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Zimmerman Attorneys May Rest Today; Mom Accused of Murder for Hire; Judge Asks Zimmerman About Testifying.

Aired July 10, 2013 - 13:30   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the George Zimmerman murder trial scheduled to reconvene in about 15 minutes or so. Already, a pivotal day in court. Today's session began with two major rulings from the judge. So, let's go over that first.

Judge Debra Nelson, first of all, rejected a defense request to show jurors text messages from Trayvon Martin's phone. Now, those messages reportedly show Martin had been in fights and was trying to buy a gun. The judge said it is not clear that they are actually from Trayvon Martin. Now, she also refused to allow as evidence the defense team's computer recreation of the fight between Zimmerman and Martin. But defense will actually be able to use that clip as a demonstration in their closing.

So, on the stand today self-defense expert, Dennis Root. Attorneys zeroing in on the position. They used a dummy, straddling it in court. You see it there, side by side, those two different images, to prove their points. Different points, obviously. The prosecutor pointed out that Zimmerman might have had trouble grabbing the gun if Martin was on top of him. Listen.


JOHN GUY, PROSECUTOR: Here's his belly button. Am I in the area?


GUY: Did you have the defendant do this?

ROOT: No, sir.

GUY: If this person, this mannequin were carrying a firearm on their waist, where would the gun be right now in relation to me?

ROOT: Would be at your left inner thigh.

GUY: Right here?

ROOT: Yes. If he was right-handed, your left inner thigh.

GUY: Underneath my leg?

ROOT: Yes, inside your leg.

GUY: Were you aware the defendant described to his best friend, when he slid down, that Trayvon Martin was up around his armpits? Were you aware of that?

ROOT: No. I haven't heard that, actually.

GUY: Where would the gun be now?

ROOT: Now the gun would be behind your left leg.



MALVEAUX: So, on redirect, defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, straddled the dummy -- you see him there -- slamming the head to the ground to demonstrate that Zimmerman's injuries are consistent with Trayvon Martin being on top of him with that fight.

I want to talk about the significance of that demonstration. The defense is expected to call more witnesses before wrapping up the case. That could actually happen today.

Let's bring in our legal analysts, Sunny Hostin, former prosecutor, and Mark Nejame, criminal defense attorney.

Good to see you both.

That was really quite an amazing moment. And a lot of people watched that.

I'll start with you, Sunny.

Who do you think was more effective? They were reenacting Trayvon Martin on top, one retreating, the other very aggressive.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the cross was spectacular today. I don't think this witness was a good witness for the defense. I'm surprised the defense went so far to call this witness. His bias was shown on cross-examination. He's getting paid to do this. He reached out to the defense because he wanted to do this. He interviewed George Zimmerman but didn't ask a lot of questions. He sort of picked and chose which witness statements he was going to refer to. So it wasn't a good witness from the very beginning for the defense, which up until today was doing pretty well. On cross- examination, he just really faltered.

I was in the courtroom for part of the testimony. The jury was riveted because juries love demonstrations. I think when the prosecutor got on top of this charcoal dummy, it was very, very effective in poking holes in not only the witness's preparation but his testimony.

MALVEAUX: Mark, how did you see this? From the courtroom's perspective, how did people respond to this demonstration?

MARK NEJAME, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that many lawyers can't help themselves and ask too many questions. I think the defense was on a very big high, particularly after Dr. Di Maio, and they should have concluded their case or restructured this case so that he ended it. With that said, they opted to call this witness and I think that John Guy did really terrific job of cross- examination. However, he did that as well. He asked one question too many and he opened the door to let the defense really basically retell George Zimmerman's story. Guy recouped pretty well. I think he did an effective cross-examination.

With that said, I think the biggest thing I saw come out of this is the state is now shifting gearing. They are coming up with a new theory of prosecution, basically claiming that George Zimmerman was down on the bottom and Trayvon Martin was getting up to get away. They're really developing this because I think they realize they can't prove the case otherwise.

MALVEAUX: Do you think -- do you think this is really going to stick many the jurors minds when you see this demonstration, and it was such a dramatic departure from the past, that this is something that when they deliberate, they will take that back and talk about what they saw.


NEJAME: Go ahead Sunny. I'm sorry.

HOSTIN: I think absolute, I think juries love demonstrations. They love visuals. You look at the research, most people are visual learners. They will remember this. But I don't think they will remember it to the exclusion of all the other evidence that's come in. We know the defense may use this sort of animation, this cartoon to describe their theory of this case. The jury will have some visuals they bring back to the jury room. I don't think they will just disregard the other evidence and not take their common sense into the jury room.

MALVEAUX: Mark, Sunny brings up the recreation that they are allowed to use as part of their wrap-up but not as evidence. What is the significance of that?

