Return to Transcripts main page


Protests Head Up in Egypt; Live Coverage of the George Zimmerman Trial; Deadline in Egypt About to Pass

Aired July 3, 2013 - 09:00   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You will remember that Zimmerman did a televised national interview where he said that he did not know about the Stand Your Ground law here in the state of Florida. Prosecutors are pushing to show that he did have some knowledge and may have, indeed, known about that law.

This picks up on critical testimony from yesterday. We heard from a medical examiner. This is not the medical examiner -- very important to point this out -- not the medical examiner who handled the autopsy for Trayvon Martin, but instead a witness who was called by the state to examine this question: "Given the injuries that we saw on George Zimmerman's head, was he truly in danger of being killed himself?"


HOWELL (voice-over): Images of George Zimmerman bloodied and beaten up, important visuals for his defense, trying to show that Zimmerman's head had been slammed against the sidewalk and he had to fire his gun to save his own life. That's not the way Jacksonville based medical examiner Valerie Rao sees it.

UNIDENIFIED MALE: Are the injuries to the back of the defendant's head consistent with having been repeatedly slammed into a concrete service.


HOWELL: After examining dozens of pictures, Rao testified the injuries were not life-threatening, consistent with being punched or hitting a concrete surface once. But during cross-examination, Rao admitted when pressed by attorney Mark O'Mara he could have been hit multiple times.

The jury also heard from a man who calls himself George Zimmerman's best friend. Mark Osterman says Zimmerman even gave him the play by play of what happened the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Enough detail for Osterman to write a book.

BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: I think he quoted him as saying, he took his hand that was covering my nose and went for the gun saying something at that point, correct?


DE LA RIONDA: He said what words did he utter?

OSTERMAN: He says you're gonna die and he used the M-F term, I'm sorry I don't like to curse in front of ladies.

DE LA RIONDA: For the record he used the word you're going to die now (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

OSTERMAN: That is correct.

HOWELL: Prosecutors say there's no proof Martin reached for the gun. The state's latent (ph) fingerprint analyst examined it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you find any latent prints of value on state's 183?


HOWELL: In cross-examination, Kristen Benson told the court rain could have had a negative impact on finding any fingerprints.

Prosecutors also turned the table on their own key witness. Lead investigator Chris Serino, on Monday, told the defense he believed Zimmerman was truthful and credible through the course of several interviews. The state objected the next day saying Serino's opinion should not be considered as evidence. The judge agreed and ordered the jury not to consider Serino's statement when reaching their decision.


HOWELL (on camera): And back live in the courtroom, you can see that they are still discussing, you know, whether this information will be admitted as evidence in this case. Of course, the jury is not in the room right now. The attorneys are debating different sides. The defense attorneys say that none of this information, the homework assignments, the applications, none of them are relevant to this particular case.

But again, we do expect the jury to come in shortly after these attorneys debate this issue and the judge makes a ruling, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, George Howell reporting live from Sanford, Florida.

Our experts join me now, Drew Findling, defense attorney; Jason Johnson, Hiram professor and chief political correspondent for Politics365; and Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst. Welcome to all of you.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Let's start with what George was talking about, this hearing going on in the courtroom right now. Prosecutors fighting to get Zimmerman's history of criminal justice classes and police training admitted to show he was obsessed with becoming a police officer. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara says, if that stuff is admitted, well, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK O'MARA, ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think that if they start bringing what was in George's background, his past, to the table, then it really brings in what Trayvon Martin brings to the table, all of his violent acts that we know about and some of the fighting that he was involved in. If that's not going to get on the table, then I think whatever George may have done in the background, shouldn't be on the table, as well.

COSTELLO: OK, so is that fair? I'll pose that question to Sunny Hostin. Sunny?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, that's an argument that the defense has made and is going to make, but I don't think it makes a lot of sense in the legal world because, you know, what is at issue here is what was in George Zimmerman's mind, because this is a second degree murder case, not what was in Trayvon Martin's mind. That really doesn't matter to the determination of this case.

But we do know that the defense has wanted for some time to argue -- to put in some of Trayvon Martin's school records, some information about his personal life, which really in this case is irrelevant. I will tell you, I think even if that kind of information comes in, which it shouldn't, it's highly prejudicial. And, you know, it's a tactic that defense attorneys use, this sort of "trash the victim, sully the victim." And as a prosecutor, it was something that really backfired most often and more often than not on defense attorneys. And I always wonder, Carol, why they still use that tactic.

