If Tuesday ended well for the defense, Wednesday couldn’t have been much worse. Zimmerman’s prior calls to the Stanford PD were ruled admissible, one neighbor testified that she heard a cry for help from a boy, the same neighbor and another testified that Zimmerman was on top of Martin, and the girl who was on the phone with Martin just before his deadly confrontation with Zimmerman directly contradicted many of Zimmerman’s prior statements. Anyway, none of the defense team suffered a myocardial infarction or a case of the hiccups, so things could have been worse . . .
First, the five 911 tapes. All things considered, they probably helped Zimmerman. Aside from the call made the night of the shooting, these tapes represent the first time that the jury has heard Zimmerman speak for himself. And he spoke well.
In the new tapes, Zimmerman came across as thoughtful, professional and soft-spoken. His language was not at all the talk of the raging anti-black vigilante that the prosecution wants the jury to think he is. Yes, there was a marked contrast between the cool, calm and collected Zimmerman of the five tapes and the agitated Zimmerman of the Martin tape. Still, if it’s the prosecution’s theory that the Martin incident was the straw that broke Zimmerman’s back, they’ll need to do a lot more.
On the other hand, the testimony of the neighbors was very bad for the defense. Both witnesses claimed that the “bigger man” was on top was especially troubling. Martin was 5’11” and 158 pounds according to autopsy measurements, while Zimmerman was estimated to be 5’7” to 5’8” and 185 to 200 pounds. Zimmerman was from 27 to 42 pounds heavier that Martin at the time of their confrontation. The bigger man. The witnesses testimony was somewhat tempered during cross, when one admitted that she based her “bigger man” theory on older photos of Zimmerman and Martin.
The defense’s euphoria didn’t last long. On redirect, the witness was asked squarely if the bigger man was the one who got up from the confrontation. She said yes. That was the money shot, and it was deadly.
Her testimony corroborated the testimony of the prior witness who also claimed that Zimmerman was on top during the scrum. The defense tried to show that her timeline was off, that Martin was on top, then once he was shot, Zimmerman rolled to the top position. The witness was having none of it.
Neither witness presented the prosecution with a “smoking gun,” and there were some holes in their testimony. Hey, it was dark, one witness thought she heard three shots, and nobody saw any faces. Nevertheless, both neighbors contradicted Zimmerman’s account of his physical battle with Martin. These were the second and third neighbors to do so.
The testimony of Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin in the minutes leading up to his death, was likewise problematic to the defense. Jeantel, who may have developmental issues, testified that Martin told her that he was being watched by “a creepy-ass cracker.” At that time, Jeantel made a joke about the watcher possibly being a rapist, but Martin told her to stop playing. Shortly after, Martin told Jeantel that the man, presumably Zimmerman, was now following him.
So far, Jeantel’s account did not vary much from Zimmerman’s. Zimmerman already admitted on the police tape that he observed Martin and then followed him. The operator then advised Zimmerman “we don’t need you to do that,” at which point Zimmerman responded “okay.” But the okay was after Zimmerman had complained that “they always get away.” So did he really turn back? That’s the 25-years-to-life question.
Jeantel then says that Martin told her he’d given his pursuer the slip. Jeantel told him to run home, but Martin said that he’d just walk fast because he was almost there (in fact, Martin’s body was about 50 to 70 yards from the place where he was staying).
According to Jeantel, she then heard Martin exclaim “oh, shit,” and “the nigger’s behind me.” Then she claimed she heard Martin asking “what are you following me for?” She claims she heard a heavy breathing man say, “what are you doing here?” What followed next were the sounds of thumping, which Jeantel demonstrated by tapping her chest where Martin’s headset microphone would have been. She heard “wet grass sounds” before the call was cut off.
That part of Jeantel’s account directly contradicts Zimmerman’s, in which Zimmerman stated that he had turned back to his car and was then confronted by Martin. While not part of any testimony so far, it’s worth noting that in neither Zimmerman’s nor Jeantel’s account did Zimmerman ever mention to Martin that he was the neighborhood watchman.
Don West handled Jeantel’s cross, and scored points by having her admit that she lied to Martin’s parents as to why she did not go to Martin’s wake and for claiming that she was a minor, when in fact she was 18 at the time. West will probably have another go at Jeantel tomorrow.
West’s cross was fine and his avuncular demeanor should not be off-putting to the jury, who might be offended by a more vigorous cross of a crying teenager who will never be confused with a Mensa candidate. It’s also worth noting that while Jeantel is inarticulate and a little slow on the uptake, when it comes to dates and times she’s practically a savant.
It’s early in the trial and there are bound to be surprises along the way, so we’ll keep watching.