Zimmerman Testimony Grinds to a Conclusion

Testimony ended today in the George Zimmerman trial, as the defense put on its final witnesses. Andrew Branca describes the witnesses and their testimony at Legal Insurrection. The significant ones were Dennis Root, an expert in the use of force, and Olivia Bertalan, a former neighbor of Zimmerman’s at Twin Lakes.

Ross seems to have been given remarkably broad latitude to testify about what he thinks happened and why what Zimmerman did was justified. Of course, that was partly because the prosecutor led with his chin on cross-examination; one of the cardinal rules of trial practice is that if you ask a witness a question on cross, he gets to answer it. Bertalan described a terrifying home invasion by two black teenagers who got off scot-free, and related how caring and helpful Zimmerman and his wife were following the incident. As with so much of the testimony in this trial, its relevance was marginal at best, but it undoubtedly helped Zimmerman’s cause.

Dennis Ross

After the defense rested–it’s always a fun moment when you turn to the jury and say, portentously, “The defense rests”–a period of low comedy ensued. The state had said that they intended to call several rebuttal witnesses, but they all fizzled. It turned out that that they wanted to call the first two in order to attempt some further impeachment of their testimony, which is not a proper form of rebuttal. They said they didn’t know whether the third proposed rebuttal witness was available, but it is hard to imagine that his testimony–about an arrest of Zimmerman eight years ago, in which the charges were first reduced and ultimately dismissed–would be admitted in any event.

At the close of the defense case, Zimmerman renewed his motion for an order of acquittal (equivalent to a directed verdict in a civil case). It was again denied by Judge Debra Nelson, who apparently thinks there is some skinny evidence on the basis of which a jury might possibly convict. Throughout the trial, the prosecution has acted as though it were a party to a civil action, trying to marshal a few bits of evidence on the basis of which it might avoid summary judgment. To cite just one example, in his cross-examination of Dennis Ross, the prosecutor used a plastic dummy to act out various ways in which the encounter between Martin and Zimmerman might have transpired. This is verging on the bizarre. The state is not a civil litigant trying to stave off summary judgment with straw men. It has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman is guilty; that is, that he did not act in self-defense. Offering multiple theories about what might have happened cannot get the job done.

Judge Debra Nelson

Tomorrow the court and the lawyers will thrash out the jury instructions, and the state will give its closing argument at 1:00 tomorrow afternoon. The defense will then have overnight to finalize its closing, which will be delivered first thing Friday morning, followed by the state’s rebuttal. If I understood the colloquy correctly, each side will have three hours for argument–a ridiculously long time, in my opinion, for a 12-day trial, and longer than necessary for any trial. Then we will find out whether, like most other observers, the jury has seen the trial as a debacle for the prosecution.

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