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Expert: Witnesses Should Be Separated; Live Coverage of the George Zimmerman Trial

Aired July 10, 2013 - 10:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's criminal defense attorney questioning him now. They're going through some of the background, his expertise, why he's involved. Let's continue the coverage.


MARK O'MARA, ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE LAWYER: For your purposes, understand that that's in evidence now. The jury has reviewed that. As you incorporate that into your testimony, be aware they know what it is you're talking about.


O'MARA: Did you get enough information in this case from which you could review the available information to focus your opinion regarding the events that happened that night?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: In the overall scheme of cases and comparing the information available to you, in this case, to others you review, is this normal, average, or less than you get to review?

ROOT: I would say this is average for the significance of this issue. There was a lot of material but on average when you deal with an event are the of any similar nature you're going to get a lot of data.

O'MARA: We've had other experts testify and within that context, they narrowed their focus to their area of expertise. I would ask you to do the same. So if you could sort of lay the foundation for the jury, when you're looking through all of this information, all of the witness statements, all of the pictures, all of whatever it is, what filter are you using to focus the information that's relevant for you, in your opinion?

ROOT: I focus everything based on background training, experience, knowledge of -- individual or civilian realm knowledge of the law and all of the information I focus based on the totality of the circumstances known to me and I bring in my background, training and experience both for law enforcement and individual.

Because one of the things we didn't talk about from my background is my training company is -- I now primarily do individual type training, firearms training, self-defense classes for children, adults and seniors.

So I take all of that background training and experience and that's what I use to filter out the information. I couple it, obviously, with over 20 years of law enforcement experience in evaluating information that's been presented and understanding how things may be affected by other people.

O'MARA: And that was then done in this case?

ROOT: Absolutely.

O'MARA: So what information that you had available to you assisted -- let me back up. Was your focus of your investigation of this case, in your opinion, based upon the event specifically surrounding the intersection of Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Martin that night?

ROOT: That was the primary focus area.

O'MARA: And the altercation that ensued and the eventual shooting?

ROOT: Correct.

O'MARA: So if you would then, with that I guess as your filter, walk the jury through what information you looked at and then found relevant to assist you in formulating your opinions.

ROOT: The first thing I utilized was the initial statements -- excuse me, the initial calls that come in. It's really important to establish a time line for events. A time line is very important because it helps you understand and compartmentalize information, to the best of your ability, because as with any issue, perspectives are skewed

So what some people may see or hear another person may not. It doesn't mean they didn't witness something or didn't know something. It may not be from the same perspective as another witness. The first thing I looked and listened to were the 911 calls that came in.

I added to that the initial interviews of the key witnesses. I use the word key witnesses, the people with the most information that saw or heard the most that could be relied upon.

O'MARA: Excuse me, if I might.

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Just so you're aware, I know in depositions and prior conversations with you and I and the state and you, the identity of certain witnesses was kept confidential. We were using witness names. I think I said half a dozen times to you not to ever mention the witnesses by name. That restriction has been relaxed.

There's witnesses names are now available to the jury. So to the extent I withdraw my request of you earlier. So to the extent it is relevant for you to identify them by name, you may have trained yourself to use numbers. That's OK as well. To the extent you can utilize the names. It would be helpful for the jury to know particularly which witnesses you talked about or read about.

ROOT: OK. That does help a little bit.

I reviewed all of them and forgive me if I don't pronounce the names correctly. Some of the names are very difficult, statements from Miss Lauer, Mr. Good, the baja doors. I listened to every audio recording from the 911 calls that came in as well as from the witnesses.

And I tried to filter through what each witness said and compare it to where on a time line it could fall. You know, for example, just as a brief example, if somebody said that there attention was called to the event because they heard screaming, that tells me within the time line that certain things had already taken place because of when the screaming started.

You have to look at it and try to filter in the information as best you can. Then you take into consideration witnesses that actually, like Mr. Good, witnesses who stepped out and had a time when he interacted from a distance with the participants. I used all of that information to begin forming my opinions and to focus in my energies on evaluating what I thought may have taken place.

