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Zimmerman Trial Continues; PI Dennis Root Testifies

Aired July 10, 2013 - 14:00   ET


BRIANNE KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Suzanne, thank you very much.

I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for joining me.

Just minutes ago, George Zimmerman let the judge know there is still a chance he could testify in his defense in his trial. Interesting exchange. Let's listen to this between Judge Debra Nelson and the Florida man charged with second-degree murder.


JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Will you please be seated. Welcome back. Have you made a decision, sir, as to whether or not you want to testify in this case?

DON WEST, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your honor, I object to that question.

NELSON: OK. Overruled. Do you -- have you made a decision as to whether or not you want to testify in the case?

WEST: I - I object to that question. I think that's - Mr. Zimmerman --

NELSON: Overruled. The court is entitled to inquire if Mr. Zimmerman's determination as to whether or not he wants to testify.

Mr. Zimmerman, have you made a decision as to whether or not you want to testify in this case?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANT: No. Not at this time, your honor.

NELSON: OK. And when is it that you -- how long do you think you need before you make that decision?

WEST: Your honor, may we have an opportunity to speak? The case isn't concluded yet.

NELSON: I understand that. And I've asked Mr. Zimmerman if he needed more time to talk to his attorneys. And if he does, I will afford it to him.

Mr. Zimmerman, how much more time do you think you're going to need to discuss this with your attorneys?

ZIMMERMAN: I assume it would depend on how long the recesses are, your honor. At the end of the day. NELSON: OK. Well, if your attorneys have finished with two witnesses before the end of the day, do you think that you would then know whether or not you want to testify?

WEST: Your honor, on Mr. Zimmerman's behalf, that decision --

NELSON: I am asking your client - 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 at this --

NELSON: Your objection is overruled.

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

KEILAR: A very testy exchange there between Judge Nelson and the defense. We will be analyzing that exchange with our legal experts in just a moment. But testimony has continued again in the Zimmerman trial. Let's listen back in.

MARK O'MARA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Angry, upset, and frustrated (INAUDIBLE)?


O'MARA: Have you actually been involved in situations where you had to try and break up disputes, be they domestic disputes or fights where people are yelling and screaming at each other?

ROOT: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And has that been sort of throughout the entirety of your career?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Is that just one thing that police officers do as a part of their job?

ROOT: Yes, sir, it is.

O'MARA: Have you seen and heard people in various states or stages of anger and hatred and ill-will as they're yelling at people or each other?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: OK. Using that basis as an experience foundation for your testimony to this question, did -- was any of that evident to you in the way Mr. Zimmerman said the words (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

ROOT: (INAUDIBLE) frustration about the totality of everyone he's called in on or an element in and of itself, not specifically one particular person. My interpretation of the comments he made were in general that they always get away.

O'MARA: (INAUDIBLE) or Mr. Martin?


O'MARA: There was another expletive that Mr. Guy questioned you about. Could you even hear the words "f'ing punks" when you listened to the tape?

ROOT: Initially, no. That was something that you really had to try to break down and listen to.

O'MARA: At some point then, when you went back to listen to it enough to hear it, did it -- did there come a time when you ever go back and listen to it enough where you actually could hear the words?

ROOT: Yes. The interpretation. But, again, it was after being told they were there.

O'MARA: Similar question then. Based upon your years of law enforcement experience, did those two words evidence to you any ill- will, hatred or spite that Mr. Zimmerman -- evident towards Trayvon Martin?

ROOT: No, not individually.

O'MARA: And it was your understanding from your review of that telephone call that the frustration was aimed towards who?

ROOT: I would say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I object, it's calling for speculation.

NELSON: Sustained.

O'MARA: There were two questions that Mr. Guy asked you, and that was, one, about a responsible gun owner and, two, about other options that Mr. Zimmerman may have had. So keeping those two questions from Mr. Guy in mind, was there anything in Mr. Zimmerman's use of his firearm that you would consider to be reckless?


O'MARA: Why not?

ROOT: Because the use of the firearm was --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, judge, I'm going to object as to the motion previously heard.

O'MARA: I might be heard on that? This question was --

NELSON: Well, then approach.

O'MARA: Yes.

KEILAR: OK. So we see the attorneys here approaching the bench for a side bar.

Let's bring in our legal experts here, Tanya Miller, defense attorney, former prosecutor, I think I have that right, as well as Eleanor Odom, a prosecution attorney.