COSTELLO: Well, let's ask Drew about that. Drew, I mean, first of all, let's back up a little bit. How important is it for the prosecution to have George Zimmerman's school history admitted into trial?

DREW FINDLING, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't think there's any way it should come in and Sunny kind of brings up, with no slight to Sunny, the typical hypocrisy of a prosecutor, which is, hey, the defense attorney's being sleazy by bringing all of this in, but we want to bring in his school records to try to trash this guy Zimmerman.

This is where I fall on it -- none of it should come in. It should be what happened on that particular night. The school records of Trayvon Martin don't need to come in, but the defense attorney has an obligation to try to get in as much as he or she can, and that's what they're doing. The prosecution's doing the same thing.

At the end of the day, the judge does not need to make this become a circus where school records come in, educational background, because then what you're doing is speculating. You're thinking, did George Zimmerman really want to be a want to be a wannabe cop? We have no way of knowing. It's what happened between those two people on that evening. That's all that should come in.

COSTELLO: All right, Drew is talking about the circus and I'm going to address this question to you, Jason. There was another motion filed by the prosecution over this Instagram photo over defense attorney Don West's daughter. Do we have the Instagram photo? Let's put it up right now.

But she sent out this Instagram photo and that all three of them, two of Don West's daughters and Don West, they're eating ice cream cones. And West's daughter, you know, at the bottom of that, captioned this photo with "We beat stupidity and you killed it," which is unfortunate, since this is a murder trial.

Prosecutors say they want a hearing on this. Seriously, Jason?

JASON JOHNSON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICS365: I don't see how that's relevant. Even if Don West is a mean guy or even if his daughter is kind of silly, that has no bearing on the case.

But I will say this, as a college professor, about the school records -- that is important. Because if they're trying to make the argument that George Zimmerman had enough knowledge of law and justice that he could construct a story to cover himself if he did something wrong, that is relevant. It's not like they're trying to bring in past bad behavior. These are facts that, heck, the defense can make an argument as well. So I think that's relevant.

COSTELLO: OK, so we're going to go back to this hearing -- I'm sorry, we're going to go back to the courtroom once the first witness takes the stand.

We're also monitoring the situation in Egypt because, I don't know if you know this, but there's been a deadline set for Egypt's President Morsi to reform his government. If he doesn't meet this deadline by I guess 11:00 a.m. Eastern -- that's the deadline, that's the latest this will go -- then the military says it will take over the government.

As you can see, there are thousands and thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square. We're going to go take you live to Egypt as well, but we've got to take a break first. We'll be right back with more.


COSTELLO: We're going to take you back to the Zimmerman murder trial when the first witness takes the stand. Attorneys are still arguing about motions and pretrial hearings.

But right now we have to talk about Egypt because more than 20 people have been reportedly killed in violent clashes there. The military has given an ultimatum to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi: "Agree to share power or step down."

Military leaders have vowed to oust the president if he does not comply. Morsi insists he is following the mandate of the people -- after all, they elected him -- and demand that the military withdraw that ultimatum.

Reza Sayah is in Cairo. Bring us up to date, Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We keep thinking ther's no way this political conflict could get more intense and more dramatic but we wake up every morning and it does keep getting more dramatic.

What's adding to the drama now is that there's another faction, the armed forces, that's injected itself into this political conflict. Remember, initially, it was the opposition factions, the liberals, the moderates, against the president and his Islamist supporters. In came the military on Monday with the ultimatum, the deadline, 48 hours, ordering the government and the opposition factions to fix things. Otherwise, they said, they would step in.

Now what we're hearing, what's escalating things, is statements from these factions that could be easily interpreted as fighting words, incendiary words. Last night, the president in his televised address saying he's prepared to die to defend the legitimacy of Egypt's democratic transition. The armed forces responding, saying they're willing to die before allowing anyone to threaten the Egyptian people.

So, right now this country -- and you can feel it -- it's bracing itself for a showdown as this deadline for the armed forces ultimatum is looming.

COSTELLO: And remind us, Reza, why all of these people are protesting at Tahrir Square. Mohamed Morsi is a democratically-elected president, but these protesters say he hasn't kept his promises of leading Egypt in a new way.

SAYAH: Yes, and it's so important to point out and remind everyone the position of the president and his Islamist supporters. They say, "We've only in power for one year. It was a democratic transition. Things weren't perfect. But if you don't like us, wait for three years and then you can vote us out."