NEJAME: I think the defense got a very lucky break by the judge not letting it in evidence. I think the prosecution would have destroyed their witness if they were trying to really use it as part of their case. I think it was an ill-advised move to try to get it into evidence. They got the best of all worlds. It's not coming in, so it's not subject to cross-examination. But they can arguably use part of it by way of demonstration to prove their point in closing argument without being subject to cross-examination. They lucked out on that one in my opinion.

MALVEAUX: Sunny, who do we expect to see on the stand this afternoon, if you can read the tea leaves there in your crystal ball?


HOSTIN: I haven't been able to read the tea leaves well with the defense. As Mark said, I think they should have ended on Dr. Di Maio. We may hear this witness come back for some additional testimony. We've heard rumblings about Ben Crump being called by the defense. Perhaps, another expert.

In my sense, because the defense had done fairly well, I think I should just cut their losses and not bring anyone up. Mark O'Mara said he believed he would rest today, so perhaps this will be the end of the defense case.


NEJAME: If I could -- I'm sorry. I think there's two areas that we know that are still looming out there. One is George Zimmerman's father, who has been kept out. There's a good chance we might see him. And don't forget, the judge has allowed in the toxicology with the marijuana. I think that will be dropped. The defense will want to try to end this on a strong note. They lost their best chance with Dr. Di Maio to end on the strongest of notes, so they have to find something to ends it strong and then allows that to be the lasting impression for the jurors.

MALVEAUX: Really quickly, because we have to get to live testimony soon. But what do you make of the fact of the text messages will not be allowed in the proceedings? Does that make much of a difference?

HOSTIN: Absolutely, for the defense. The defense, in some way, wants to trash the victim, which is often a defense tactic. I don't think it's usually successful. But there was no way those text messages were coming in. They couldn't even get past the first hurdle, which is authentication. Did these photos really come from Trayvon Martin? Is he the one that took them and sent the text messages? The judge had real concerns about that. I think, even if authenticated, they would still have a problem getting this in. This was an appropriate ruling by the judge, but I'm sure the defense felt it was a significant blow to their case.

MALVEAUX: We're going to be live inside that courtroom.

Don't go anywhere. I don't know you're all over it.

Sunny and Mark, really appreciate it.

We're also following other stories. A wife and mother of two kids allegedly tries to hire a hit man to kill her husband, all caught on tape. And it happens more than you probably think.


MALVEAUX: House Republicans are meeting today to discuss their version of immigration reform. And former president George W. Bush is weighing in on the debate. He spoke at a naturalization ceremony this morning in Dallas. 20 immigrants took the oath of office (sic) to become U.S. citizens. And the former president, while not taking sides, he did call for a solution.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The laws governing the immigration system aren't working. The system is broken. We're now in an important debate in reforming those laws. That's good. I don't intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy. I do hope there's a positive resolution to the debate.


MALVEAUX: That's the oath of citizenship. The Senate passed a reform bill last month. And some House Republicans say they oppose any path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The mob murder trial of James Whitey Bulger descended today into an "F" bomb shouting match. This is Boston. This is on the stand for the prosecution. Bulger's former friend and partner, Kevin Leaks (ph), who testified he saw Bulger commit several murders. Federal marshals had to get between the two men when they started swearing and shouting at each other, and the judge told them to behave. Bulger is charged with 19 murders dating back to when he allegedly ran the Irish mob in Boston.

You might recall this man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He doesn't give too many interviews and never in English. But he sat down for an exclusive interview with our Richard Question. You might remember him. He was the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was arrested in New York, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel employee. That was more than two years ago. Today, Dominique Strauss-Kahn says he's still bitter about being perp-walked in front of the news cameras.


DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN, FORMER DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND: I think it was a terrible thing, frankly. But only because it was (INAUDIBLE). The problem is that it's a moment. In all European- American society you're supposed to be innocent. You're supposed to be innocent until you're convicted. And the perp walk takes place at a moment where you're supposed to be innocent. So what happens, you're just shown to everybody as if you were a criminal at a moment where nobody knows if it's true or not. Maybe you're a criminal, maybe you're not. It may be proved later on. And so it's just unfair to put people in that way in front of the rest of the world when you just don't know what they have done.


MALVEAUX: You can see more video clips from the interview on Strauss-Kahn's entire conversation with Richard Quest, it's airing on CNN International.

Murder for hire. Not just a plot in a movie here. A police video taken during a sting operation allegedly shows a mother of two trying to hire someone to kill her husband. That video has gone viral. What drives somebody to pay for murder?

John Berman investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to take him head on and shoot him in the face.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's shocking to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want it done in the house then?

MERFELD: Because it would be messy in the house.


BERMAN: But in this eerie hidden camera video, 21-year-old Julia Merfeld plans a hit on her husband just as casually as planning a vacation.

MERFELD: Either the 18th of April or the 26th.