So we're watching this right now. First off, one thing I would like to analyze before we talk about this witness, was that exchange that we saw between the judge and the defense. Everyone wants to know, is George Zimmerman going to testify? And she got pretty testy with him. What did you think, Eleanor?

ELEANOR ODOM, PROSECUTOR: I was a little bit surprised because usually judges will let the defense attorney answer for their client and not press the defendant right away. But she really wanted to get an answer. Do you intend to testify? What is your intent? A defendant can always change his mind, which is the beauty of that. But what do you intend to do right now and do you need some time to talk to your attorney about that? So she was giving him that opportunity, but she wanted to know.

KEILAR: Why did she get upset, do you think?

TANYA MILLER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, because I think Don West has this persistent problem of not knowing when to stop. Not when - not knowing when enough is enough. He objected. She overruled. And he kept making the same objection. He had made it for the record. He didn't need to continue on. And he aggravated the court.

KEILAR: She said it is overruled, right?

MILLER: Exactly.

KEILAR: And she kept going.

OK, so now the question is, what -- does George Zimmerman, for his defense, does he need to testify? We just saw a witness on the stand that a lot of observers will say hurt the defense and was obviously answering a lot of questions that went to the heart of what was George Zimmerman's state of mind. Well, isn't it only George Zimmerman who can really, truly testify to what his state of mind was?

ODOM: I think that's true. Only he can do that. And as a prosecutor, I love it when the defense attorney -- I mean the defendant testifies because then you can go at them with all those inconsistencies. However, if Zimmerman's smart, his story is already out there. He does not need to testify, in my opinion, in order for the defense to put up a strong case.

KEILAR: Let's bring in Sunny Hostin. She's there in Sanford, Florida, CNN legal contributor.

I mean, Sunny, if I'm just putting myself in the place of a juror, I want to hear. And I think, if I'm someone who is on trial, I would want to defend myself. Might a juror think, why doesn't this man want to definitely get on the stand and defend himself or is that not the case? SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, generally juries do want to hear from the defendant. I've heard juries over and over again ask that question after deliberating and after coming to a verdict. And especially in a self-defense case, you usually do have to get on the witness stand if you're the defendant and explain why you had to defend yourself because it's somewhat of an affirmative defense. You've got to put it out there in front of the jury.

But it's already out there in front of the jury. The jury not only has heard his voice on the 911 call, they've seen a re-enactment of his own re-enactment with police officers as to what he says happened that night. So it doesn't do him any good to get back on the witness stand -- or to get on the witness stand and once again say or tell this jury what happened because he's bound to say something differently than what he said before. His story's out there and they've heard from him already.

It's much like the Conrad Murray case. Remember, he never got on the witness stand. But we all remember his interview with police. And that interview was an audio recording. In this case, you have his picture. You have a video re-enactment. So it just -- I don't think the jury would fault him for not getting on the witness stand because they've seen him and they've heard him already.

KEILAR: And if he thinks he's going to hurt his own case, perhaps he wouldn't want to get on the stand. Still to be decided.

We'll get a quick break in while there's a pause in the action there in the George Zimmerman trial. Will George Zimmerman testify for himself, right after this break?


KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar. And all eyes right now on Sanford, Florida. On the stand now in the Zimmerman trial, a self-defense expert who came to George Zimmerman's defense today. Today, Zimmerman's attorneys put on the stand Dennis Root, a private investigator, a former police officer, Taser instructor, hand to hand combat teacher and overall expert on the use of force. Root explained how witness testimony often conflicts in high stress situations. That Zimmerman did not have the abilities of a fighter and that Trayvon Martin appeared to be physically fit. Let's listen in right now as he continues his testimony.

O'MARA: Did you know how far away approximately the gun was from Mr. Martin when it was fired?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: And what do you know that to be, approximately?

ROOT: If i remember reading correctly, it was within six inches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same objection as to our (INAUDIBLE).

NELSON: OK. Over ruled. Move on to your next question, please. O'MARA: Yes, your honor.

And I told you about two questions that you were asked. The other question is whether or not, in your opinion, based upon the facts and circumstances that existed at the time of the shot, whether or not Mr. Zimmerman had any other options available to him.

ROOT: Again, judge, I'm going to object as (ph) calling for speculation.

