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Prosecutors push to admit non-emergency calls on second day of Zimmerman murder trial

 

Prosecutors pushed Tuesday to introduce nearly 50 calls George Zimmerman made to police over an eight-year period prior to his fatal confrontation with Florida teen Trayvon Martin, as the neighborhood watch volunteer's murder trial entered a second day of testimony.

Zimmerman, 29, called police frequently to report such things as slow vehicles, loitering strangers in the neighborhood and open garages. Prosecutors want to introduce recordings of some of those calls, saying they are indicative of Zimmerman's overzealousness in pursuing people he considered to be suspicious - and of his state of mind on the night he shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, claiming he shot Martin in self-defense.

Defense attorneys object to the introduction of the calls, saying they should not be admissible under the rules of evidence.

Judge Debra Nelson said she would address the matter Tuesday, on the second day of the trial that has stirred nationwide debate over racial profiling, vigilantism and Florida's expansive laws on the use of deadly force.

Jurors are being sequestered for the duration of the trial, which could last several weeks.

On Monday, prosecutor John Guy cursed and defense attorney Don West told a joke as both sides laid out opening arguments.

The all-female jury of six took in both unconventional statements, alternately stunned, taking notes and at times appearing to nod in agreement. Jaws in the jury box dropped when Guy electrified the courtroom with a short, but profanity-laced and impassioned argument that sought to paint the defendant as an angry and out-of-control vigilante who was stalking Martin when he shot the teen in the gated community in Sanford, where he lived.

“F---ing punks,” prosecutor John Guy said in open court, quoting Zimmerman's own words to a non-emergency police dispatcher. “These a--holes, they always get away.”

The language -- rare for open court -- appeared to stun the six female jurors who must decide whether Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old African-American teen in self defense, or if he stalked the youth and provoked the deadly 2012 confrontation.

“And excuse my language, but those were his words, not mine.”

- Florida Prosecutor John Guy

“Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed, in the dark, a 17-year-old boy who he didn’t know,” continued Guy, as jurors in the Florida courtroom listened intently, some taking notes. “And excuse my language, but those were his words, not mine.”

When Guy said Zimmerman "made a decision that brought us all here today," the juror identified as E6 nodded her head in apparent agreement

Zimmerman appeared to show no emotion inside the courtroom as Guy made his statements.

Guy discounted the expected defense version of events, that Zimmerman was on the losing end of a violent confrontation and pulled his registered gun in self-defense, calling it a "tangled web of lies." 

The prosecutor said Martin had no blood or DNA from Zimmerman on his hands or under his fingernails, and he wrapped up his statements in about a half-hour, telling jurors Zimmerman "did not shoot [Martin] because he had to, but because he wanted to."

Don West followed with opening statements on behalf of Zimmerman, offering a knock-knock joke that fell flat before the stone-faced jurors.

"Who's there?" West said. "George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? Okay, good. You're on the jury."

West later apologized for the joke, saying he was sorry if he offended anyone.

Prior to the failed attempt at humor, West told a somber version of events, one that portrayed his client as a victim who acted to save his own life.

“The young man lost his life. Another is fighting for his," West said. "The evidence will show that this is a sad case. There are no monsters here.”

West then proceeded to explain to jurors the sequence of events that led to Trayvon Martin's death.

He displayed a map of the community where the shooting occurred, pictures of Zimmerman taken after the altercation and shooting, and played back calls between Zimmerman, a non-emergency dispatcher and neighbors.

In the call to the dispatcher, Zimmerman said Martin looked suspicious and "black," and noted that there was a string of recent crime in the neighborhood. The call was the one in which Zimmerman used the obscenities that Guy recalled.

As West played the 911 call a neighbor made -- which captured screams from the altercation -- Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, walked out of the courtroom.

"Tragically there was nothing that could be done," West said, referring to Martin's condition after he was shot.

West told jurors that Zimmerman was being viciously attacked when he shot Martin. Zimmerman was sucker-punched by Martin, who then pounded Zimmerman's head into the concrete sidewalk, West said. He played for jurors the call to a police dispatcher in which Zimmerman used the obscenities.

Martin had opportunities to go home after Zimmerman followed him and then lost track of him, West said, but instead the teen confronted the neighborhood watch volunteer.

West opening statements lasted nearly two and a half hours, compared to Guy's 30-minute remarks.

On Monday afternoon, the prosecution began calling in their first witnesses in the case for questioning.

Chad Joseph, 15, who is the son of Trayvon Martin's father's girlfriend, said Trayvon left to buy Skittles for him while they were watching TV and playing video games on the night of the shooting.

Joseph said he briefly spoke to Trayvon over the phone as he was walking home from a 7-Eleven store, but did not talk to him after that. Joseph found out about Trayvon's death when he came home from school the next day.

The second witness, 20-year-old Andrew Gaugh, was working the cash register at the time Martin purchased the Skittles at the 7-Eleven. Gaugh said he did not see anything suspicious about Martin's behavior. 

Before Guy and West gave their statements, Zimmerman's family was asked to leave the courtroom.

Martin's family was seen inside the courtroom earlier Monday sitting next to their lawyer, Benjamin Crump. Zimmerman's mother, father and wife also were present, but were later escorted out after prosecution lawyers invoked sequestration rules, which bar witnesses from courtroom proceedings until the state concludes the case. 

Zimmerman's defense team responded by asking Circuit Judge Debra Nelson to order the Martin family and Crump to leave, but they were allowed to stay. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara argued with Nelson over the decision, calling it "prejudicial."

West said in his opening statement that the Zimmerman family members were not allowed in the courtroom because they are not related to the deceased and may testify, as they are on the witness list.

Prior to the opening statements, Martin's mother asked for members of the public to pray for her family.

Fulton said Monday that she didn't want any other mothers to have to go through what she is experiencing.

Zimmerman's family said Monday that they will stick by George.

"George can count on his parent's and his family's unwavering and unconditional support, as he has throughout this ordeal, until he is acquitted," the family said in a statement from George's brother, Robert.

Last week, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled prosecutors would be able to use the word "profiled" in their opening statements, as long as their description isn't limited to racial profiling. 

"We don't intend to say he was profiled solely because of race," Guy said at the time.

The defense is expected to argue race played no part in the case, which became a national story after the initial decision by local authorities not to charge Zimmerman. 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 9-mm. handgun. He was charged 44 days after the shooting, only after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the case and after protests.

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

The first call was the one made to the non-emergency police dispatcher as Zimmerman 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.

Fox News' Serafin Gomez in Florida and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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