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George Zimmerman Trial

Aired July 10, 2013 - 10:30   ET


DENNIS ROOT, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Grappling on the other hand, he went from a bag and he was working with a partner. But 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.

In boxing when you enter a ring with another person, you find out you've entered into too much, you know more than you can handle and you've been punched and injured already. And according to what I learned about Mr. Zimmerman is he didn't have the physical prowess to go in to boxing another person. Shadow boxing and working the heavy bag were the safest parts for him. He wasn't at a skill level that permitted him to physically interact with another boxer.

MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Any further information that you became aware of regarding Mr. Zimmerman's physical abilities besides what you just testified to?

ROOT: No, sir. Just what the gym owner had provided me with and background from his experience with Mr. Zimmerman.

O'MARA: Ok. As to Mr. Martin, I don't want you to discuss anecdotal information that you may have heard about but just focusing on his physical size, age, whatnot and to the extent that you believe that that was relevant in comparing the physical abilities, if you would give the jury your thoughts on that.

ROOT: Well, looking at the physique, the overall size of a person is more telling about an individual than age. So in my review of it, there was nothing that indicated to me that Mr. Martin wasn't physically capable. You know, when I looked at his size and weight, they were comparable to -- you know and I -- I saw the photos of him -- he seemed to be overall in good physical health and physically fit.

Comparatively to Mr. Zimmerman who was in the process of losing weight. There is no question he gained great value in weight loss but he was not, from what I could see and understood from his physical descriptions, to be of physical prowess or physically fit.

You know and we have to focus and I even in reviewing the documentation provided, the EMT reports and things like that, photos don't tell you everything. That's the one thing is a picture can't tell you everything. So I rely on other sources of information and I read in the discovery that the fire paramedic estimated Mr. Martin to be 20s. So you know his physical, again, that's another resource that I use. I interpret a photograph but I'm not standing there right next to him. So I use that also as a reference material to get a generalized idea of the physical physique of another person when using it in comparison to the other party.

O'MARA: And what is your -- what are your thoughts then on the comparison between the two individuals as far as their physical abilities?

ROOT: Comparing what I know of to the best of my knowledge for each individual, Mr. Martin was physically active and capable person. Mr. Zimmerman is an individual who is by no stretch of the imagination an athlete. And that his -- I believe, it's my opinion, that the physical abilities, he would find himself lacking when compared to Mr. Martin.

O'MARA: Moving on then to the actual event itself and the information you had available to you as to how it unfolded, we've talked it began with a conversation about at least Mr. Zimmerman's perspective and the other reference that you've talked about as far as where it started, did you give any consideration to the length of the altercation?

ROOT: Of course I did. I mean when you talk about any kind of dynamic combat event, when I say that I'm talking about just in layman's terms a fight. We have a golden rule that if you have not successfully completed the fight, if you have not won the fight in 30 seconds, change tactics. Because the tactics you're using aren't working. The average person's adrenaline dump, the endorphins that get pumped under stress, within 30 seconds you've depleted just about everything you have as far as giving 100 percent of your physical ability. And if you haven't been able to test to win the event in the first 30 seconds you need to change tactics.

The reason we talk about that, that's both in law enforcement and individual, the civilian rounds is when you find yourself in a physical altercation you only have so much gas in the tank. And you can only do so much based on your background, training and experience. So the longer the fight takes place, the more fatigued you become, the more potential there is for injury. Everything begins to unravel.

I don't ever say that you've lost. All we say is you have to change tactics, you have to find another thing. Because if you haven't physically been able to succeed in the first 30 seconds, from that point forward you are now diminishing on return physically.

In this particular case, just going off you know the time line of the 911 call, given the period of time, you know, and I -- I personally have sat there and timed it myself where it's about 40 seconds of time, that's a very long time to be involved in any kind of physical altercation. And that most certainly plays into the decision making of any individual involved.

O'MARA: Did the event of someone screaming for help -- screaming during the event did that impact at all on you in how you perceived the altercation? ROOT: Listening to the sound as it unfolded, it's clear that the -- what I would call the cries, the shrieks for help indicated a high level of stress, a high level of fear. That's what I interpreted those screams and those sounds to mean.

O'MARA: How about the length of them? How long they lasted?

ROOT: From my perspective it lasted forever. You know when you talk 40 seconds, the average person doesn't truly conceptualize what 40 seconds is. As a taser weapon instructor we give five-second applications of that weapon system to our personnel. And without fail, during that time, at the end of that five seconds the officer or deputy that's had to endure it will look at you and go, you held it for longer. There's no way that was just five seconds.