O'MARA: I didn't mean to interrupt you.

ROOT: That's fine.

O'MARA: As to the witnesses that you viewed, the statements and the information they presented to you, based upon your training and experience 20 years worth or more of law enforcement, how do you view witness statements and whether or not you can guarantee accuracy or not?

ROOT: I look at it, it's very fluid. Accuracy is based on perspective. I'm a movie fanatic. There was a movie by Dennis quaid for "vantage point." it showed one singular event from eight different perspectives. That's the reality of most encounter every single person has. We all have our vantage point, our perspective.

So as I begin to listen to the statements that are being made, when I said I listened to the 911 calls and initial interviews, one of the best things about the initial interviews as a person evaluating an event is the fact that you're usually getting the most raw information.

In other words, that's the most immediate access information from their brain right there without any other stimulus or influence of any type. One of the first things we do as investigators is separate witnesses. Because everybody that talks, I may say that, if I can use Mr. O'Mara, he's wearing a pink shirt.

You only saw it for a quick second and you thought it was an orange shirt. If you're wrong and I'm right, you may sway to my perception. When I look at it and I evaluate what was said, I really try to go back to the original statements that were made before there could have been any other outside variable or influence because those usually are the most raw. They may not always be the most complete, but the essential elements of what a person witnesses because they're usually the ones that strike the deepest inside a person's mind. So when I begin to review information, I listen to the calls and go to that initial interview.

If they have a subsequent interview which in these cases, there were other interviews at other times, you can see things change a little bit. One of the most important things is to remember, again, perspective. I have a thing that I call the hot pot theory.

Hot pot theory, the idea behind it is about perspective and what I teach classes, I explain if I took a pot and I placed it in the freezer and it got ice cold, and I took it out and placed it on your stove, and you came in and I asked you to pick up the pot and move it for me, the moment you make contact with the pot and you feel that complete change in temperature, your instinctually letting go and moving away.

Most people, not all but most people will test the water. Because their brain took into account the environment, the event, what they perceived, what is a pot when it's on a stove usually? It's very hot. When they touch and feel that sudden change in temperature, their perception was, even though it wasn't, it was very hot because of the external influences.

So when I look and evaluate statements being given, what I try to do is put myself into that person's shoes when they first spoke. What did they see, hear, what can they remember? Even under that high stress event they're still having influences, dark, the lighting, raining, there's environmental influences, whatever the case is, if they just had a discussion with a loved one that didn't go well, that's going to influence their perceptings.

You try to look at it from their perspective and merge if you will their perspective with the perspective of another and perspective of another coupled with physical evidence and things like that until you arrive at what you deem to be a logical conclusion.

O'MARA: So in your experience then, if you run into a situation where there are conflicting statements about the same event, is that an understandable occurrence to you or is that evidence deceit or how do you resolve that?

ROOT: Conflicting statements are normal. They're also very normal from the people involved in the event. Something to remember about high stress events, high stress event can be something like somebody driving down a road and a car coming across their lane when they didn't expect it.

That was a very stressful event. Certain things happen inside the human body. You know, I do training classes for the psychological and physiological aspects and effects of stress on a person during combat, people that witness horrendous events go through a similar emotional response.

So you have to look at it and understand that there are going to be deviations in statements because of perspective, stress, some people don't want to acknowledge some things because there are some people that want honestly to live in a bubble and their perspective is they don't want to accept that certain things happen.

So when I look at it and I get statements that they're conflicting, you look at the essence of the statements and you try not to get hung up, if you will, on small changes. Now if their entire statement changes, that creates a completely different animal.

If you talk about a person that has a slight deviation, you look at it in the context of which it's been presented to see if there's been a variable that caused that deviation. As far as a deviation from witness to witness immediately following an event that's based on perspective. There will always be those variances.

O'MARA: We had an opportunity to review, as you mentioned, the witness statements in this event. I focus you on Ms. Cerdika's event. You have an opportunity to see that or review that statement?

ROOT: Mr. Dikers?

O'MARA: Cerdika?

ROOT: Cerdika.

O'MARA: The woman who thought that she heard maybe --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection. Improper to be asking this witness to comment on another witness.

