Prosecution opens in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin

The trial of George Zimmerman began Monday in Sanford, Fla. with a prosecutor questioning Zimmerman’s claim that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense:

“F------ punks,” prosecutor John Guy said to six female jurors, quoting Zimmerman from a call he made to a police dispatcher shortly before his fatal confrontation with Martin. “These a-------. They always get away.”. . .

Zimmerman followed Martin through his neighborhood, confronted him and then fatally shot him during a fight, Guy said.

“George Zimmerman didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to,” Guy said. “He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to.”

The prosecutor described Zimmerman as someone who wanted to be a police officer, and he dismantled the story Zimmerman has told investigators about what happened during the fight between the neighborhood watch volunteer and the Miami-area teen that left Martin dead from a bullet to his chest. . .

On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated 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. The delay in the arrest prompted protests nationwide.

Associated Press

Watch portions of Guy’s opening statement below:

A prosecutor used strong language as he opened his case against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Miami-area teen Trayvon Martin. (Associated Press)

Zimmerman is accused of murder in the second degree in the death of Martin, a 17-year-old black boy who was unarmed at the time. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic. Zimmerman’s attorneys were to give their opening statement after the prosecution’s. Watch Martin’s mother and father address the jury below:

Trayvon Martin's mother and father came to the court in Sanford, Fla., today for opening statements in George Zimmerman’s trial. (Associated Press)

The judge in the case ruled on Saturday that while the jury may listen to a recording of screams from a call placed to dispatchers before Martin’s death, they will not be allowed to hear testimony from experts who believe that the screams were Martin’s:

The screams are crucial pieces of evidence because they could determine who the aggressor was in the confrontation before Zimmerman fatally shot the unarmed teenager. Martin’s family contends it was the teen screaming, while Zimmerman’s father has said it was his son.

Judge Debra Nelson ruled that the methods used by the experts aren’t reliable. . .

She reached the decision after hearing arguments that stretched over several days this month on whether to allow testimony from two prosecution experts. One expert ruled out Zimmerman as the screamer and another said it was Martin. Defense experts argued there was not enough audio to determine who the screams are coming from. Zimmerman’s attorneys also argued that the state experts’ analysis is flawed. . .

“There is no evidence to establish that their scientific techniques have been tested and found reliable,” the judge said in her ruling.

Associated Press

Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart reviews some of the other evidence that Nelson has excluded:

Nelson has given the prosecution and the defense reason to feel cautiously optimistic about their chances with the jury. Nelson ruled last month that the defense is not allowed to mention Trayvon’s social media communications, his school suspension and drug use in their opening statement. Not that any of that information justifies Zimmerman’s actions that rainy evening on Feb. 26, 2012.

Last week, Nelson ruled the prosecution can say in its opening statement that Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop” and a “vigilante.” They can also say he “profiled” Trayvon. The phrase “racially profiled” is not allowed. . .

So we’re now looking at two pivotal moments in the trial. As Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told NBC News last night, the testimony of Witness 8 is now crucial for the prosecution. She is the one who was on the phone with Trayvon in his final moments. Because she is an earwitness, albeit a flawed one, to what happened, she is the closest we’ll come to knowing from Trayvon’s perspective what happened that night.

And for the defense, keeping Zimmerman off the stand is paramount. Telling his version of events would no doubt be helpful to his case. But cross-examination by the prosecution could be withering. From the precious little DNA evidence to back up his story to Trayvon’s hands, Zimmerman could be his own worst enemy in explaining how he killed a teenager armed with only a bag of Skittles and iced tea.

Jonathan Capehart

Outside the courthouse, residents of Sanford and the black neighborhood of Goldsboro are dealing with the tension that has followed Martin’s death:

Just over a month after Travyon’s death, hundreds of residents marched to the Sanford Police Station, on Historic Goldsboro Boulevard, to demand Zimmerman’s arrest. The city created a blue-ribbon panel to assess the community’s relationship with the police. The panel’s report, published earlier this month, found that the Sanford police department is underfunded and understaffed, that it must develop a “closer relationship” with Goldsboro, that inconsistent enforcement of the law “may be manifesting in a racially-based dynamic.” This May, Sanford officers underwent “fair and impartial” training to divest themselves of any bias, subconscious or otherwise, and began doing “walk-and-talks” in the community. To some residents, this amounted to a performance for the media. To the police, this is the first step to establishing trust.

Goldsboro — just across Route 17/92 from the quaint downtown — is “oppressed, depressed and suppressed” says Pastor Valarie Houston, a co-chair of the blue-ribbon panel who leads a congregation of 432 active members at Allen Chapel AME Church in Goldsboro. Trayvon’s death was fuel for self-empowerment, and a rallying point to address broader issues. . .

The marches last year were peaceful and constructive, but the way the media covered them stoked an anxiety that lingers to this day, says longtime local businesswoman Sara Jacobson, who owns commercial property downtown and says that restaurants have reported cancellations because people fear what might happen after a verdict.

Jacobson, like many other residents interviewed earlier this month, thinks that the rest of the country is imposing its own fears and prejudices on Sanford, whose singling out is both unjust and illuminating.

Dan Zak

For past coverage of this trial and more on the all-female jury that will decide the case, continue reading here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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