The opposition impatient. They say this is a president with an Islamist agenda that's imposing his will and sidelining liberal and moderate voices. The president has reached out to the opposition, calling them to sit down and negotiate. The opposition has repeatedly rejected that call. They continue to protest and demonstrate and that's why we are at this impasse today.

COSTELLO: And just to make it very clear, protesters say that Mohamed Morsi has just given the Muslim Brotherhood kind of the run of the government. After all, they sort of wrote the new constitution, right? Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, they have plenty of seats in the parliament. The government doesn't reflect the true population of Egypt. Isn't that what protesters say?

SAYAH: What we're seeing here in Egypt is a fight for the future identity of Egypt. What's fascinating about this country is the diversity. You have Egyptians who are liberal and moderate; you have Egyptians that are devout Muslims. All sides know that, after the resolution, whoever would be in power would lay down the foundation, possibly, of the future of post-resolution Egypt.

When the Islamists took over, the opposition forces -- the liberals, the moderates, even supporters of the old Mubarak regime -- didn't like it. That's why they started demonstrating. They're concerned about the future of Egypt being an Islamist nation. They don't like it and that's why they're fighting to push them out.

COSTELLO: OK, Reza Sayah, you're going to continue to monitor the situation from Cairo. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with much more in NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Pretrial motions are going on for a long time. Prosecutors are still fighting to enter into evidence, you know, George Zimmerman's history of taking criminal justice classes. They wanted to show that he was a wannabe cop who went off the deep end the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

Defense attorneys are, of course, fighting against it saying, what relevance does that have to this case? So, he took some criminal justice classes, big deal.

Jason Johnson, you actually went to Seminole State. You talked to one of George Zimmerman's professors about this very thing.


COSTELLO: What is it -- wait, wait, the judge is ruling. One second.

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, SEMINOLE CO., FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT: Testimony is substantive and the objections are overruled. Do you need a few minutes to get your first witness ready?

COSTELLO: OK. So, it will be admitted into evidence. Again, Jason Johnson, what did one of George Zimmerman's professors tell you?

JOHNSON: Well, one of the things I know, and I also had a chance to see the syllabus. They knew standard ground law. You've learned about Florida law, I've seen the syllabus for the introduction of criminal justice courses.

So, again, if the prosecution is trying to argue wannabe cop, I don't know how substantive that is. But if they're going to argue, this guy knows enough about the law, that he can sort of gerry -- he can gerry- rig a story very quickly, I think that's a very strong case that they can make here, even though George Zimmerman was a bad student.

COSTELLO: OK, tell me more about that. What do you mean pretty bad student?

JOHNSON: Well, actually, his transcripts were released a couple months ago. "The Miami Herald" did the story.

COSTELLO: By accident?

JOHNSON: Yes, by accident. Exactly. He has like 1.5 GPA. He was a lousy criminal justice student.

So, again, maybe the defense will turn around and say he was too bad of a student to know anything. So, this could back fire, but I do think the grades are relevant. COSTELLO: Are they, Mr. Defense Attorney, Drew?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is so going to backfire. They want to come back to the judge yesterday and say, the day before when the detective said he felt Zimmerman was truthful, please, make the jury forget that because it's conjecture. But now, they want to introduce and introduce more conjecture. This guy took a course and he was able to fall back on it within these few minutes as this situation was developing.

He was like, I remember, I learned this about "Stand Your Ground". I learned this. It's going to blow up in their face. It's just pure silliness in a case that has really become symbolic of legal silliness.

COSTELLO: OK. So, let's go back and listen to what you call legal silliness now in the courtroom.

I knew they'd go to side bar as soon as we went back live, because that's Murphy's Law, right? So, they're preparing for the first witness. Not sure who it will be. But they want one of George Zimmerman's professors, at least the prosecution to take the stand and talk about these classes he took and what kind of student he was, and if he knew the "Stand Your Ground" law.

See, they're going into a bigger -- ten-minute recess now. Hey!

All right. Let's go out to Sunny Hostin.

So, from a prosecution standpoint, is this a big win that now George Zimmerman's classroom history is allowed to be admitted into evidence?

HOSTIN: Sure, it's a win. I call this because it's completely relevant. Again, this is a second degree murder case and when you're trying to prove and you need to prove second degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant's state of mind is relevant. It's immediately at issue.

