Opening statements begin in Zimmerman trial

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by MIKE SCHNEIDER and KYLE HIGHTOWER / Associated Press

KREM.com

Posted on June 24, 2013 at 8:03 AM

Updated Monday, Jun 24 at 6:01 PM

SANFORD, Fla.  -- George Zimmerman's defense attorneys can use the neighborhood watch volunteer's claim that he was screaming for help moments before he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Judge Debra Nelson made the ruling Monday shortly before opening statements in Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

Zimmerman told a police officer and neighbor that he was yelling for help but nobody responded during his confrontation with Martin.

Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming self-defense.

Arguments over whether the remarks could be used by the defense delayed opening statements, which were scheduled to begin Monday after almost two weeks of picking a jury.

Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, says he shot Martin in self-defense. Prosecutors say Zimmerman racially profiled Martin as he walked through a gated community where Zimmerman lived and often patrolled. Martin was returning from a convenience store on a rainy night in February 2012, wearing a dark hooded shirt. The two eventually got into a fight and Zimmerman shot Martin.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled last week prosecutors will be able to use the word "profiled" in their opening statements, as long as their description isn't limited to racial profiling. Prosecutors will be able to describe Zimmerman as a "wannabe cop" and "vigilante" and will be able to say Zimmerman confronted Martin.

"We don't intend to say he was profiled solely because of race," prosecutor John Guy said last week.

Defense attorneys Mark O'Mara and Don West will argue the case is simply self-defense, free of the racial overtones that have overshadowed it. The initial decision not to charge Zimmerman led to public outrage and demonstrations around the nation. Civil rights leaders and others accused the police in the central Florida city of Sanford of failing to thoroughly investigate the shooting because Martin was a black teen from Miami. Martin was visiting his father in Sanford when he was shot.

"We're trying so hard in this case not to make it what everybody outside the courthouse wants it to be," O'Mara said.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the townhome community where Zimmerman and the fiancee of Martin's father lived. There had been a rash of recent break-ins and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.

The two eventually got into a struggle and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest with his 9mm handgun. He was charged 44 days after the shooting, only after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the case and after protests.

"I ask that you pray for me and my family because I don't want any other mothers to have to experience what I'm going through now," said Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, shortly before the start of opening statements.

Two police dispatch phone calls will be important evidence for both sides' cases.

The first is a call Zimmerman made to a nonemergency police dispatcher as he followed Martin walking through his gated community. At one point, the dispatcher tells Zimmerman he doesn't need to be following Martin.

The second 911 call captures screams from the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin. Martin's parents said the screams are from their son while Zimmerman's father contends they belong to his son.

Nelson ruled last weekend that audio experts for the prosecution won't be able to testify that the screams belong to Martin, saying the methods the experts used were unreliable.
 

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