di Maio indicated those injuries supported Zimmerman's version of events.
Di Maio said Zimmerman's battered nose and red marks on his forehead were consistent with having been punched. As for Martin, he said the victim's unharmed knuckles do not necessarily indicate he wasn't punching Zimmerman, as proposed by the State, saying bruising may or may not occur depending on where the punches landed.
Di Maio, who has a written a book on gunshot wounds, continued to stir doubt around the prosecution's case when he testified that Martin's wound and the path of the bullet suggest he was on top of Zimmerman when shot.
Not everything worked out for the defense on Tuesday, though. Its attempt to introduce into evidence purported texts sent from Martin's cell phone and a 3D animation depicting Zimmerman's version of events that night at the Retreat at Twin Lakes was contested fiercely by the prosecution in a hearing which stretched until 10 p.m. and rankled defense attorney Don West.
"I'm not physically able to keep up this pace much longer," West said to Judge Debra Nelson. "It's 10 o'clock at night. We started this morning. We've had full days every day, weekends, depositions at night." Both motions were denied first thing the next morning, though Nelson did allow the animation to be used as a demonstration aid, and the defense used it during Friday's closing argument.
Once that issue was settled, the battle continued as both sides sought to establish the respective positions of Zimmerman and Martin during their struggle, even using a life-sized dummy to simulate the fight. Guy attempted to show that Zimmerman wouldn't be able to reach for his gun if Martin was straddling him like he said he was. O'Mara then demonstrated alternate positions where it may have been possible for Zimmerman to reach for his gun with Martin on top.
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The previous night's tension between West and Judge Nelson carried over into the Wednesday session as Nelson tried asking Zimmerman directly if he'd decided whether he would be testifying. "Your honor, I object to that question," West said while Nelson was still addressing his client. "OK, overruled," she shot back before repeating her question. Another objection from West, another quick "overruled" from Nelson.
When the judge asked Zimmerman if he'd know by the end of the day whether he would testify, West tried to answer on his behalf before an agitated Nelson cut him off and told him forcefully, "I am trying to ask your client questions. Please, Mr. West."
Ultimately, Zimmerman declined to testify on his own behalf. HLN's Nancy Grace agreed with the move, as it would have exposed Zimmerman to an unpredictable cross-examination. "Look at what happened to Jodi Arias and her 18 days on the stand. It turned the jury against her," Grace said. "Casey Anthony didn't take the stand, and we saw what happened there -- an acquittal."
The defense wrapped its case shortly after Zimmerman announced his decision, but not before calling one final witness to testify about the voice on the 911 call. Robert Zimmerman, George's father, said it was his son shouting for help. Recalling when he was asked by police if he recognized the voice, "I told them, 'Absolutely, it’s my son, George."
The jury received the case shortly before 2:30 p.m. ET Friday. The two charges they are considering are second-degree murder and manslaughter, which was allowed as an additional charge Thursday morning. Jurors have the option of deliberating through the weekend and could deliver their verdict at any point during that time.