BERMAN: She thinks she's hired a hit man to take out her husband for insurance money, but she was commissioning an undercover detective for murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's an insurance pay off. That's the motive to kill. They're taking a risk because the pay off for them is so great.

BERMAN: The FBI says it's not as uncommon as you think. In January, there were 140 cases not tied to organized crime pending.




BERMAN: In this video that went viral, newlywed, Dahlia Dipolito (ph), burst into tears as police break the news that her husband was murdered. Turned out, it was a set up and he wasn't dead. She reportedly offered more than $6,000 to an undercover cop to have her husband murdered.

Small change compared to what Diane Zimmerman was offering, $50,000 and a Harley Davison motorcycle. And Susan Williams received a maximum sentence for trying to solicit this man, a former NYPD detective, in a murder-for-hire plot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd love for this man to disappear. Wink, wink, if you know what I mean. I said, I think you're asking, you're looking to have this man taken out. And she says yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remember, you only kill the one you love. Your most dangerous person, your most dangerous risk factor is to be married these days.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: Wow. Julia Merfeld is charged with solicitation of murder. She could face up to 25 years in prison. The other three women were convicted in each one of those cases.

We're keeping a close eye on the Zimmerman murder trial. Live coverage starting moments away. They were at a lunch break. And this is actually a live picture. You can see George Zimmerman sitting there. The judge there at the stand. And they are waiting for the jurors to file in. When they do, we'll bring it to you live after this break.


MALVEAUX: We're waiting for the George Zimmerman murder trial to begin. You're taking a look at live pictures as they get under way. We'll wait for the jurors to come back. The judge is speaking, giving some instructions there.

I want to bring in our CNN legal analysts, Sunny Hostin and Mark Nejame, to talk about Zimmerman's attorney might rest their case today.

Sunny, what are we expecting this afternoon?

HOSTIN: Yeah, I think they may. Just before in court I've been observing it and they're talking about entering in exhibits. They may be at the end of their case. It's unfortunate because I think Mark was right on when he said Di Maio would have been the best witness for the defense to end on rather than Dennis Root, who wasn't a strong witness for the defense. But looking at what's going on in the courtroom, Suzanne, it's possible that the defense may rest.

MALVEAUX: Mark, if this goes to the jury over the weekend, how quickly do you think they will come back with a verdict?

NEJAME: Remember, it's not going to end that quickly. Sunny is right. They're getting all their housekeeping issues in order, but when it's done with, the defense, we still have the probability that the state will put on rebuttal testimony, then renewed acquittal charges and then charges to the jury.

With all that said, I think there's a good chance we might get it to the jury on Friday. If we get to the jury on Friday or Saturday, I think they're going to want to hurry it up. I don't think they're going to rush a verdict. But unless there's truly big debate, the possibility of a hung jury, which could make it go on forever, I think they're going to want to get out of there. They seem to be hard working jurors. They've worked whenever the judge has given them an option to a break. I think they'll hunker down and get a relatively quick verdict. But I think they'll be pensive, thoughtful and review everything.

MALVEAUX: I'm just being told here that inside the courthouse the judge has just asked George Zimmerman if he wants to testify. He says he hasn't decided yet.

Let's listen in to this conversation.


NELSON: -- you're going to need to discuss this with your attorneys.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, ON TRIAL FOR MURDER: I assume it would depend on how long the recesses are, Your Honor. At the end of the day.

NELSON: OK. If your attorneys are finished with two witnesses before the end of the day, do you think you would then know whether or not you want to testify?

DON WEST, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: On Mr. Zimmerman's behalf --

NELSON: I am asking your client questions, please, Mr. West.

WEST: I object to the court inquiring of Mr. Zimmerman as to his decision about whether or not to testify --


NELSON: Your objection is overruled.

Mr. Zimmerman, I will give you more time, sir, to discuss this with your attorneys. Thank you very much.


NELSON: Yes, you may.


MALVEAUX: Wow. Sunny, Mark, jump in here. How unusual is this?


HOSTIN: Yeah. You know, oftentimes --


NEJAME: If you've been watching throughout -- go ahead, Sunny.


MALVEAUX: Go ahead, Sunny. You go first. Mark, go second.

HOSTIN: Well, oftentimes, judges do ask defendants whether or not they've consulted with their attorney, whether or not they've made the decision to testify. Because it is the defendant's decision, not necessarily the -- it's never the defense attorney's decision. I also think what you're seeing, Suzanne, is just a bit of tension between Don West and this judge. He's obviously pushed some of her buttons. And you're seeing -- you're seeing a result of that, I think.