And, so, if part of his state of mind is that he knows police procedure and he wants to be a cop, he is frustrated by not being able to fulfill that ambition, he's in a quasi police officer type state of mind and that he is profiling, he is following. He is confronting. That certainly is relevant.

What also makes it relevant is that during the interview with Sean Hannity, he is directly questioned about "Stand Your Ground" and he said, "I had no idea." Well, his familiarity with police procedure and his familiarity with "Stand Your Ground" law and having taken about 149 hours of a criminal justice courses, is, of course, rather -- is relevant because it shows that he may have lied during that television interview.

And, so, to suggest that somehow this is legal conjecture and factual conjecture is just ludicrous.

COSTELLO: All right. As I said, the court is now in a -- I don't know, seven minutes to go and it's recess.

So, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with much more in NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: All right. The Zimmerman murder trial in recess until the bottom of the hour.

So, we want to take you back to Egypt. Look at this amazing picture. These are protesters in Tahrir Square, thousands and thousands of them.

They're upset at their new democratically elected president, they want him to reform the government. They're afraid that Egypt is going to become an Islamic nation.

More than 20 people, though, have died in violent clashes already. It's set to be a really dark day in Egypt and we hope not.

But the military has set this deadline and the latest, it's somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00 Eastern Time. The military says, hey, President Morsi, if you don't agree to reforms in the government, if you don't agree to share power -- well, then we're going to do something about it.

Mona Eltahawy is a freelance Egyptian-American journalist. She's on the phone with me.

What do you make of this, Mona?

MONA ELTAHAWY, EGYPTIAN COMMENTATOR (voice-over): Well, first of all, it's very important to remember that this has been a long time coming. Last November when Mohamed Morsi seized tremendous powers to himself, to rushed into effect a constitution at the end of the day only really benefitted the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. He put the Egyptian people on notice that he ignored the mandate that they elected him with, which was to be the president of Egypt and that he fully intended on being the Muslim Brotherhood president.

On June 30th, this Sunday, Egyptian people returned that message to him and said we no longer have any confidence in you because he spent the past few months sideling and marginalizing his position. What worries me here is the role of the military because one of our revolution's goal is to end military rule. We had (INAUDIBLE) rule in Egypt, and it's very important that the people, and you've seen millions and millions of Egyptians on the street make it very clear to the Egyptian general that we no longer want either military rule nor Muslim Brotherhood rule. We want Egypt to be free.

COSTELLO: So, how does the military manage to be so powerful still? I mean, Mohamed Morsi, the military is obviously against him. The protesters don't want the military. So, how does the military remain that powerful?

ELTAHAWY: The military has been powerful in Egypt for many reasons. I mean, every year $1.3 billion in aid from the United States and that is to guarantee the Camp David Treaty with Israel. It remains very powerful because of Mohamed Morsi himself.

This is actually the irony, because this constitution that Mohamed Morsi rushed into effect last year guaranteed that the military demanded the huge budget would be untouched by civilians and he also guaranteed safe passage after Hosni Mubarak stepped down and committed human rights violations. So, basically, Mohamed Morsi allowed the military to remain as powerful military as it is. And that same powerful military has now turned against him.

COSTELLO: And what we're looking at now, I want to make it clear. This is actually a pro-Morsi demonstration and, of course, thousands of others protesting against them. So, we can see, Mona, he has support.

ELTAHAWY: He has support, but this is really as an Egyptian. We don't want our country to descend to civil war. And yesterday, after Morsi gave his intransigent speech, he made it very clear that he was not willing to listen to anybody and we saw his militia take to the streets and engage in clashes with protesters who were trying to remain peaceful.

Mohamed Morsi has to decide, is he a president or is he a warlord? And I put the onus and responsibility on Mohamed Morsi because he keeps claiming he is legitimate president in Egypt. The opposition does not have the power that he has. So, he must tell us, is he a president or is he a war lord?

COSTELLO: I guess we'll see in just a few hours; 11:00 Eastern Time is the deadline.

Mona, I hope you stick around through the afternoon so we can get more of your insight.

We're going to take a break and then when we get back, we'll bring you up to date on Egypt, of course. We'll take you inside the courtroom in Sanford, Florida.

The Zimmerman murder trial is still in recess but set to be out of recess in a minute or two. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: All right. We saw George Zimmerman enter the courtroom and he is seated, but that means the jury still has to come into the court and then the prosecutors have to prepare their first witness.