Zimmerman trial: Close friends say it was Zimmerman who was screaming

One after the other, close friends of the defendant in the Zimmerman trial took the stand to testify that his screams for help, not Trayvon Martin's, could be heard on the crucial 911 recording.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Pool/AP
Sondra Osterman, a friend of George Zimmerman, listens to the 911 tape while on the witness stand at Seminole Circuit Court, in Sanford, Fla., on Monday. Mr. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, in 2012.

Close friends, the lead police investigator, and the victim’s father took the stand for the defense Monday to start the third week of testimony in the trial of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Without exception, the friends called as defense witnesses in the morning said it was Mr. Zimmerman who could be heard screaming for help on a 911 call the night Trayvon was shot in the townhouse complex where Zimmerman lived and the unarmed Trayvon was visiting. The issue of who is crying for help is a crucial one, since it could provide a sense of who was the aggressor in the deadly confrontation. Zimmerman is pleading not guilty, saying he acted in self defense.

In the afternoon, the defense called officer Chris Serlo, the lead investigator in the case. He testified that several days after the shooting, he played the 911 tape for Trayvon's father. Mr. Serlo said that when he asked Tracy Martin whether it was his son’s voice calling for help, “he looked away and under his breath he said, ‘no.” 

Later, under cross examination by prosecutor Bernie da la Rionda, officer Serino said the father could have been in denial about his son’s death and said “no” for that reason. “It could be perceived as denial,” Serino said. He also noted that at one point in the investigation Zimmerman told police that the screams did not sound like him, although he later said they were.

Then the defense called Tracy Martin to the stand. Asked about hearing the 911 tape at the police station, Mr. Martin testified that he never denied it was his son calling out for help, rather that he could not tell if it was his son after the tape was first played. “I didn’t tell him, 'No that wasn’t Trayvon.' I think I kind of pushed away from the table and kind of shook my head and said, 'I can’t tell," according to the Headline News live blog of the proceedings.

The victim’s father told of listening to the 911 tape later at the mayor’s office. “After listening to the tape maybe 20 times, I said I knew it was Trayvon's voice,” Martin told defense attorney Mark O’Mara.

There was no ambiguity in the testimony from Zimmerman’s friends. “Definitely, it’s Georgie,” testified Sondra Osterman, who is married to Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman. Mr. Osterman, an air marshall, has written a book about the case called “Defending Our Friend: The Most Hated Man In America.”

Another defense witness, Geri Russo, was quoted by Fox News as saying, “I have no doubt in my mind that’s his voice.” Ms. Russo worked with Zimmerman at a mortgage company and considers herself the defendant’s friend.  

Monday's action in the Sanford, Fla., courtroom was less intense than on Friday, when the prosecution rested after hearing from Trayvon’s mother and the defense opened with testimony by Zimmerman’s mother. The mothers disagreed sharply, with Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, saying it was her son screaming for help, while Glady Zimmerman said she heard her son on the recording.

In Monday morning's court action, the defense sought to defuse the expletive-laden language that Zimmerman used to describe Trayvon in a nonemergency call to police to report that Trayvon was walking through the neighborhood. The issue is of extra importance given the racial overtones in the case since Zimmerman is accused of profiling the African American teenager. The AP transcription of the phone call played in court has Zimmerman saying, “F---- punks. These a---. They always get away.”

When defense attorney Martin O’Mara asked Ms. Osterman if she heard ill will or spite in his Zimmerman’s voice, she replied, “I don’t think he was angry.” A showing that Zimmerman acted with ill will, spite, or a depraved mind is a requirement for conviction on a second-degree murder charge.   

Another defense witness, Lee Ann Benjamin, said Zimmerman did not seem to be in an “excited state” when he said “(expletive) punks," according to Headline News live blog.

Ms. Benjamin said she and her husband have contributed about $2,500 to Zimmerman’s defense fund. John Donnelly, Benjamin’s husband, testified that, in addition to the cash they contributed, the couple also brought Zimmerman about $1,700 worth of suits and that Zimmerman is like a son to him.

In a prosecution motion made public Monday, the state asked the judge to prevent Zimmernan’s attorneys from showing jurors a computer animation of the confrontation between him and Trayvon. The prosecution noted that the animation did not show the murder weapon and that it is based on approximate information from witness accounts. The defense has not filed an immediate response.

NOTE: Material from the Associated Press was used in preparing this report. 

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