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Trial focuses on Zimmerman's neighborhood watch role

1:26 PM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
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SANFORD, Fla. -- After a fiery and at times odd first day, the trial of George Zimmerman will focus Tuesday on whether the neighborhood watch volunteer targeted others for alleged suspicious activities.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, in a February 2012 confrontation. Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, a black teenager; defense attorneys say Trayvon attacked Zimmerman in a gated community.

Prosecutors hope to allow jurors to listen to a phone call by Zimmerman to police where he describes seeing another suspicious black male in his neighborhood. Defense attorneys have objected to the call, saying it is irrelevant to Zimmerman's state of mind the night he shot Trayvon.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson said she would make a ruling after reviewing prior cases.

The recording "is relevant to show the defendant's state of mind," Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei said.

Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted "imminently dangerous" and demonstrated a "depraved mind without regard for human life" - Florida's definition of second-degree murder.

Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, argued that the call does not speak to Zimmerman's state of the mind the night of the killing.

An FBI report shows Zimmerman had a pattern of calling authorities about criminal activities and safety issues in his neighborhood. In one of the calls to Sanford police, Zimmerman complained about children playing and running in the street.

Four calls were about black men he witnessed in the neighborhood after break-ins, according to the report, release by the state attorney's office.

In his opening statement Monday, Assistant State Attorney John Guy moved quickly to try to jolt the jurors by using the "f-word" followed by "punks" in quoting from Zimmerman's conversation by cellphone with a police dispatcher as he followed the unarmed Trayvon.

Guy told the jury they would hear from a young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon the night of the shooting, as well as police officers who arrived shortly after and emergency personnel who tried to save Trayvon's life. He also said a medical examiner and residents who live nearby the shooting site will testify.

Zimmerman's defense attorney, Don West, countered that Zimmerman shot Trayvon in self-defense after he was viciously attacked by the Miami-area teen.

Before getting into details, West began his opening statement with a joke. "Knock, knock," West said. "Who's there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? All right good, you're on the jury."

The court remained quiet and jurors' faces were blank. Later, after a break, West promised not to tell any more bad jokes.

Meanwhile, West told jurors that Trayvon had thrown a "sucker punch" at Zimmerman after possibly hiding before the struggle. "Trayvon Martin decided to confront George Zimmerman," West said. "The evidence will show this is a sad case. There are no monsters."

West showed enlarged pictures of Zimmerman's injuries to the jury as well as Trayvon from the 7-Eleven surveillance camera, where he is seen wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt.

On Monday, prosecutors called four witnesses including the police dispatcher who took Zimmerman's call the moment he spotted Trayvon.

Sean Noffke, a 911 operator who also answers non-emergency calls, testified that it is police policy not to give orders to callers. He said he told Zimmerman he did not need him to follow the teen.

"It's best to avoid any type of confrontation," said Noffke, who described the call as routine.

The first witness was Chad Johnson, 15, the son of Trayvon's father's girlfriend, who said he and Trayvon spent the day playing video games. Trayvon later left for 7-Eleven but, Chad said, he never returned.

USA TODAY

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