The state’s case was strong on theory, but non-existent on proof, O’Mara argued in his closing. “Don’t connect those dots unless they are connected for you, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the state,” he urged the jurors in a repeated theme.
Among those dots was the state's contention that Zimmerman was a wannabe cop, fed up with crime in his community, who had taken matters into his own hands and went after the innocent teenager, Martin. Neither had the state provided a “shred of evidence” to disprove the defense’s contention that Zimmerman was just returning to his vehicle when Martin attacked, O'Mara said.
If the prosecution’s case was circumstantial, so was the defense’s. The defense was especially strong in undermining some of the prosecution witnesses -- especially two, Rachel Jeantel, Martin’s friend who spoke to him by cellphone during the moments before he died, and the state’s forensic expert.
It was Jeantel, 19, who described how Martin fearfully told her that he was being followed by a “creepy-assed cracker.” Martin explained how scared he was, potentially crucial testimony in establishing that Zimmerman was the aggressor.
But in some nine hours of cross-examination over two days, defense attorney Don West undermined her credibility by getting her to admit she had lied about some things. Jeantel admitted that she had lied about her age and why she did not attend the wake for Martin. She also acknowledged that she had initially told a slightly different story of the conversation because she did not want to upset Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, who was sitting next to her.
The defense also hit at the prosecution witnesses, describing the lack of blood and DNA evidence. The defense got most to agree that the evidence could have been degraded by the rain that night and the plastic bags in which garments were stored. The plastic bags allowed mold to possibly destroy evidence. Even the state’s medical examiner, Dr. Shiping Bao, agreed that the evidence could have been damaged.
Bao didn’t help the state when he also testified that he remembered nothing about the autopsy of Martin, except what was in the notes he made.
By contrast, the defense’s pathologist, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a well-known expert who had testified in many cases including the Los Angeles murder case of record producer Phil Spector, was an advantage. He explained how all of the forensic evidence was consistent with Zimmerman’s version of events, including that it was Martin on top beating Zimmerman.
The defense was also helped by testimony from a prosecution witness, resident John Good, who said he saw the fight. The person on top was wearing a dark garment, similar to Martin’s hoodie, he said. The person on the bottom was crying out.
A 911 call caught the screams in the background. The prosecution insisted it was Martin’s voice, while the defense argued it was Zimmerman’s. The state had several experts prepared to testify that it was the teenager’s voice but the defense questioned their methodology. Nelson ruled in the defense’s favor and kept the state’s experts out.
That left the question of the voices up to relatives. Each side brought in the mothers: Fulton, and Gladys Zimmerman, George’s mom. They testified that the voice was their son’s. Other relatives and friends backed up their respective families. But exactly who is the screaming voice was not resolved by any independent means.
After the verdict was returned on Saturday night, hugs and kisses erupted on the Zimmerman side of the courtroom while supporters of the Martin family left, many with heads down, and some crying.
“George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense,” O’Mara said.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, spoke of lessons learned.
“All of America has to dig deep in their heart to find out how we can learn from this tragedy and make sure it’s not repeated,” Crump said.