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George Zimmerman's Friends Testify; Police Detective Testifies Again in Zimmerman Case.
Aired July 8, 2013 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And we're keeping a close eye on the Zimmerman trial. They are at a lunch break but it's expected to resume very shortly. There you see the attorneys gathered around the judge at the bench. The jurors have not come into the courtroom. As soon as they do and get under way we'll bring that back for you, live.
Going to take a quick break.
MALVEAUX: Looking at live pictures there. Any moment now testimony will resume. We'll take it to you live. They're going to get back from their lunch break. The jurors not yet in the courtroom. We have seen the judge as well as the attorneys.
I want to dissect what we saw earlier this morning. Zimmerman's defense attorney called his best friend, the best friend's wife, and some other friends and former colleagues to testify on George Zimmerman's behalf. All these witnesses were asked to listen to that cry for help that was on the 911 call, that tape, the night that Trayvon Martin was shot. Who was that that was screaming, that was crying on that call? They all insist it was George Zimmerman. Listen
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK O'MARA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Do you know whose voice that is in the background scream something?
SONDRA OSTERMAN, WITNESS & FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Yes, definitely, it was George.
O'MARA: How is it that you know that?
OSTERMAN: I just hear -- I hear him screaming.
MARK OSTERMAN, WITNESS & FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: I talked to him probably as much on the phone or had before this incident as I did in person. Hearing his voice over a recording, your tone is a little different and it sounds a little different over the phone. And it sounded like George.
O'MARA: Whose voice is that -- and let me premise it this. We know we hear someone in the foreground. The person by the name of Miss Lauer is talking to the 911 operator. Could you hear the noise with the yelling in the background? GERI RUSSO, WITNESS & FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Yes, I could.
O'MARA: Could you identify whose voice that was?
O'MARA: How do you know that?
RUSSO: I recognize his voice. I've heard him speak many times. I have no doubt in my mind that's his voice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our legal analysts to talk more about this. Former prosecutor, Sunny Hostin, and criminal defense attorney, Mark Nejame, who are in Sanford, Florida, and who are watching this, who are watching live testimony of this.
Guys, first of all, I want to talk a bit about John Donnelly. It was a little confusing here. This is a guy who said he's heard battle cries. Combat medic in Vietnam. He can recognize these cries for help because of his experience. But what does that really have to do with, how would he know how George Zimmerman sounded in that kind of stressful situation?
I want to start with you, Sunny.
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's the question the jury would be dealing with. Could he really know George Zimmerman's voice? Suzanne, when all of these witnesses were getting on the witness stand to testify, I was in the courtroom for it. The first two, Sondra and Mark Osterman, I thought pretty heavily biased here. Sondra Osterman married to Zimmerman. I didn't think it was effective. But cumulatively, as all of these witnesses got on the stand over and over, I think it has been effective.
This last witness, Mr. Donnelly, because he's saying he's an expert in how people would sound when under distress, similar to what he saw when he was in combat medic, I think it's been a pretty effective tactic by the defense.
MALVEAUX: Mark, he was emotional. There were times he was very uncomfortable with what he was listening to. I want you to tell me whether or not that plays to the jurors. And secondly, the fact he bought all these clothes for George Zimmerman, the suits and ties, kind of a shopping spree for him, does that undermine his credibility that perhaps this guy is such a good friend of Zimmerman, perhaps it does call into question his credibility?
MARK NEJAME, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think all of those are valid points. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Who will know his voice other than someone close to him? But once you indicate you're close to him, then they will be subject to impeachment because they are too close to him. There's going to be a trick door no matter which way you go in on something like this. I think that, as Sunny indicated, cumulatively, they have been very strong. I think for Mr. Donnelly and his wife -- there's two women on the jury who are in their 60s. I think they would be highly relatable to the Donnelly's. They came across as being honest.
With that said, somebody is going to be wrong, one side or the other. Everybody on both sides believe what they have testified to. The issue is there's also a halo, an aura that attaches to George Zimmerman to the extent that the witnesses that have testified for him have been former military.
NEJAME: They have been people that are in law enforcement. I think all that has a cumulative effect of helping him.
MALVEAUX: Mark, Sunny, stay there, both of you.