MALVEAUX: Mark -- NEJAME: Yeah. I agree entirely. There's been -- there's been really ongoing friction between Don West and Judge Nelson, I think, for quite a while now. The tone and tenor of the way she speaks to Mark O'Mara, the prosecutors, is very much different than you see the exchange going on back and forth between Don West and Judge Nelson. So, you know, Don West has got to watch it. He's a good lawyer. Very, very good lawyer. But you can never let your emotions get in the way. A lot of times you might not like the judge, but you have to respect the position.

With that said, I think there's a real tension on this thing. I'm convinced to this day, knowing this defense team as I do, that they would have never let George Zimmerman go on that Hannity show and talk. I'm convinced by my gut -- nobody's told me this -- that George Zimmerman insisted upon it. When you look at Mark O'Mara's face in that interview, it's just not one of being a very happy face. I think there may be some internal things going on right now between the defense lawyers and their client about whether he should take the stand. And he should absolutely not take the stand.

MALVEAUX: I find it hard to believe that he hasn't actually made up his mind. Like, this would have been sorted out before this point.

We'll talk more about that on the break, on the other side of the break. I'm being told we're going to take a real quick break and we'll be right back.


MALVEAUX: Dramatic moment inside the courtroom there when the judge asked George Zimmerman whether or not he intended on testifying.

I want to bring Sunny Hostin and Mark Nejame back in here.

Isn't it funny when the judge asked if he'd decided yet, he hadn't decided? Isn't that something that's been planned for days now?

HOSTIN: No, not at all. It's a very dynamic decision with defendants. They want to listen to all the evidence. I think a lot of defendants go on gut, whether or not they feel they're winning or losing. A lot of defendants just want to tell their stories. They really want to tell their stories.

As Mark was saying, the fact he told his story to Hannity, the fact he said he did this sort of recreation with the police department, remember during the bond hearing, he actually got on the witness stand and apologized to Trayvon Martin's parents. And so this is a defendant that wants to talk. It would be a huge mistake for him to talk. But he's someone that seems to want to tell his side of the story.

MALVEAUX: Mark, read this for me. What does that mean, the fact that now he might want to get up there and tell it like it is from his point of view? Does it indicate that there was some weakness, that something turned here that didn't go in his favor? NEJAME: I think that it's very much what Sunny just opined. I think that he wants to be able to, you know, I think he believes there's no question in his mind that he believes he's right. And he wants to tell the world that. Every time he's taken the stand or every time he's gone on TV, these are ill-advised moves that, you know, you're an old saying in this business: You can't catch a fish if its mouth is closed. If he had shut up from the onset, there wouldn't be a prosecution here, let alone, this prosecution. There would be no prosecution if he had just shut up.

With that said, every time he makes a statement, it is just music to the prosecution's ears. So I think that there may be an internal struggle. These defense lawyers know that they've got a strong defense case. And there's no reason to put him on the stand. With all the multiple statements that have already come before the jury, with a character that's been able to be put together, the composite through the other witnesses that has been able to put together in a positive way for the defense, they know it's foolish in order to put him on the stand.

If he's still evaluating that, you know, they're going to have to do some sitting down and talking to him. I will also tell you that it is a dynamic process, as Sunny says. You know, a lot of times, we simply, in trial, are evaluating minute by minute, day by day whether we're going to put the client on the stand or not. It's never a linear process in trial. Some days are good. Some days are bad. We've seen that over and over again in this case.

But I think that for a defense case, they can't ask for a whole lot more than they've got. And to put him on the stand could be legal suicide.

MALVEAUX: So, Sunny, if you were in that position and you had to advise George Zimmerman, how would you convince him that, you know, that would not be the right move?

HOSTIN: You know, I think you have to tell him, listen, you know, I'm in your corner. I'm your representative. We are doing a good job. You need to rely upon my legal expertise, from my vantage point, I'm telling you that, you know, you're fine. I can't promise you what the outcome will be. I can tell you you're in as good of a spot that you can be in. I think they also need to tell him that prosecutors look forward to the opportunity to cross-examine a defendant that has given multiple inconsistent statements.

When I was a prosecutor, Suzanne, I dreamt about cross-examining certain defendants. Defendants do not do well against a skilled prosecutor on cross-examination. They just don't do well. When you're a prosecutor, you are taught how to do this. You go to school and learn how to do this. He's no match against a Bernie De La Rionda or John Guy. They've got to impart that to George Zimmerman.

MALVEAUX: Mark, real quick, final thought here. If he took the stand, George Zimmerman took the stand, it would be a game changer, yeah? NEJAME: Without question. This prosecution team is excellent. I've seen them pull one rabbit out of their hats after another. To sound cliche, they've made lemonade out of one lemon after another. They've taken a difficult case and made a case out of it. For them to be able to have this, this would be glorious for them.


NEJAME: The defendant can't take the stand.

MALVEAUX: OK. Got to leave it there. We're going to be watching every minute of this.

My friend and colleague, Brianna Keilar, is going to take the helm from here.