Because we -- we don't truly have the concept of what five seconds is. Imagine what eight times that is, 40 seconds. 40 seconds is an eternity when you're involved in any kind of physical conflict.

O'MARA: At some point you know from the information that Mr. Zimmerman discharged his firearm?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: When you look at a discharge of a firearm event, is this then in the context of what you have done in your training and experience you've talked to us about with officer-involved shootings, is this something that you'd look at and focus on as to what happens that leads up to the discharge of a firearm and what happens afterwards?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: We've now sort of talked about what leads up to it because I'll now bring you to the point in time where the firearm is discharged. Was the discharge of the firearm itself the way it was discharged or the number instructive at all to you?

ROOT: Well, based on the information I reviewed in the discovery, you know, I concluded that -- I'm a little unclear on the question. Can you clarify it?

O'MARA: Let me refocus the question. Is it your understanding that Mr. Zimmerman shot his firearm once?

ROOT: Yes. One time.

O'MARA: Is that unusual to in effect stop at one or in your experience in matters of officer-involved shootings or other shootings that you looked at, can you offer any insight to the jury regarding that.

RICHARD GUY, PROSECUTOR: I object to that. It's improper, irrelevant as to any other law enforcement officer and the discharging of their weapon or any other person.

DEBRA NELSON, PRESIDING JUDGE: Your objection is -- GUY: Relevance.

NELSON: I have to sustain on that one.


Anything in the discharge of his firearm, from your view of the event, evidence to you that Mr. Zimmerman acted in some additional form or fashion of ill-will, spite or hatred realizing of course that the discharge of a firearm at somebody is an event that can cause death.

MANTEI: You honor I'm going to object based on improper based on our limited motion.

NELSON: Please approach.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": All right. Let's take another quick break as they approach the judge. The defense and the prosecution. They've got another issue. Dennis Root is testifying now, his impressions about what happened in the altercation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. We'll continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: To prove second degree murder the jury has to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who shot -- shot the gun was acting from ill-will, hatred, spite or an evil intent. And now Mark O'Mara is questioning Dennis Root about specifically that.


O'MARA: -- realizing as a premise question that it was a close-range shot, and that it was shot one time, did that evidence to you based on your training and experience in any way suggest ill-will, spite or hatred towards Mr. Martin by Mr. Zimmerman?


O'MARA: Now, let's go to the point after the shot is fired. In your background, training and experience of people involved in shootings, how are as an example, how are law enforcement shootings handled as far as the interview of the person who shot?

ROOT: Well, generally speaking with law enforcement-involved shootings, it's -- they do --

GUY: Objection, your honor. I'm going to object to relevance.

O'MARA: I can respond to --

NELSON: Well I think you just put it into context then I'll give you some leeway. O'MARA: Thank you. And just that we're clear to that, the majority of your experience and training is because of your law enforcement background, you deal with law enforcement events, correct?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Have you had experience where you handled non-law enforcement shooting events?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Ok so do you have experience level that covers both law enforcement and non-law enforcement shootings?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Is the majority of yours, however, in law enforcement shootings.

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: By nature of you being a cop.

ROOT: Yes. I just retired a couple years ago.

O'MARA: Ok. Realizing that, using the complete broad base of your experience, including law enforcement shootings and non-law enforcement shootings, what are the concerns that exist with interviewing a person who's been involved in the event of a shooting?

ROOT: Memory issues. Generally speaking, the primary concern is people when they're involved in a high stress event can have what we call critical stress amnesia or they can have memory -- temporary memory holes, I call them, that sometimes it takes up to 72 hours before they truly get their full memory back about everything that took place.

And for some, depending on the stress of the event they may never remember everything that took place.

O'MARA: One of the concerns then with interviewing those people within that time period from a law enforcement perspective?

ROOT: Well the concerns, I think whether it's law enforcement or anything, your primary concerns with conducting the interviews is how accurate the information is going to be, has the person been able to reconcile and compartmentalize the event itself? And start to accept what has taken place so they can come forward with all the information.

And then there's always the problem also that when I -- if I use myself as a reference, if I was involved in a shooting, I gave you a statement an hour later and then tomorrow I remember something a little bit differently because my memory is evolving and I'm starting to work through my own personal conflicts, whatever the case might be, I can have a varied statement now. If too much weight is given, depending on the variation, I'm not talking about a completely different change in statements. I'm talking about slight changes or modifications.

If too much weight is given to a change, now a person is expected that now I'm lying. And the reality is it may take me some time to form everything back to be able to provide you with an accurate reflection of what took place.

