SANFORD, Fla. — In the end, George Zimmerman — a man who gave his account of a tragic night to police many times and who told his story on national television — stayed silent.
The neighborhood watch volunteer, whose February 2012 shooting of an unarmed African American teenager sparked a national uproar, opted against testifying in his second-degree murder trial. Dressed in a loose-fitting blazer, Zimmerman stood at the defense table late Wednesday and quietly told Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson that he’d made the decision after consulting with his attorneys.
Zimmerman’s choice capped days of intense courtroom action before the defense rested its case Wednesday, clearing the way for closing arguments to begin on Thursday. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder.
Even though Zimmerman did not testify, jurors heard from him often over three weeks of trial testimony. They watched video and heard audio of him being questioned by police investigators. They watched him on a reenactment video recorded by police. And they saw his interview with Fox News broadcaster Sean Hannity. In effect, he was testifying to them without having to be cross-examined about his claim that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin attacked him on a rainy night and that he shot in self-
Defense attorneys concluded their case without delving as deeply as they’d hoped into Martin’s past. Zimmerman’s attorneys have attempted to portray Martin as the aggressor, in an effort to support their client’s self-defense claim. They tried vigorously to convince Nelson that text messages about guns and fighting found on Martin’s cellphone should be shown to the jury. During a marathon evidence hearing Tuesday night, Nelson walked out of the courtroom, ending the proceedings shortly before 10 p.m., while defense lawyer Don West was still arguing that he needed more time to prepare arguments.
When court reconvened Wednesday morning, Nelson quickly ruled that the text messages would not be admitted as evidence, dealing a blow to a defense team that seemed to have a great deal of momentum after conducting punishing cross-
examinations of several key government witnesses. The texts might have been used to portray Martin as a skilled and aggressive fighter. Prosecutors have emphasized that Zimmerman was heavier than Martin, a slender 17-year-old; defense attorneys called a local gym owner to testify that Zimmerman was unathletic and “soft.”
In one of the text messages on Martin’s phone, a friend wrote, “Babe, why you always fighting?,” according to Richard Connor, a defense computer forensics expert who testified during the evidence hearing.
Connor testified that Martin wrote about a fight opponent, “I lost the first round,” a message that he punctuated with a smiley face. “I won the second and third.”
“You need to stop fighting, for real,” the friend texted back, Connor said.
Connor also said Martin’s half brother, Demetrius Martin, posted a Facebook message asking, “When you gonna teach me how to fight.”
Defense attorneys also appeared to have made a tactical decision that limited how much jurors would learn about Martin. They had successfully argued earlier this week that they could present evidence to jurors about a small amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, that was found in Martin’s blood. But they rested on Wednesday without saying a word about THC.