Defence team had argued that prosecutors failed to prove Zimmerman's guilt and were 'grasping at straws'
George Zimmerman's lawyers opened their formal courtroom defence of the neighbourhood watch captain on Friday after failing to persuade a Florida judge that he should be immediately acquitted of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin.
Prosecutors, they argued, had failed to prove Zimmerman's guilt during nine days of evidence, and were "grasping at straws" with a circumstantial case containing "not one scintilla" of direct evidence against him.
Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lead attorney, claimed the state attorney's office had not produced a single witness to support their assertion that he acted with ill will, spite or hatred when he shot and killed the unarmed Martin, 17, in a confrontation at Sanford's Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community on 26 February last year.
It was, he said, a straightforward case of self-defence, with Zimmerman, 29, forced to fire to save his own life after being sucker-punched and attacked by Martin, who was walking back to the home of his father's fiancée after a trip to a local shop.
Circuit court judge Debra S Nelson quickly rejected the motion to acquit, accepted the official resting of the prosecution's case, and ordered O'Mara to proceed with his first witnesses. The first, Zimmerman's mother, Gladys, testified that "without question" screams captured on a 911 call made by a resident of the housing estate on the night of the incident were those of her son.
"The anguish in that scream, the way that he is screaming, describes to me anguish and fear and terror," she said.
She agreed with prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda that she had never heard him screaming for his life before, but said she was certain it was his voice: "Because he's my son."
The opening of the defence case came at the end of an eventful day of testimony that began with an emotional appearance on the stand by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother.
Referring to the same recording of the 911 call, she was equally adamant that the yelling was from her own son.
"I heard my son screaming," Fulton said, responding to O'Mara's suggestion that she only hoped it was his voice and could not be certain. "What I hoped for is that this would never have happened and he would still be here."
Trayvon Martin's 22-year-old brother, Jahvaris Fulton, 22, also testified that he was certain whose voice it was.
The prosecution's final witness, medical examiner Shiping Bao, who conducted the post mortem on Martin's body, engaged in some testy exchanges with defence attorney Don West during cross-examination.
He admitted that his opinion of how long Martin had lived after a single bullet from Zimmerman's 9mm semi-automatic pistol pierced his heart had changed, from up to three minutes on the autopsy report to almost 10 minutes of "pain and suffering" in his testimony today.
But regardless, Dr Bao said: "There was no chance he could survive."
Much of the afternoon session was taken up by O'Mara's arguments for Zimmerman's acquittal by the judge instead of leaving a verdict to the all-female jury of six, and his citing of several previous cases as examples in which defendants were acquitted when victims were shown to be the aggressors.
"There is a very well founded, reasonable hypothesis of innocence," O'Mara said. "The overriding necessity in ill will, spite and hatred cases is almost always that the people involved knew each other, that the animosity is something that has grown over time."
O'Mara rejected the state's argument that Zimmerman deliberately ignored a police dispatcher's instruction and pursued and confronted Martin.
"They want you to think that at that precise moment, Mr Zimmerman became the mastermind murderer who said, 'You know what, I'm going hunting, I'm going after him, I'll call you when I'm done'. There's no evidence to support that," he said.
"You can't just call out parts of evidence, you have to look at the entirety of evidence before the court. There is an enormous amount of information that my client acted in self-defence."
Prosecutor Richard Mantei was equally vehement in his argument for Nelson rejecting the motion.
"There's only one reason to point a gun at someone's heart and squeeze the trigger, because you mean to kill them, or you just don't care," he said.
"There are two people involved here. One of them's dead and one of them's a liar."
Nelson adjourned proceedings until Monday at 9am. She has indicated that the trial could last another one to two weeks.
Zimmerman faces at least 25 years in jail if convicted in a case that sparked civil rights protests last spring when he was not arrested or charged for six weeks. Martin was black and Zimmerman is of mixed white-Hispanic parentage.
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