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Trayvon Martin case: Doctor waves off Zimmerman injuries as 'so minor'

A doctor, testifying Tuesday for the prosecution, played down the injuries that defendant George Zimmerman sustained during a fight with slain teen Trayvon Martin. Prosecutors are working to undermine Zimmerman's self-defense claim.

By Chelsea B. SheasleyCorrespondent / July 2, 2013

Jacksonville medical examiner Valerie Rao is questioned by defense attorney Mark O'Mara in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida, July 2, 2013. Zimmerman is accused in the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Joe Burbank/Pool/Reuters

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Do the injuries George Zimmerman sustained on the night he fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin support his statement that he acted in self-defense?

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Chelsea Sheasley is the Monitor's Asia Editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine.

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On Tuesday, a medical examiner called by prosecutors testified that Mr. Zimmerman's injuries not only were not life-threatening, but also were "very insignificant." Her assessment addresses a key aspect of the trial, in which Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain of his gated community in Sanford, Fla., faces second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of the unarmed teen on Feb. 26, 2012.

Dr. Valerie Rao, the medical examiner for Duval, Clay, and Nassau Counties in northern Florida, said Zimmerman’s injuries could have been the result of a single blow during a confrontation between the two. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph misspelled Dr. Rao's first name.]

She also took issue with Zimmerman's own characterization of events, which the defendant had relayed to Fox News' Sean Hannity in an interview that aired July 18. In it, he said that Trayvon Martin "started slamming my head into the concrete." Prosecutors played the interview for jurors on Tuesday.

But the injuries Zimmerman sustained didn't mesh with that recounting, Dr. Rao testified. “If you look at the injuries, they’re so minor,” she said during questioning by prosecutors. “The word 'slam' conveys great force, and there was no great force used here.”

Rao did not perform the autopsy for Trayvon and did not examine George Zimmerman in person. Rather, the prosecution hired her as an expert witness, and she formed her judgments from photographs of Zimmerman taken that night.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara, in a bid to cast doubt on Rao’s neutrality, suggested that she may be indebted to State Attorney Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the Zimmerman case. Ms. Corey appointed Rao to the interim position she held before the governor named her to her current position.

Rao replied that Corey “sent my name up to governor,” but testified under further questioning by prosecutors that she did not slant her testimony because Corey wrote a letter of support for her.

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