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Analysis of Closing Arguments So Far in George Zimmerman Trial; Closing Arguments Continue

Aired July 11, 2013 - 15:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield live in Sanford, Florida, at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, where, any moment, the attorneys, the gallery, the jury and the judge will all be taking their seats once again for the continuation of these riveting closing arguments in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

This is the end of the road before the jurors get to make their voices heard, silently and then very loudly. If opening statements are the framework into which all these pieces of the puzzle are going to fit in, then closing arguments are the narrative. They are the live storytelling, the two-hour documentary of everything you just heard in a story that makes more sense than the legalese and the arcane arguments that are as much for the jury as they are for the record.

So it's very easy to understand them. It's very easy to remember them.

I want to bring in our senior legal analyst , Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, I have been watching this. Bernie de la Rionda is a masterful attorney. He is one of the better ones that I have watched live in action. I am trying to determine by listening to what he's saying if he is arguing before this jury more about second-degree murder or if he is really hanging most of what he's trying to describe on manslaughter. What are your thoughts?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: My thought is that he's actually going for second-degree murder.

I think, you know, all the time he spent at the beginning about how the crime really began when George Zimmerman registered all the frustration with what was happening in the neighborhood and the punks and the fact that he -- these kids keep getting away, all of that is to set the stage for the for the argument that George Zimmerman had hatred, he had ill will, that it was not appropriate, as the prosecutor said, just to look at the night of the murder, but you had to see it in the context of Zimmerman's overall behavior.

That argument is a second-degree murder argument. It's not a manslaughter argument.

BANFIELD: Ill will, hatred and spite, so critical to prove that malice that you're talking about to get to second-degree. You're absolutely right.

But, Jeff, we still have an hour to go. He was going to do about two hours in his closing. And then don't forget, everyone, the prosecutors get to do a rebuttal closing, because they have the last word. They have got the burden of proof.

Jeffrey, I know as a former prosecutor that was probably the one excellent thing that you always could look forward to, that you got the last word in front of the jury.


BANFIELD: Huge, right? It can't be overstated how huge it is to leave it hanging with the jury, your final narrative.


BANFIELD: Stand by for a moment, because when he come back after the break I want to play for you exactly what Jeffrey Toobin just described, the description of hatred, ill will and anger and malice and all of these things the prosecutor needs this jury to understand if they're going to go for broke and go for guilty on the top count.

We're back in a moment.


BANFIELD: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield reporting live in Sanford, Florida, as we await the proceedings to get back under way in the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial.

The great seal is what the camera is showing now, which means you are not missing anything. But they are about to start up at any moment. In case you missed this, you must see it, because it is a critical part of the prosecutor's closing argument.

Don't forget that one of the key things they need to prove in second- degree is that there was some kind of ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent. How can you prove that? By suggesting that George Zimmerman was a profiler from the beginning. Have a look at the prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, and how he put that right to the jury.


BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, FLORIDA ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY: He profiled him as a criminal. He assumed certain things, that Trayvon Martin was up to no good. And that is what led to his death.

You know, this wasn't at 2:00 in the morning or partying somewhere, not that that would in any way minimize it. But he wasn't -- he was just doing a normal everyday thing. He went to the store, got something, got some Skittles and some tea or drink, and was just walking back. It was raining. He was wearing a hoodie. Last I heard, that's not against the law.

But in this man's eyes, he was up to no good. He presumed something that was not true.


BANFIELD: Guaranteed, defense counsel is making notes, because when it's their turn they're going to knock all of that down, you can rest assured.

The great seal is still in our shot. We are watching for the live action to resume. They're starting to filter back into the courtroom. Quick break. Back with the live courtroom action right after this.


BANFIELD: Welcome back live in Sanford, Florida, everyone, a live shot of the courtroom we will show you front and center. For the first time since this trial began, Robert Zimmerman sitting beside his wife, Gladys Zimmerman. They are the parents of George Zimmerman.

