All in all, there was some good, some bad and some downright ugly moments in the State’s presentation. After reviewing the good, the bad and the ugly, I grade them a C+ on presentation of the case, possibly a B- , if grading on a curve, which the jury is probably not going to do. The highest grade was the opening statement by John Guy which was an A grade by all accounts. The opening statement was a brilliant way to start using the inflammatory curse words that Zimmerman used to describe Trayvon Martin. Unfortunately,many other aspects of the prosecution’s case did not match up to the opening.
The State began its case methodically with the fact witnesses who were the neighbors who either saw or heard something and friend Rachel Jeantel who was the last person to speak to Trayvon Martin, other than Zimmerman. In real court time, witnesses do not always respond the way you expect them to respond, despite all best preparation efforts. This is not scripted TV or at the movies. And the witnesses who testified are not clients of the state so anything that is said in preparation can be brought out on cross examination. There is no attorney-client privilege here. How a witness testifies is not always the reflection on the attorney or lack of preparation. Witnesses do make mistakes.
But the State made a mistake in calling some of the witnesses or examining other witness too long. They should have only called those witnesses who could prove their case or the underlying themes of profiling, pursuit, lies and murder. John Good, the neighbor, who testified he saw Trayvon Martin on top of Zimmerman in a mixed martial arts move, should have been left for the defense to call. He served no useful purpose for the State’s case. The good news is the State presented several witnesses who identified Zimmerman, by his clothing, as the one on top of Trayvon Martin, including Selma Mora’s compelling testimony, who testified in Spanish.
Nineteen year old Rachel Jeantel, was scrutinized for her court room performance. In the final analysis, the jury may disregard her testimony due to all of the prior inconsistencies she told last year, which the State had no control over. The State had to call Rachel Jeantel but they could not make her out to be a polished TV or movie star witness. Yes, she could have been better. But no, she would probably never be polished in the eyes of the jury.
Calling the witnesses who could discredit Zimmerman’s story including Zimmerman’s best friend, Osterman and the playback of the July, 2012 Sean Hannity videotape was definitely worth doing. However, the State allowed some witnesses too much leeway. One such witness was Zimmerman’s college professor. The prosecution should have kept his testimony short, simple and sweet limited to solely that Zimmerman got an A in a 2010 criminal class where Stand Your Ground was taught. Zimmerman denied to Sean Hannity ever knowing about Stand Your Ground laws. By going into too much detail with this witness, it only allowed the defense to, in essence, turn him into an expert on Stand Your Ground law.
Another witness whom the State allowed too much leeway was Det. Serino. He was the one who showed that Zimmerman did not recognize the sole voice screaming on the tape as his own voice. But then, on cross-examination, the State failed to object when the defense asked him, if Zimmerman’s account of events was believable. The State waited until the following day for the judge to instruct the jury to disregard that comment. This witness had already said earlier he didn’t believe Zimmerman’s injuries because he wasn’t hurt that bad.
And the last witness, Dr. Bao, was an unexpected disaster for the state on so many levels. He was what I’d like to refer to as a run- away witness, renegade witness or loose cannon, take your pick. First, Dr. Bao should not have been the State’s last witness. Sybrina Fulton should have ended the case on an emotional high point.Dr. Bao’s newly undisclosed notes brought a lot of drama with his testimony. The notes which prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda never saw , was a mishap and a first probably for Bernie De La Rionda.Usually, in preparing a medical examiner, who has testified hundreds of time, relying on his or her report is necessary. But, I have never seen or heard of an expert witness bring in additional notes which the State had not seen. No attorney is ever expecting the expert witness to come to court with new notes and new opinions and read them for the first time to the jury. I don’t fault the prosecutors but I certainly would not ever want to be in their shoes on that one.
It’s not over yet. And perhaps, the State can raise its grade on the cross examination. Stay tuned.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has tried murders, rapes, narcotic violations, burglaries, robberies and economic crimes. As a civil trial lawyer, she has represented clients in court rooms across the country. Her blog, LegalSpeaks, founded in 2009, addresses issues of race, gender and class in the law.