O'MARA: I'm not seeking (inaudible) seeking to explain.

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON: I'll listen to your next question then.

O'MARA: OK. You read Ms. Cerdika's statement where she suggested that she thought she heard three shots?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: OK, did that give you cause for concern or is that a perception issue that you fit into the rest of your evaluation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same objection as him commenting on the testimony of another witness.

O'MARA: My response?



BLITZER: Let's take a quick break as there's this sidebar, the judge going through with the prosecution and the defense this technical legal aspect of this. Once again, we're listening to Dennis Root, a law enforcement specialist, private investigator discuss the appropriate use of force. There you see George Zimmerman. He's in the courtroom. The six jurors are there as well. Our coverage continues in a minute.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're watching the George Zimmerman murder trial. There's Dennis Root, a private investigator, explaining why occasionally witnesses will have different recollections, different impressions of what's going on. He's being questioned by Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's attorney.


ROOT: -- people who think they see one thing and then later on they second guess themselves. They actually saw it or maybe they saw a portion of it, but their perceptual distortion because of the high stress event, it alters the manner in which they interpret the information at the receiving. That's a natural human response for anything.

When you talk about any kind of dynamic, high stress event, people will experience perceptual distortions or memory issues. That's what a lot of people call them. It's the way they perceived it. Sometimes it's that stress event repeats for them and they're trying to make the best sense of it the best that they can.

O'MARA: So we will then talk to you about the other information and how you sort of filtered into the event that was a particular focus of yours and that is the altercation itself. If you would continue through that with the jury as to the information you looked at, most particularly, which you perceived to be relevant for you in determining or accomplishing an opinion regarding the altercation.

ROOT: The information regarding the specific altercation was Mr. Good's statement, coupled with the 911 calls, Miss Lauer, which had the most clear, for lack of better words, information for the background involved in what was taking place in the event, coupled with the photographs of Mr. Zimmerman's injuries.

I utilized those calls, those statements, those injuries and then you have to be able to match things up. You try to look at it and bring it into perspective and say does this lead to this? Do these make sense? Are they within the realm of one another? You talk about somebody involved in a physical altercation.

You know, whether it's I have to evaluate it from perspectives of if I was in Mr. Good's shoes, if I saw what I saw, would it make sense? If I heard one of the other statements coincided -- I'm trying to remember the name of the lady.

But she indicated, even in her interview with law enforcement, that she saw flailing arms. Those could coincide with what was being seen by Mr. Good --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection, your honor, he's commenting on the testimony of previous witnesses.

O'MARA: I think he utilized that -- he didn't comment. I don't want to -- I'll move on, your honor.

JUDGE NELSON: Thank you very much.

O'MARA: Explain then for the jury, those particular -- what elements in this event were of relevance to you? And I don't want to lead you through it but environmental events, relative size events, the elements that you would look at in order to identify areas of focus for you, in determining your thoughts on the altercation.

ROOT: Well, the elements have to focus in to perception, the environment, lighting conditions, the physical altercations, the injuries that were being photographed as being sustained by Mr. Zimmerman. When I look at a dynamic event and you have to evaluate it from "a" to "z," you have to look at once the event began, if it continued, and you had an unrelenting attack coupled with injuries and the perception of the individual sustaining the injuries.

My interpretation is taking into account all the witness statements, forming the beginnings of the actual physical interactions and using them to show that if you are -- consider an individual who is on their back, somebody in a mount position striking, throwing, pushing, whatever the case may be, driving the person down, underneath, what would their perception be at that time?

I have to look at it at that time and say my perception, what would the perception be given the dark environment, the continual attack. Then I have to leave there and figure out what would be a response.

O'MARA: So you've identified a couple of environmental --


BLITZER: All right, we're getting some more background on why Dennis Root, this private investigator, has been called by the defense. You see Mark O'Mara questioning him, potentially describes state of mind as far as George Zimmerman was concerned in his encounter with Trayvon Martin. Let's take another quick break. We'll resume live coverage in a minute.


