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Officer's testimony helps, hurts Zimmerman

6:00 AM, Jul 3, 2013   |    comments
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SANFORD, Fla. -- The lead investigator in the Trayvon Martin murder case helped and hurt both sides during two days of sometimes conflicting testimony that wrapped up Tuesday in the trial of George Zimmerman.

Sanford police officer Christopher Serino agreed with prosecutors that Zimmerman may have been profiling Trayvon, who is black, but also said he believed Zimmerman was telling the truth when he said he was attacked by the teen he fatally shot.

Serino's final assessment of the shooting fell somewhere between what the prosecution wants -- Zimmerman convicted of murder -- and what the defense wants -- Zimmerman set free. Serino had written a report shortly after the February 2012 shooting saying that Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter. Prosecutors later decided on the more serious charge of second-degree murder.

Tuesday began with Judge Debra Nelson agreeing to strike from the record Serino's testimony from the previous day in which he said he found Zimmerman's account of his fight with Trayvon Martin credible.

Citing case law, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said his own witness should not have told the jury that he thought Zimmerman was telling the truth.

Nelson agreed that the jury should decide whether Zimmerman is telling the truth, and that a police officer's testimony about truthfulness would be given improper weight by the jury. She told jurors to disregard the statement.

On his second day on the stand Tuesday, Serino agreed with the prosecutor that Zimmerman saying "a-- holes" and "f--king punks" after spotting Trayvon could be interpreted as ill-will, spite and hatred. All three elements factor into whether or not Zimmerman committed second-degree murder.

In trying to make the point that Zimmerman harbored ill feelings that caused him to shoot Trayvon, de la Rionda replayed parts of Zimmerman's interview with Serino where Zimmmerman is asked about why he thought Trayvon was suspicious and who "these a-- holes were." The jury heard Zimmerman say again, "People that victimize the neighborhood."

Serino said Zimmerman's anger seemed pointed at a general group of people rather than personally at Trayvon. De la Rionda said that there was no evidence Trayvon was committing a crime the night he got shot and that assuming someone was about to commit a crime could be a form of profiling.

Serino also testified that the medical examiner's report supported Zimmerman's claim that Trayvon was on top of him when Zimmerman shot him. He said there was no evidence to support a prosecution claim that Zimmerman pressed his gun up to Trayvon's chest. The medical examiner's report supported how and where Zimmerman said he shot the teen, Serino testified.

He admitted that parts of Zimmerman's story of that night raised some flags, but said Zimmerman's story was largely supported by evidence and witnesses.

De la Rionda, loudly and dramatically, pressed Serino about the fact that Trayvon was not committing a crime.

"Are you saying it's against the law to wear a hoodie?" de la Rionda asked. "No," Serino replied.

The shooting and speculation that Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, profiled, followed and murdered Trayvon sparked racial controversy and protests across the nation last year. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claims that he acted in self-defense after Trayvon jumped him in a gated residential community.

Also testifying Tuesday was Mark Osterman, a good friend of Zimmerman who wrote a book about the shooting. Osterman testified that Zimmerman largely told him the same version of the story he told police.

Osterman said Zimmerman told him his version of the tragedy minutes after being released by police on the early morning following the shooting.

Osterman also said that, well before the shooting, he helped Zimmerman get a gun when his friend reached out to him for advice.

"I recommend anyone who is not a convicted felon carry a firearm," said Osterman, who works for the Federal Marshal service. "The police aren't always there."

Still to be sorted out is a motion filed Monday by Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei asking the judge to hold a hearing on an Instagram picture posted by defense attorney Don West's daughter.

The picture shows West and his daughter eating ice cream cones the day West cross-examined Rachel Jeantel. Jeantel was the young woman on the phone with Trayvon moments before he was killed.

West's daughter captioned the picture "We beat stupidity celebration" and wrote "#dadkilledit." The prosecutor wants an inquiry to "ensure witnesses and court proceedings are treated with respect and not as occasions for inappropriate jokes."

Defense attorneys said in a responding motion that West and his daughter took the photo before he cross-examined Jeantel and that West's daughter recognizes the photo caption was insensitive.

Prosecutors Tuesday also said they want the jury to see George Zimmerman's school transcripts that show he was taking criminal justice classes and coursework for a class Zimmerman was taking that lawyers say discussed Florida's stand-your-ground law and self defense. Lawyers also want the jury to learn about Zimmerman's application to become a Virginia police officer and his application to go on a police ride-along.

Mark O'Mara says the records are irrelevant and don't show Zimmerman's state of mind when he shot Trayvon. Mantei says the records show Zimmerman had a definite interest in becoming a police officer and understood police techniques.

Judge Nelson may hear arguments about the issue Wednesday morning.

Also Tuesday:

-The jury also watched parts of George Zimmerman's interview with FOX's Sean Hannity. In that interview, Zimmerman repeated his now familiar story adding that he had no regrets about carrying a gun or calling police. The incident was "God's plan," Zimmerman told Hannity.

-Valerie Rao, the Jacksonville, Fla. medical examiner, testified that Zimmerman's injuries from the night of shooting were "insignificant," and not life threatening. Rao examined photos of Zimmerman's injuries and the autopsy of Trayvon but her office did not complete Trayvon's autopsy.



Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

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