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Valerie Rao, medical examiner at George Zimmerman trial, 7-2-2013
Jacksonville medical examiner Valerie Rao.
During testimony Tuesday afternoon in a Seminole County, Florida, courtroom, a medical examiner testified that injuries suffered by George Zimmerman in a fight with Trayvon Martin before he shot the teenager to death 16 months ago were "insignificant." Zimmerman is on trial for second-degree murder. He has said he followed Martin into the Sanford, Florida, gated community of modest homes—where Martin was staying with his father and father's girlfriend—because of what he claimed was suspicious behavior, was ambushed by him and beaten so badly that he feared for his life:
Dr. Valerie Rao, the Jacksonville-based medical examiner for the state's fourth district, testified that she has reviewed the evidence in the case.

Zimmerman's injuries, she says, "were not life threatening... very insignificant."

She testified that Zimmerman's head injuries were consistent with being stuck against concrete just once, but said in cross [examination] that it could also be consistent with more strikes than that. She conceded that a number of scenarios defense attorney Mark O'Mara described, involving additional blows, were possible.

Zimmerman's injuries are an issue in the trial because they go directly to his claims of self defense. Zimmerman has said to police that after Martin knocked him to the ground with a first punch, the teenager continued striking him 25 or 30 times and repeatedly smashed his head against a concrete sidewalk.

Please continue reading below the fold for more on the Zimmerman trial.

On Monday, jurors watched a videotaped "reenactment" of the shooting with Zimmerman walking officers through what he claims happened that February day in 2012. They also heard testimony from police officers who interviewed Zimmerman about his actions, the audiotapes of those interviews and the conclusions of two police investigators, Doris Singleton and Chris Serino. Thus the jurors got to hear the words of someone they are not likely to hear on the stand in the courtroom, Zimmerman himself. They, of course, won't be hearing anything at all from Trayvon Martin.

When court convened Tuesday morning, in an effort to repair damage caused by Serino's testimony Monday, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda convinced Judge Debra Nelson to strike from the record the detective's Monday statement that he found Zimmerman's story about the shooting to be credible. Nelson declared that to be "an improper statement" and instructed the jurors to disregard it, no easy matter after they had had three-fourths of a day to absorb it fully. The jurors are sequestered for the duration of the trial.

Whatever benefit might derive from that successful move by the prosecution, de la Rionda's failure to pursue openings is one of the major frustrations of the trial so far. It was obvious from the taped-recorded "challenge tactics" that were part of Serino's interview with Zimmerman that the detective wasn't buying his story, at least not all of it. But de la Rionda did far too little to explore the reason for Serino's doubts about Zimmerman's interview replies despite how long the questioning continued.

Before the lunch break Tuesday, jurors heard several more hours of testimony from Serino, and from Mark Osterman, a federal air marshal who called Zimmerman "the best friend I ever had." Zimmerman and his wife Shellie lived with Osterman and his family for a while after the shooting and Osterman has written a book about what happened that night:

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda questioned Osterman on what he wrote in his book about what Zimmerman told him during a car ride hours about [sic] the shooting. The state focused in particular on a passage of the book in which Osterman said Zimmerman told him he wrestled his gun away from Trayvon, who had a grip on it, before shooting him.

That detail doesn't match Zimmerman's other accounts, and the state is expected to put on testimony later that Trayvon's DNA was not found on the gun. Records show none of the teen's DNA was found on the 9mm handgun's grip, trigger, slide or holster.

Under questioning on both days, here's Serino:

• Could what Zimmerman did be seen as profiling? "It could be construed as such, yes," Serino said. Judge Benson has forbidden the prosecution from using the term "racial profiling."

• Inconsistencies in Zimmerman's story? "Nothing major" changed. Serino said. But de la Rionda did not ask specifics on that score. Did Serino see a discrepancy between what Zimmerman first alleged that Martin had initially said to him—"Hey man, you got a problem?"—compared with the later far more aggressive sound of "What the fuck's your problem, homey?” We don't know because the prosecution didn't ask.

• Was Zimmerman's calling Trayvon a "fucking punk" an indication of ill-will and spite? That question was an apparent attempt to touch on one of the requirements for a conviction for second-degree murder, evidence of a "depraved mind" on the part of the shooter. Serino said: "That is ill-will and spite."

• When Zimmerman said in an interview that he wasn't following Martin or trying to "catch him." Serino told him that the behavior he was describing was, in fact, following. Zimmerman has said previously that he just happened to be "going in the same direction" as Martin.

• Yet Serino said he didn't believe that Zimmerman was badly hurt or his claim that Martin punched him 25 or 30 times. Zimmerman also said in an interview with police investigator Doris Singleton who was on the stand Monday that he had called for help “maybe 50 times.”

One issue that continues to get eye-rolls from many observers outside the court are Zimmerman's accounts of what Martin allegedly said to him during the confrontation between the two. Much of it sounds like a bad Hollywood scriptwriter's version of what might be said under the circumstances being described.

Also on Tuesday, the jurors viewed a video of an interview Fox News host Sean Hannity conducted with Zimmerman last year as part of the prosecution's efforts to show inconsistencies in what Zimmerman has variously said regarding what happened.

Because so many state witnesses have answered questions in ways that give at least some credibility to Zimmerman and his version of what happened, many observers—whatever their perspective was before the trial began—are now expressing doubt about the prosecution's wisdom of charging him with second-degree murder instead of manslaughter, which requires a much lower threshold of proof.

Much of the reason for that criticism is not because the prosecution has an inherently weak case, but rather because the defense attorney who started his opening statement with a lame knock-knock joke has proved a good deal more adept at coaxing answers helpful to his client from cross-examinations of state witnesses than has de la Rionda who keeps letting answers to his own questions slip by without enough useful follow-ups.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Jul 02, 2013 at 02:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Trial Watch and Daily Kos.

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