NELSON: I think he's already testified as to options as a response to a question from you. So, over ruled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge, then I'm going to object to again the pending motion and the content (ph) of the answer.

NELSON: Over ruled.

O'MARA: So, Mr. Root, based upon your training and experience, and knowing what you knew about the facts surrounding the event that night, particularly at the moment of the gunshot, did Mr. Zimmerman have any other options?

ROOT: Based on my knowledge and understanding of him, the environment, the situation, the totality of everything, I don't believe he did.

O'MARA: There was inquiry as to whether or not you took this case on for the pure notoriety of it. I want to ask you some questions about that. Did you -- is that the main reason why you took on this case?

ROOT: Absolutely not.

O'MARA: For whatever purposes, certainly with (ph) some of the benefit of having a high profile case, does that or has that impacted in any way on any of the answers to your questions presented to you by me in direct examination or in cross-examination?

ROOT: No, because the same type of negative media coverage comes from this case as positive media coverage. Nothing had any influence on my answers other than my evaluation of the facts as I understand them from this case.

O'MARA: Does the possibility of some future payment to you from me for your testimony here today, did that impact at all in the way you presented your testimony?

ROOT: Not at all.

O'MARA: Had -- a question was posed as to how many times you've testified as an expert. I think you said this is your first time testifying in a self-defense case?

ROOT: In a criminal trial, yes, sir.

O'MARA: How many times have you testified in a criminal case?

ROOT: Oh, I couldn't -- a lot. I mean throughout a 22-year career in law enforcement, many times.

O'MARA: All right. Have you ever been cross-examinationed by a prosecutor?


O'MARA: Normally you are actually on the side of the state, correct?

ROOT: Yes. This is a complete opposite of where I normally sit.

O'MARA: I want you to presume for a moment that you don't have any information about where the fight started. Forget the location of the -- Mr. Zimmerman's little small flashlight or anything else like that. Focus for now just on the 40 seconds of screaming and the injuries. With that set of circumstances, would you change your opinion at all about Mr. Zimmerman's lack of options?

ROOT: No, I would not.

O'MARA: Would your opinion be the same even if there was a two-minute delay between the ending of Mr. Zimmerman's phone call and the event that happened which caused those injuries?

ROOT: No, that would be irrelevant to me.

O'MARA: What are the only real relevant factors that you look at when, in this case, when evaluating the use of force?

ROOT: The primary elements I look at are the event as it's unfolding at the moment that the use of force was taking place and the perception of the individual involved in the event itself. What did they perceive their position to be presented as? That's the ultimate thing that I have to look at when I look at a use of force case and come down to the nuts and bolts of things, it's, at the moment the force was used, given everything else, at that moment, the perception of that person that was using force, what was their perception at that given second and how would that affect the outcome.

O'MARA: OK. We talked about the flashlight for a moment, the key chain flashlight. Did finding or noting that that key chain being there, was that relevant at all in helping you determine where the altercation may have occurred or begun?

ROOT: It helped create a picture in my mind as where it possibly started at.

O'MARA: You were asked about blood flowing down, blood flowing back. In your experience, both from law enforcement and, I guess, more particularly, from your experience as a -- do we call you a fighter? Is that --

ROOT: Sure.

O'MARA: OK. As a fighter, what happens when you get hit in the nose?

ROOT: Well, there's a variety of things that take place with a nose strike. I mean there's -- one of the most immediate things, because of the nerve at the base of the nose, with a nose strike, it can cause immediate tearing of the eyes. If the blow is significant enough and it does result in bleeding, there's a free-flowing of blood, which, depending on the person, how it's flowing and so forth, it can fill the nasal cavity, drain out of the nose, that that can have an effect on your ability to breathe. Obviously the most primary --

KEILAR: We will be right back to the Zimmerman trial after a quick break.


ROOT: He who controls the ebb and flow of the fight, the rhythm of the fight, generally can become victorious.

O'MARA: And you've seen this picture before, of course?

ROOT: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Is this consistent with a strike to the nose?

ROOT: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: If this was the first strike of the fight, would it be a -- as you testified, a significant maneuver to control the ebb and flow of the fight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge, I object, it's calling for speculation.

NELSON: Sustained.

O'MARA: As far as experience and training, your honor.

NELSON: You're showing him a picture of something else though. You need to ask a different question. Rephrase it.

O'MARA: Yes, your honor.