Why for the first time are they now seated in the gallery? Because the rules of witness sequestration dictate that you may not be in the courtroom if you're going to be a witness in the case. And both of them were. And they remained under the sequestration rules until the end of the testimony. So now they can finally sit behind their son and watch these proceedings. They're behind their son, and on the other side of the courtroom is, of course, the family and friends and supporters of Trayvon Martin who are sitting behind -- and it's very sad to say they are sitting directly behind some very large white evidence displays.

And one of them actually says hoodie. Very sad to see that. They can't see it from their perspective. The words hoodie are on the camera's perspective. So, thank God they're shielded from that. But it is very odd and uncomfortable to see that.

I want to bring in my colleague and one of the better criminal litigators here in the state of Florida, Mark NeJame, who's been watching gavel to gavel with me.

You have a connection to this prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda. Your partner used to work for Bernie de la Rionda.

MARK NEJAME, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: One of my law partners, Rajan Joshi, used to work in that Duval County office.

BANFIELD: And I will never ask you to grade or judge people who you end up -- may end up working against.

NEJAME: I'm happy to do it.

BANFIELD: What I would like to know is the strategy of this closing, the narrative that he's been giving and how it settles with the average guy like me.

NEJAME: I think he's doing the best he can. I think the skill sets of these prosecutors has been spectacular. I think their strategy has stunk. BANFIELD: You do?

NEJAME: I think it's coming back to bite them. I will tell you why. They should have never as we have seen this case unfold gone with second-degree murder. They should have gone from the very beginning, maintained their credibility with manslaughter.

BANFIELD: Why did they?

NEJAME: They thought they would get it up, they could possibly get a second-degree, and then the jury would come back with a lesser.


BANFIELD: No, Mark, no. That's normally the way it works. Is that the way it works this time? Or did it come from the special prosecutor?

NEJAME: That's the trouble when you get politics involved in the judicial system.

Here we have a situation where if you had gone in and said...

BANFIELD: Hold on. I'm only going to break into you because I want to make sure I hear the beginning of Bernie de la Rionda. He's resuming his second part of the closing argument. Let's listen.

DE LA RIONDA: I'm showing you a photograph of the left hand of Trayvon Martin.

And, obviously, in addition to the gunshot wound , that was the only other injury that was observed when the autopsy was performed. As you can see from that photograph, there is a very minute or small injury right there and an even smaller one over here, an abrasion on his left hand.

You recall also the testimony was that he was right-handed. So if the beating was as severe as I would submit Mr. Zimmerman claims, then how did it occur? I guess maybe -- well, we can speculate. But I think even Dr. Di Maio said, well, sometimes you hit something and you don't necessarily injure your hands. That's a possibility.

That could also be true for George Zimmerman's hands.

The defendant, George Zimmerman, two people, one shot to death and one repeatedly lies about how it happened. Why might that be, you wonder? If one is shot to death and the other one lies, why would that person lie? He brought a gun to a struggle, to a fight that he started by following him and wanting to make sure that the victim didn't get away.

And now he wants you to let him off because he killed the only eyewitness, the victim, Trayvon Martin, who was being followed by this man, who had the right to defend himself.

The defendant's interview -- and you obviously know that he gave various interviews. I want to just quickly highlight certain parts that I will submit to you are relevant as to establishing why this defendant's lying and why he was caught in numerous lies and then obviously why it happened.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANT: (OFF-MIKE) And I'm the coordinator. And there's been a few times where I have seen a suspicious person in the neighborhood. We call the police, the nonemergency line, and these guys always get away.

DORIS SINGLETON, SANFORD, FLORIDA, POLICE DEPARTMENT: OK. What made them suspicious? Any tape or recordings of vehicles that come in and out of that neighborhood?

ZIMMERMAN: Last time they were down. The cameras were broken.


DE LA RIONDA: Why did I put that thing about the camera there?