O'MARA: Are there procedures that are in place to safeguard against those concerns with law enforcement officers shooting investigations?

DE LA RIONDA: Objection as to relevance, Your Honor.

O'MARA: I'll rephrase it. Just so we're clear.

NELSON: Thank you.

O'MARA: In all of your experience, both law enforcement involved shootings and non-law enforcement involved shootings, are there policies or best practices that you're aware of as to any delay period or time concerns about interviewing shooters?

ROOT: Best practices -- you want me to tell you what the best practices are?

O'MARA: Yes.

ROOT: My experience has been any kind of delay, you get a generalized statement at the beginning, overview statement, nothing in depth and then you wait. Generally speaking in the law enforcement world you have attorneys and PBA reps that immediately come in. That's just the general practice that they come in and are present during any subsequent statement that is made.

O'MARA: Are there any suggested delays or waiting periods after the event before the law enforcement officer is set for an in-depth evaluation or interview.

ROOT: Well training regimens indicate, the trainings that I've conducted and been to is every time we teach a class, when you teach classes on force you have to always talk to them about unfortunately ultimately the use of deadly force. And we always explain to them that, you know, remember, you're not going to remember everything. You could take up to 72 hours before you're going to remember everything. And we always caution law enforcement because they have a high probability of being involved in a conflict like that.

We provide them with that guidance right up front because we don't want anyone to misinterpret any statements. So best practice is always to delay the statement itself.

O'MARA: Does delaying it tend to then give greater accuracy to the statement when it's eventually given?

ROOT: Yes.

GUY: Objection, your honor, outside his area of expertise.

O'MARA: I'll rephrase it.

NELSON: Thank you.

O'MARA: In your experience and in those situations where you've been involved assisting the departments that you've assisted in use of force events, both as a law enforcement officer and also now as a consultant to an expert witness, in using that as an experience base, have you -- do you have an opinion concerning whether or not a delay allowing what you talked about to occur and pass results in more accurate and complete statements?

ROOT: It's my opinion that you'll get a better statement from someone.

O'MARA: I'm close to being done. I'll ask for a few minutes -- didn't know if this was a good time for our morning break.

NELSON: Did you need a break? Ladies and gentlemen? They're good.

O'MARA: Ok. Then I'm still going to ask for a minute.

BLITZER: All right. We're taking a little break in this trial. I think Mark O'Mara and the defense team, they would like to wrap up their part of the case today at some point. We'll see what's next. Let's take a quick break and we'll be right back.


BLITZER: Dennis Root, a private investigator testifying now on behalf of the defense, Mark O'Mara continuing questioning. They're talking about the safety of the firearm that George Zimmerman used to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin.

ROOT: Consider a firearm for personal safety is under high stress events your brain is not going to remember -- without a tremendous amount of constant and ongoing training -- your brain is not going to remember that you have to flip the safety up before you can utilize the firearm. Because under stress you're going to do what you did at the range. You're going to discharge it. So having those external safeties as a safety person myself, they don't -- they actually create a problem.

This particular weapon being double action only -- an equipment of double action only -- there's no hammer to come back and go forward but the trigger pull of five pounds or greater means that you have to intentionally put your finger on the trigger to press it all the way to the rear. And it has an internal -- hammer block safety and the only way to defeat a hammer block safety on any firearm is to press and hold the trigger all the way to the rear.

In and of themselves, you know, a lot of people misconstrue that because there's no external safety it's not a safe firearm. That's not accurate. A firearm is as safe as the person holding it. So as long as you're not putting your finger on the trigger and squeezing it, it can be a safe weapon. There's a variety of weapons that are manufactured. This particular weapon does have an internal safety which is the hammer block safety. But it also has, at least from my understanding, I have not examined this particular firearm but the Kal-Tec -- I believe it's the PF-9 has a five-pound trigger, which is a good standard trigger pull because it makes it hard enough not to just get hung up on clothing but not so hard that you have to have super grip to be able to discharge the firearm.

O'MARA: If there was testimony in evidence from firearm experts that the trigger pull was 4.5 to 4.75 pounds, is that in the range of what you're talking which is a safe range.

ROOT: Yes, sir. Without taking its gun manufacturer -- if you look at the manufacturers they say it comes with a specific 5-pound trigger. How they're achieving their numbers versus how somebody else is measuring it, I can't. That's beyond my scope for that.

O'MARA: There's testimony concerning an internal holster for a concealed weapon. Is that in any way an unsafe way to handle or to carry a weapon?

