By Mike Schneider And Kyle Hightower Associated Press
SANFORD, Fla. — A Florida judge ruled Wednesday that Trayvon Martin’s cellphone text messages about fighting and a defense animation depicting the struggle between Martin and George Zimmerman won’t be introduced as evidence at Zimmerman’s trial.
Judge Debra Nelson made her ruling a day after she heard arguments on the matter. Prosecutors had claimed the texts were irrelevant and taken out of context. They also objected to the computer animation, questioning its accuracy and saying it would mislead jurors.
“This is a murder trial. This isn’t ‘Casablanca.’ This isn’t ‘Iron Man,”’ prosecutor Richard Mantei said.
The judge seemed concerned about the animation’s accuracy during arguments. While the animation can’t be introduced as evidence that can be reviewed by jurors during their deliberations, defense attorneys may be able to use it during closing arguments, she ruled.
“To have an animation go back into jury room that they can play over and over again gives a certain weight to something that this court isn’t exactly certain comports with the evidence presented at trial,” Nelson said Wednesday night.
The judge agreed with prosecutors’ concerns about introducing the 17-year-old’s text messages. But defense attorney Don West had argued the texts were relevant since they showed Martin’s interest in fighting and physical capabilities.
Defense attorneys on Wednesday called one of their last witnesses as they started winding down their case. Public safety consultant Dennis Root testified that Martin was in better physical shape than Zimmerman, and that the neighborhood watch volunteer wasn’t any athlete.
“He would find himself lacking when compared to Mr. Martin,” Root said of Zimmerman.
Martin was unarmed and returning from a store when he was fatally shot by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, during a struggle on a dark, rainy night in February 2012. Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic. Some civil rights activists argued that the initial delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin’s race. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and says he shot Martin in self-defense.
Jurors spent a significant part of Tuesday listening to a defense expert on gunshot wounds testify that the trajectory of the bullet and gunpowder on Martin’s body support Zimmerman’s account that the teenager was on top of the defendant when he shot and killed Martin.
Dr. Vincent DiMaio, the forensic pathologist, also used photographs of Zimmerman to point out where he appeared to have been struck. Defense attorneys were hoping DiMaio’s testimony would help convince jurors of Zimmerman’s claims that he shot Martin in self-defense.
DiMaio said the muzzle of Zimmerman’s gun was against Martin’s clothing and it was anywhere from 2 to 4 inches from Martin’s skin.
“This is consistent with Mr. Zimmerman’s account that Mr. Martin was over him, leaning forward at the time he was shot,” said DiMaio, the former chief medical examiner in San Antonio.
DiMaio testified that lacerations to the back of Zimmerman’s head were consistent with it striking a concrete sidewalk, as the defendant has claimed. Later, when looking at photos of Zimmerman’s injuries taken the night of the shooting, DiMaio identified six separate impacts to Zimmerman’s face and head. He said he believed Zimmerman’s nose had been broken.
“It’s obvious he’s been punched in the nose and hit in the head,” he said.
Under cross-examination, DiMaio conceded that the gunshot could also be consistent with Martin pulling away from Zimmerman, and that he reached his conclusion without factoring in statements from some neighbors who say Zimmerman was on top of Martin. DiMaio, who has testified at high-profile trials including that of record producer Phil Spector, said witness accounts are often unreliable. The pathologist said he had been paid $2,400 by the defense.
DiMaio’s testimony also addressed the difference between Zimmerman’s account that he had placed Martin’s arms out to his sides and a photo taken after the shooting that shows Martin’s arms under his body. The pathologist said Martin would have been conscious for 10 to 15 seconds after the shooting as a reserve supply of oxygen ran out of his body, and during that time he could have moved his arms.
After DiMaio testified, the 911 calls that captured sounds of the fatal encounter were discussed again. Defense attorneys called Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte to the witness stand to describe the circumstances of how Martin’s family came to hear the 911 tapes. Bonaparte said he played the 911 tapes while members of Martin’s family sat together at City Hall. He played them as a courtesy before they were released publicly.
Defense attorneys are trying to show that Martin’s family members may have influenced each other in concluding the screams are those of the Miami teen. Police officers testified for the defense that it’s better for someone who is trying to identify a voice to listen to it alone.
Convincing the jury of who was screaming for help on the tape has become the primary goal of prosecutors and defense attorneys because it would help jurors evaluate Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. Relatives of Martin’s and Zimmerman’s have offered conflicting opinions about who is heard screaming.