We'll take a quick break in before we resume live coverage in a moment.
MALVEAUX: Watching live pictures there at the Zimmerman trial. Looks like they are at the bench. They are talking with the judge, the attorneys.
I want to bring in Sunny Hostin, back in the mix here.
This is Doris Singleton. We have seen her before. She took a statement -- she's with the Sanford police. She took a statement from Zimmerman shortly after the shooting. Why are they bringing her back?
HOSTIN: Obviously, they think she's helpful to the defense. She did sort of intimate that she thought he was truthful and believable. Remember, she was one of the officers that was removed from the investigation after the charges were brought and other investigators were brought in. It's usually pretty unusual to have what are really state witnesses like police officers and detectives and M.E.s being called by the defense. It shows you what you this case is about. The defense is turning things on their head. You just don't typically see it. When I was prosecuting cases, perhaps it happened to me one time. It's pretty unusual that this happens.
MALVEAUX: A lot of twists and turns.
Mark, I want to bring you into the discussion.
Earlier, we heard from Lee Ann Benjamin, another friend of George Zimmerman. One of the things she said is that she knew him because they were involved in these political campaigns. She heard George Zimmerman, as she said, whooping it up, kind of like these screams of joy at rallies at these political campaigns. She was asked about the 911 tape. She said that's George Zimmerman's voice, a cry for help. Is there any way that they could turn that and say, George Zimmerman, if he sounds that way on both the tape as well as what she recalls, this was not somebody who was screaming for help and crying out, but that he was actually enjoying it? That he was pummeling Trayvon Martin. There was a sense of joy in that moment. Is there any way the jurors could confuse her testimony?
NEJAME: Whoever was screaming, we know was saying "help." It's rare that you would be jubilant and saying help at the same time. That would take pretty much of a diabolical master mind that I don't think we're going to find here.
MALVEAUX: All right.
NEJAME: Again, it comes back to the issue of, who was screaming is going to be the one who is likely going to be the prevailing side in this case. We've said that for well over a year now. That's what's turning out to be correct.
MALVEAUX: Mark, we're going to dip back in.
This is Doris Singleton. Let's listen.
DORIS SINGLETON, FIREARMS EXPERT: Chris Serino was trying to explain to him the circumstances --
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, PROSECUTOR: Objection. Hearsay.
O'MARA: Your Honor, I would like to offer Officer Serino's statements as to the truth of the matter, sort of rather laying out the foundation of the (INAUDIBLE). I'm not going to get into what he's speaking of.
DEBRA NELSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE: She can testify as to what she observed and what the circumstances were, but not as to what anybody said.
O'MARA: You're --
NELSON: Not as to what anybody said.
O'MARA: You're including the other officer? Is it -- I would need to be heard at the bench for that, Your Honor. I know the limitation we talked about already just not that one.
NELSON: Go ahead and ask your question and I'll wait for an objection.
O'MARA: OK, thank you.
I think you were saying a setting. You may continue.
SINGLETON: The setting was in the office cubicles and they were both sitting at Chris Serino's desk. Chris at his own seat and as extra chair they had brought over to Chris' desk so that Tracy Martin could sit. I believe it was his girlfriend that was with him. They were there so Chris could explain to them why, at this point, an arrest wouldn't be made.
O'MARA: It was your understanding that the investigation was still in the beginning stages of the investigation, is that correct?
SINGLETON: Yes, I believe it was either two or three days after the incident.
O'MARA: Where were you sitting or standing while this conversation was occurring?
SINGLETON: I was sitting probably diagonal to the cubicles. It was -- the cubicles sit in a square and there's a path between them. You can walk in and there's a hall. I was in the hall. It's not really a hall but it's where the cubicles would end before there's another wall that actually has offices that are walled. I was probably eight or 10 feet from his desk.
O'MARA: OK. Did there come a time then that Investigator Serino played what we know to be the Lauer 911 call for Mr. Trayvon Martin and his girlfriend to listen to?
SINGLETON: Yes, he played it for them.
O'MARA: Do you recall if it was played once or more than once?
SINGLETON: I recall it was played once. I'm not sure if it was played more than once.
O'MARA: What did Mr. Martin do in response to listening to the call?
DE LA RIONDA: Same objection.
