SANFORD - When court resumes Tuesday morning for Day Two of testimony at George Zimmerman's murder trial, expect race to be front and center.
For most of the day Monday it was not, a surprise given that the shooting launched civil rights rallies in Sanford, New York, London, Atlanta, Miami and elsewhere.
Most of Monday was spent on opening statements.
In his, Assistant State Attorney John Guy was passionate, profane and loud.
He described Zimmerman as a calculating liar who “profiled, followed and murdered an unarmed youth.”
Guy quoted Zimmerman directly, dropping f-bombs several times, using the words the Neighborhood Watch volunteer had said to a police dispatcher moments before the shooting.
“‘(Expletive) punks. ‘These assholes, they always get away.’ Those were the words,” Guy said, pointing at Zimmerman, “in that grown man's mouth.”
Defense attorney Don West took a completely different tact. Where Guy was fiery and fast, West was slow and methodical.
His opening statement was five times longer than Guy’s and lasted nearly three hours.
“I think the evidence will show that this is a sad case, that the are no monsters,” West said. “George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder. He shot Trayvon Martin self-defense after being viciously attacked.”
Trayvon is the unarmed black 17-year-old Zimmerman shot Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, setting off those civil rights rallies.
West then proceeded to review every major piece of evidence in the case, from knots on Zimmerman's head — which he said came from Trayvon pounding it against concrete — to gunpowder burns on the teenager's shirt.
In his opening, Guy had promised jurors they'd hear a “bombshell 911 call,” that of a neighbor reporting a fight and in the background screams for help.
But long before lunch, West had defused that bomb.
He played the screams for jurors and encouraged them, once deliberations begin, to listen to it “one, five, 10, 50 times if you need to. ... Those are the screams of someone in a life-threatening situation, someone screaming for help, seeking desperately for someone to come and help.”
They were the screams of Zimmerman, West said.
According to Guy, they came from Trayvon.
Neither attorney mentioned race in his opening statement, but the issue came up late in the day, after prosecutors began putting on witnesses.
Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson halted court for the day early because of it.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei had begun playing for jurors a call Zimmerman had made to police, reporting a suspicious black man in the neighborhood.
But the subject was not Trayvon Martin. It was someone else.
Zimmerman had made many similar calls to police in the months before Trayvon's death.
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara jumped up and objected, asking that the audio-playback be halted.
It's irrelevant, O’Mara argued, because it has nothing to do with the night Zimmerman shot Trayvon, a high school junior from Miami Gardens.
But it does, said Mantei, because it explains Zimmerman’s state of mind when he told police dispatcher Sean Noffke just before shooting Trayvon, “those a******* always get away.”
The judge, not sure what to do, told attorneys to research case law and return Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. to hash it out.
After opening statements wrapped up in the mid-afternoon Monday, prosecutors began calling witnesses and went about the business of trying to send the Neighborhood Watch volunteer to prison for life.
The first was a ninth grader — the adolescent son of Trayvon’s father’s girlfriend — who had spent the day with Trayvon, playing video games and watching television.
Then came the 7-Eleven clerk who did not recall selling Trayvon a package of Skittles and a canned soft drink about 45 minutes before the shooting, but he was able to authenticate a pair of store security videos that jurors then watched, showing the South Florida teenager picking up items and paying for them.
Late in the day Noffke, the dispatcher who spoke to Zimmerman that night, testified about their conversation.
“Do you hear anger in that voice?” O'Mara asked.
“No,” said Noffke.
The second most talked-about moment of the day — after the profanity in the state’s opening — came when West tried to tell a joke to jurors but bombed.
“Knock, knock,” he said.
“Who's there?” he said, acting out both sides of the joke.
“George Zimmerman who?”
“All right, good. You're on the jury.”
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