A mother’s unique knowledge, and also her potential prejudice, was up for jurors' consideration in the George Zimmerman trial on Friday, as the mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin testified that it was her son who screamed in panic before a shot rang out, killing him.
Her testimony came on Day 19 of a second-degree murder trial that has captivated America, in part because of the emotions that stirred it into a national story: a sense of injustice raised by Martin’s family when local police let Mr. Zimmerman go, saying they couldn’t counter his claims of self-defense.
Trayvon was unarmed and carrying some candy back to where his father was staying in Sanford, Fla., when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, followed him, got into an altercation, and ended up shooting Trayvon in February 2012.
A snippet of a 911 call to report an altercation inside the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood recorded a scream and then the fatal shot. The identity of the person screaming is critical to the case, because it would shine light on whether it was Trayvon or Zimmerman who was the aggressor before the shot rang out.
Judge Debra Nelson has excluded most of the contradictory expert analysis about whose voice could be heard screaming, so the identification now falls to those who knew Trayvon best, including his mother, Sybrina Fulton, and his half-brother, Jahvaris Fulton. Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, has identified the voice as that of his son.
When asked whose voice she believed to be on the recording, Ms. Fulton replied, “Trayvon Benjamin Martin.”
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara suggested that Fulton may have heard what she wanted to hear, which she denied. His client has claimed that he shot the teenager in self-defense after Travyon attacked him.
“You certainly hope, as a mom … that your son, Trayvon, would not have done anything that would have led to his own death,” Mr. O’Mara said.
“I hoped that this would never have happened and he would still be here,” she replied.
When O’Mara rephrased the question to say that Fulton “held out hope” that “Trayvon Martin was in no way responsible for his own death,” she replied, “I don’t believe he was.”
As the prosecution begins to wrap up its case, the demeanor of a dignified Fulton, a civil servant in Miami, could leave an impression on the jury of six women, five of whom are mothers. The appearance of Trayvon’s family as upstanding, middle-class Americans could contradict the defense’s suggestions that Trayvon was capable of violence, adding to Judge Nelson's decision to bar as evidence social media conversations and photos that depict Trayvon smoking pot and talking about mixed martial arts fighting.
The clashing images of Trayvon also came into focus in a conversation about two tattoos the teenager had. Fulton said one tattoo was two praying hands, the other was her name.
Trayvon’s half-brother, Jahvaris Fulton, also took the stand Friday. A senior at Florida International University in Miami, Mr. Fulton told the jury he grew up with Trayvon Martin, who has a different biological father, in Miami, and that the two were “very close.”
In the days after first hearing the tape, Fulton said he wasn’t sure who was screaming but has since come to believe that it was his brother. “I’d heard him yell before, but not like that,” he told the jury.
He explained his early indecision by saying he was in denial about his brother’s death.
“I guess it was listening, listening to it was clouded by shock and denial and sadness,” Fulton testified. “I didn’t really want to believe that it was him.”
Orlando attorney Bill Shaeffer told WFTV Channel 9 on Friday that Sybrina Fulton’s “grace and dignity” represented a key moment in the trial. “How could you not help but identify with her anguish?” he said.
But he added, “It has to be uncomfortable for the jury, to divorce themselves from the emotion in doing their job, and just base their verdict on the evidence and the facts that are presented to them. They know that … they may not obviously reach the verdict that Trayvon’s mom feels that they should reach.”