The - you talked about your criminal justice degree, correct? But you talked earlier about the police academy and I want to see if there's any difference between the two. In your training -- well, it's going to be difficult, but - because you got your - you got your criminal justice degree after you started training as a law enforcement officer?

ROOT: Oh, yes. I pursued my degree well into my career.

O'MARA: OK. I'm going to try and separate the two. Did you learn any of your striking techniques or resistance techniques or takedown techniques in school for your criminal justice degree, or was just that in the academy and your further law enforcement training?

ROOT: There was no physical courses like that required in my criminal justice degree. A criminal justice degree is geared toward more to educating you about the criminal justice system. About the courts, the processes and things like that. The academy is about applying the enforcement of the laws. Thing -- what laws are to be enforced, how to enforce them, physical ways to enforce it, how to conduct traffic stops, how to conduct everyday business as a professional law enforcement officer, where as a criminal justice degree is kind of like the -- the bookend, if you will, of criminal justice. It's the how the system works in and of itself.

O'MARA: And having done it for now I guess 20, 25 years, did you enjoy being a law enforcement officer?

ROOT: I did. I enjoyed being a police officer very much.

O'MARA: Do you think that it was for you a noble profession?

ROOT: Absolutely.

O'MARA: Would you encourage or discourage -- say you had a 20-year-old nephew or son, would you encourage them or discourage them from taking on a life of law enforcement?

ROOT: It depends on the child. I have a stepson, for example, very physically fit and I would encourage him, without question, to pursue it. My daughter, on the other hand, who doesn't like confrontation, who doesn't like that, I would not encourage that. But anybody who really wants to make a difference and is able to take on the stressors of that type of position, it's a very noble career and I would recommend it to anybody.

O'MARA: In -- you had mentioned early in the conversations about sort of the continuum (ph) of force. That a certain act can allow a response. So if you say to me, go over there and sit down, and I go, no, or even more colorful words, then you get to respond verbally? Is that sort of part of what we're talking about?

ROOT: That's a piece of it, yes.

O'MARA: OK. So -- and that continue of force sort of goes up the scale all the way, ends at deadly force, correct?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: OK. And are there markers along the way that allows you to increase your response to force?

ROOT: Absolutely.

O'MARA: So let's just say that I walked up to you and pushed you. What would an appropriate increase in force be based upon your training and experience?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to object as to relevance as this relates only to police officers.

O'MARA: I'll broaden it. I want you to answer the question based upon your experience as an adult, based upon your experience as a fighter, and based upon your 20 years of law enforcement experience, and also based upon your expertise in looking at use of force events. So with that context, let me ask you a couple of questions about that. When you look at use of force events, does that go across the spectrum of use of force?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: OK. We're not just talking about -- you don't just specialize in use of force of deadly force, correct?

ROOT: No. Use of force is force, whether it starts from the very beginning, from verbal communications, and goes all the way up to and including deadly force. It's a - it's a very wide playing field.

O'MARA: So if you were aware of a situation, one of your, I don't know, cadets or one of your people, you would end up helping to train where they were just using inappropriate verbal force, screaming too loud and doing whatever, would you then counsel those people?


O'MARA: Maybe I'm not saying it right.

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Let me try again. When you do your use of force training, within your experience, both law enforcement and as a trainer, does that include training law enforcement officers and whoever wants to be trained as to how to use even verbal force where you use the command voice?

ROOT: All of our force training, whether it's law enforcement or for individuals, the idea behind any level of training related to force is to explain the variables involved in deciding how to apply force and what justifies it. If somebody's being verbal, obviously we would recommend to them that, if possible, our number one recommendation for everybody, if confronted by an aggressor, is try to avoid it if you can. But it all depends on your environment, your ability, the ability to leave, the ability -- sometimes people don't give you the opportunity to leave. Sometimes they could be yelling at you from 40 feet away. So all of these variables come into play.

So when you look at each event, you have to take into consideration all of these variables. So if I was yelling at you and cussing at you from 40 feet away, my recommendation for you would be just to -- you've got 40 feet, walk away, clear the area. If I'm up personal, in your personal space, within six feet, three feet, within arm's length of you, and now I'm getting that same hostility and everything, and I'm very animated, now that verbal confrontation becomes a more significant issue for you because of the distance that we've closed. So really it's very difficult to answer "a" and "b" because the totality of everything comes into play when you consider when and how force should be used.

O'MARA: OK, so -