BLITZER: They're getting into the meat of the testimony, Dennis Root, private investigators, answering questions from Mark O'Mara, the criminal defense attorney. He's explaining his conclusions, looking at the evidence that he saw as to the altercation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.


ROOT: Of course. It's an indicator that when you look at the totality of a combat event, something was a catalyst to cause him immediately to drop that item in that location.

O'MARA: We're talking about that piece of evidence and other environmental situations. Did you have an opportunity to view, for example, the composite I just showed you, showing the sidewalk going down the center of this area that you spoke about?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Did you see pictures in that regard as well?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Did you have an opportunity to review pictures regarding injuries to Mr. Zimmerman's head?

ROOT: I did.

O'MARA: Did that assist you in forming your opinion concerning how those injuries may have been inflicted?

ROOT: Absolutely.

O'MARA: And what is that?

ROOT: Based on the injuries I saw in the photographs, they are consistent with a fight, a physical fist fight if you will. There was no -- it did not appear by the injuries that there was any actual weapon used. I would -- the injuries that I saw based on my training, background and experience were consistent with that of a fist fight.

O'MARA: And the injuries on the back of the head, were they consistent with the head being struck by anything besides a fist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection. That is outside his area of expertise.

JUDGE NELSON: I will sustain that objection.

O'MARA: In looking at the pictures then of the pathway and the sidewalk, and the placement of the bodies, the two individuals by Mr. Good, did that assist you at all in determining where that altercation ended up?

ROOT: Absolutely. It was very clear.

O'MARA: And where did it end up?

ROOT: Just outside -- it ended up on the grass, on the concrete and slit down, it was on the grass, if you're asking where, outside Mr. Good's town home.

O'MARA: In your consideration of use of force events, do you consider the relative size and physical abilities of the two individuals or the number of individuals?

ROOT: Absolutely. Like I said earlier, when we look at a force continuum, one of the first things you evaluate is what we would call in this case, individual factors, age, size, gender, apparent physical abilities. You can't also take into consideration special circumstances.

You look at overall -- I mean, when you look from my perspective we look at backgrounds, training and experience of people as well, not just what you get at face value. We try to go deeper to gain a better understanding of physical abilities.

Because you know, we can't compare Joe Blow and John Blow because they may have completely different background, training and experiences to come out to a different result.

O'MARA: In this case, did you have information made available to you about Mr. Zimmerman?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: And if you would explain to the jury what information you reviewed to assist you in your analysis of his physical abilities or interaction abilities?

ROOT: I spoke directly with his -- I actually spoke with Mr. Zimmerman once and I spoke with Adam Pollack, I believe, the gym owner, personal trainer, about him. I was inquiring as to what his background, training and experience was because that becomes a very important variable for me when reviewing a use of force.

If I was dealing with Chuck Norris, I would expect a completely different response to any kind of physical altercation than if I was dealing with Pee-Wee Herman. I look for sources that can provide me with a background on an individual.

O'MARA: I presume the two of you can sort of speak the same language, having similar backgrounds and fight training and kick boxing, whatever else it is?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Within that context then, what information were you able to glean concerning Mr. Zimmerman's physical prowess or abilities?

ROOT: Without sounding offensive, he really didn't have any. Mr. Zimmerman was described as being a very nice person but not a fighter. The concept is we deal with -- like, for example, I'll use a law enforcement reference. We deal with the lawyer mindset.

The concept that somebody is dedicated to the very end, that they dedicate their life and abilities and training. Some people are naturally born athletes. Some can learn athletic events but some people are naturally born athletes.

My interactions with the gym owner, he indicated that Mr. Zimmerman's background, his training, was limited to the best of his knowledge to that period of time he was at the gym, he did accomplish great things with weight loss but his physical ability, I spoke specifically about the boxing class that I had been told he had taken.

I learned that, you know, the classes were more of a class of convenience and that he never surpassed shadow boxing or working a heavy bag. Grappling on the other hand, he went from a bag and was working with a partner. It's very important to understand the difference between the two concepts because in grappling you have the opportunity to what we call tap out. You can say I quit. I give up. If something hurts too much.