ROOT: Carrying an internal -- the idea behind a concealed weapons permit is you have to keep it concealed. Anytime you take a weapon and put it on the outside of your belt line, that's something a shirt has to cover or a jacket has to cover, it makes it more difficult. The most common things you can find are what we call in-pant holsters where they slide inside the pants themselves, inside the belt line. Some hook around the belt. Some have a clip that hook right on to the pants.

The idea is it makes it easier to conceal so that you don't have to have a jacket. You can do it with just a pullover shirt or something to that effect. It doesn't make it an unsafe holster or anything like that. It's a preference issue.

O'MARA: If in your firearm training when you trained both officers and non-officers, is it safe or unsafe to have a round chamber I guess is the word? You use your word. Is that the way you should or should not have a gun?

ROOT: This is like one of those debates from old. Having a round in the chamber means you can discharge the firearm immediately. Not having a round in the chamber means that in a high-stress event you need to remember to work the action on the slide -- (inaudible) all the way to the rear, let it go so that it will feed a round.

We go right back to the concept of why you don't have external safeties on, on a firearm. Any stress, under any type of actual threat you may not have the time to work it and more importantly you may not have the memory that I have to load a round into the chamber. Carrying it -- magazine full and one in the chamber is the best way to carry the firearm because if you're carrying it for self-defense, if you're carrying it for self-protection, you have the equivalent of an unloaded weapon when you have a weapon that hasn't been quote, unquote "charged. You take a magazine and you stick it inside a firearm, people will tell you you've loaded the gun. That's not exactly completely accurate. You have loaded the magazine and placed it in the weapon but you have not charged it therefore the weapon is not actually loaded because loaded would indicate that you could pull the trigger and something would happen.

If you don't have one in the chamber, you pull the trigger. If it's -- the hammer is cocked or it's a Glock or whatever and it's allowed to fall forward, it's falling on empty space and now you have to work the action of the weapon to get it to work. Carrying it without a round in the chamber, why carry it.

O'MARA: And you mentioned a moment ago one in the chamber and a full magazine. Is it appropriate or inappropriate to load it in the chamber and then put the additional bullet that's now been taken out of the magazine back into the magazine so you have a full magazine?

ROOT: Again, my training and all my experience and what I train people to do is if you're carrying a firearm and it will hold seven rounds in a magazine and one in the chamber or hold 15 in the magazine and one, whatever it will do, load the chamber and make sure the magazine is fully loaded so that you have the full complement of ammunition that that weapon is designed to carry.

O'MARA: In evidence are the bullets themselves that were in the gun, which are hollow point bullets. Do you have experience with those?

ROOT: I have experience with the ammunition. I'm not a ballistics expert.

O'MARA: No, no, no. Just curious, is the hollow point bullet an appropriate self-defense bullet to carry, to utilize?

ROOT: Yes. The reason being when you look at a round-nose bullet or something like that, it's, you know kind of like what you see in the movies all time with the big point at the top of the bullet. The problem with that is, there's a really good chance it won't, what we call, mushroom.

When a bullet impacts soft tissue, its design is so widen out to create a better wound channel but the more important thing, it stops inside the soft tissues. Sometimes it exits, sometimes it doesn't. But the idea behind the hollow point is that there's this center cavity that when it hits helps it widen out which means it's less likely to over-penetrate, it's less likely to exit a person.

Whereas a round nose round or a wad cutter, a variety of other ammunitions because they're solid nosed when they hit, depending on how close they are they can still -- the energy is still going. It hasn't mushroomed enough and it may actually exit which means as a self-defense weapon your goal is just to deal hopefully with one person and otherwise with the wrong ammunition it could go through and now you have to worry about your background being struck by the round that you fired. O'MARA: So in a very strange way, is the use of a hollow point bullet, though it will cause injury to the first person it hits less likely to cause injury to somebody behind the initial target?

ROOT: Yes, because it's less likely to exit the first person that it impacts.

O'MARA: Thank you very much. No further questions.

NELSON: Thank you. Cross.


Mr. Root, good morning.

ROOT: Good morning, sir.

GUY: Did I hear you to say that your opinion is because the defendant discharged his firearm a single time, that doesn't evidence to you ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent?

ROOT: Correct.

GUY: Ok. Did you have an opportunity to listen to the nonemergency call he made just moments before discharging his firearm?

ROOT: Yes.

GUY: Did you hear him refer to the person he ended up shooting, Trayvon Martin, as an (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? He didn't know Trayvon Martin, right?

ROOT: I do know that, yes.