NELSON: She can describe what she saw but not what she heard.
O'MARA: You understand hearsay, right, and what you can and can't say, so I'm asking you to tell us what Mr. Martin said. I'm asking you to give an observation as to his physical response.
SINGLETON: He was very upset. He was very sad. He hung his head. He cried.
O'MARA: Did he give a response to Officer Serino?
O'MARA: The next question, I think might be objectionable for record purposes, Your Honor.
What did Mr. Martin say in response to the question by Mr. Serino as to whether or not that was his son's voice?
DE LA RIONDA: Objection, Your Honor.
O'MARA: No further questions for this witness right now, though (INAUDIBLE)
DE LA RIONDA: No questions.
NELSON: OK, thank you.
May Officer Singleton be excused? May Officer Singleton be excused?
O'MARA: I'll recall her potentially as we go through the next couple of witnesses.
You're subject to be recalled. So stay in the building. You're excused from the courtroom.
Call your next witness, please.
O'MARA: We call Chris Serino, Your Honor, Officer Chris Serino.
MALVEAUX: You've been listening to Detective Singleton, who was called before the stand. They're going to call another witness.
We're going to get a quick break in before we go back live inside the courtroom. This was a detective who interviewed Zimmerman shortly after the shooting at the police department.
MALVEAUX: Sidebar taking place in the trial there. So I want to bring in our legal analysts to talk about what we've learned.
Mark, to you first here.
You've got two different camps who are listening to these 911 tapes, and they're hearing something very different. On the one hand, all of these witnesses on behalf of Zimmerman say he's the one, they heard screaming on the tape. You've got Trayvon Martin's mother and brother saying, no, it was Trayvon Martin, he was the one who was screaming. How does this figure? Is it all a wash at this point?
NEJAME: Well, the defense would hope that, worst case, it's a wash, and best case, that it's to their side. Remember, it's the state's burden. And the defense strategy here is obvious. What they're attempting to do is keep on pounding one after another friends, family, coworkers, trying to establish that, in fact, they believe that it was George Zimmerman's voice. And when you have Trayvon Martin's mother and brother -- that was really all that the state presented. So I think that the defense is trying to overwhelm the prosecution and show the jurors that clearly the state can't prove that it was Trayvon Martin's voice beyond a reasonable doubt because they put up one seemingly credible -- I'll say respectable witness after another. So remember, all ties in criminal cases go to the defense because it's the state's burden. So if it is a draw, in this case, like any other case, to the defense. MALVEAUX: Sunny, why do you suppose they only called two people to speak to identify it as Trayvon Martin's voice?
HOSTIN: Well, you know, I think you call the witnesses that have the most punch. And this prosecution is trying a lean case. I mean, they could have tried this case in a month or two months. Let's face it. And they didn't do that. They're trying a lean and tight case. So that's the strategy issue.
They can't really call Tracy Martin, although they may. Tracy Martin, when he heard the tape, said that doesn't sound like my son. You know, they may have to call him in rebuttal and clean that up and have him get on and say, I didn't want to believe it was my son, but on further reflection, I do believe it's my son. But that's why they didn't call Tracy Martin. If not, I suspect they would have.
But you know, some would argue, Suzanne, that two very strong witnesses that are intimately involved with the victim are -- is more important than calling five, six, 10 lower-quality witnesses. It's quality versus quantity, and I think that's what the prosecution has done in this case.
MALVEAUX: Sunny, hang on there.
Mark, you hang on as well.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back live inside the courtroom up next.
MALVEAUX: Watching the George Zimmerman trial live. We want to bring in our legal analysts to talk about this while we wait and see who the next witness going to be.
And, Mark, I want to throw this question to you here. We believe they're going to bring back Detective Chris Serino, the lead investigator. Why would they do that now?
NEJAME: This case is upside down. I think they scored all the points they could have ever hoped to have made with the prosecution's lead detective who ended up really saying that George Zimmerman had come across with consistent statements throughout. You know, you don't get much better than that. I don't know the specifics they are going to be seeking.
The irony of this case, with Serino specifically, Serino was almost the only initial officer who was involved in the investigative team who believed that a prosecution should attach to George Zimmerman. But yet, he came out very helpful, somewhat helpful, to George Zimmerman with the cross-examination on the state's case. And then most of the other officers had made a determination that they did not think this was a good case for prosecution and opined against it. So it's really interesting, the interplay. We've seen this entire case really backwards. You know, one side that you usually think is going to be for the prosecution is on the defense and vice versa. I'm interested in seeing why they're calling Serino. I think it's a bit risky. They got a lot of beautiful information from the defense perspective with the state's case. Hopefully, they don't go too far, at least from, again, the defense perspective.
MALVEAUX: It has been fascinating, actually, to see it kind of flip -- turn on its head, if you will.
Sunny, I want you to talk about that because Serino talked about how the guy was truthful or honest in some way, but I'm not sure that that's admissible, that that was struck down. If jurors are asked to ignore that, does that really work when they're in the deliberation room?
HOSTIN: You know, I've got to tell you, I mean, I find that jurors definitely listen to the judge's instructions when they go back to the jury room. And I believe that most juries, when told, you cannot consider this, they don't consider it. But people are human, and you can't un-ring the bell. And in law school and trial practice, you often learn never, ever give up the opportunity to poison the well. That's what they did with this, the defense did. They poisoned the well.
Chris Serino did almost vouch for the credibility of George Zimmerman during the police interviews. And although it was stricken from the record and the jury was advised that they couldn't consider it, I'm not so sure how that's going to play out.
But I think, to Mark's point, what was also interesting is that Chris Serino was the only detective to recommend that they charge George Zimmerman with manslaughter. And so, you know, I wonder what benefit the defense has in bringing him back to the witness stand and possibly opening up the door to that line of questioning from the government. I think it's a really risky, risky bet to put him back on the witness stand unless -- unless they are, again, trying to get in Tracy Martin's statement to Chris Serino, which was, I don't believe that's the voice of my son. Because it seems to me that the defense's entire case is about those screams.
HOSTIN: They want this jury to believe that George Zimmerman was screaming for help.
And, Mark, I want you to button this up, if you will, for us. If you were representing Zimmerman, how would you be wrapping this on your side?
NEJAME: Well, I think they went ahead and they just touched the area without mentioning the specifics of Tracy Martin. But now it's evident to the jurors that Tracy Martin did listen to this call, the voices, and he was not called by the state to testify. To me, that's going far enough. You know, you've left a taint out there. As Sunny just said, you poisoned the well without getting into any of the specifics. So it's got to -- it's obvious by its absence that Tracy Martin, who heard the call, was not called to testify. So that seems to me to be strong enough in light of all the other points that seem to have been made. Again, with Chris Serino taking the stand, I think it's a risky move. We'll see how it plays out.
MALVEAUX: All right.
NEJAME: They're getting ready to take the stand now, as I see.
MALVEAUX: We're watching Serino walk back in. He's taking the oath. He's going to be testifying on the stand. So we're going to leave it there.
Thank you very much. Of course, we'll be dipping back in and talking to both of you.
That is it for me. Brianna Keilar is taking it from here, live from Washington.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Suzanne, very much.
I am in for Brooke Baldwin today.
Let's get right back to the Zimmerman trial where lead Detective Chris Serino is on the stand.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
O'MARA: -- as well, testimony under oath. We had -- the conversation with your last testimony that talked about the ongoing investigation that you were in charge of regarding this case. You were the chief investigating officer, correct?
DET. CHRIS SERINO, SANFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, sir.
O'MARA: Did there come a time that you met with Tracy Martin and his girlfriend, Brandy Green (ph), in your office?
SERINO: Yes, sir, there was.
O'MARA: Do you recall about how many days after the event of the shooting that was?
SERINO: It was either the day after or the day after the walk through. I think it was the 28th.
MALVEAUX: OK. What was the purpose of you bringing Mr. Martin and Miss Green (ph) to your office?
SERINO: To bring them up to speed as far as the progress of the investigation and where we were at that point.
O'MARA: OK. They had some concerns, did they not, as to whether or not Mr. Zimmerman at that point had been arrested?
SERINO: Yes, sir. O'MARA: An were you sharing with them your progress, what was done and what still needed to be done?
SERINO: Yes, sir.
O'MARA: And can you outline the setting, where you were when you had this conversation with the two of them?