Because, as you recall, one of the ploys or tactics that was used by the Investigator Serino was to say , hey, maybe the victim had a recorder or maybe somebody videotaped it out there. He, the defendant, he knew that that didn't happen, because he knew about it. He's the one that told the investigators, hey, contact Mr. Taylor (ph) or Leland (ph), whatever his name was. I will give you his number. It's on my cell phone.

So he knew that there wasn't any videotaping out there of this. It wasn't like, oh, he's just he took a gamble, and, you know, and he was really defending himself. And so he said, hey, I will volunteer. Go ahead and -- videotaped it or I wish there was. No. He knew there wasn't any. So, it wasn't like he was forthcoming with that information as, like, a truthful person.


SINGLETON: And is he walking completely around the car?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, ma'am.


ZIMMERMAN: And dispatch asked me where he went. I didn't know the name of the street that I was on.

SINGLETON: So you'd come off your street and gotten to another...

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, ma'am.

SINGLETON: At some point? OK.

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, ma'am. Goes in, cuts through the middle of my neighborhood.


ZIMMERMAN: I didn't know the name of the street or where he went. So I got out of my car to look for the street sign, and to see if I could see where he cut through so that I could tell the police where...

SINGLETON: So after he circled your car he disappeared again?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, ma'am.


DE LA RIONDA: Two key points there, didn't know the street name. There's only three streets. And he will tell you. You will see it actually from his own mouth when he's talking to the investigators out there. He names the street.

But, most importantly also, or just as important, is the fact that he's saying this man, Trayvon Martin, is circling his car. So he's in such dire strait or so feared that he gets out of the car to go follow him? So he's either truthful in saying he's circling the car, or he's lying about it.

Either way, it shows that he's not telling the truth, because if he's really that in fear of him, why does he get out of the car? Or is he saying that as another explanation as to why maybe he had to kind of confront him as to explain that maybe, oh, it was the victim that attacked him?

You see, the victim was already showing that he was going to do something because he started circling the car. And that's what a person that's about to commit a crime does. That's what he wanted the police to believe.


ZIMMERMAN: I'm trying to find out where he went. And he said, "We don't need you to do that." And I said "OK." He said, "We already have a police officer en route. And I said, "All right."

I had gone where -- through the dog walk where I normally walk my dog, and walked back through to my street, the street that loops around. And he said, "We already have a police officer on the way." So I said "OK." I told -- they said, "Would you like a police officer to meet you?" And I said "Yes." And I told them where my car was and the make and the model.


ZIMMERMAN: So, I was walking back through to where my car was and he jumped out from the bushes.

And I said, "Hey, man, I don't have a problem." And he goes, "No, now you have a problem." And he punched me in the nose. At that point, I fell down.

(END AUDIO CLIP) DE LA RIONDA: OK. So a few key things to remember there or point out that I would suggest to you.

Number one is where he walks his dog. But he doesn't know the name of the street in terms of getting there. It's only, again, three streets. Number two, as he's walking back., he's told not to follow him. So he decides to obey, even though he wasn't ordered not to follow him. So, he decides to go back to the car when this man came out of the bushes. You will see that he changes that and he catches himself.

But you will see it. It's coming up, because, number one, as to where those bushes were. But he also at some point catches himself when he says I was going towards him -- no, he came out. He came towards me.


ZIMMERMAN: I didn't even see him getting ready to punch me. As soon as he punched me, I fell backwards into the grass.


DE LA RIONDA: This man, Trayvon Martin, this teenager, came at him.

Now, he's out there in the darkness, and he's got a gun. But, of course, he hasn't taken his gun out, because that would be illegal. He's got the right to conceal it, because he suspects somebody of a crime. He's not a police officer. He can't go arrest them.

But he's just kind of wandering out there in the darkness, even though this guy has circled his car. But he's not in fear. He's just kind of wandering. Does that make sense? He goes out into the darkness after somebody he's scared of?

And he's not on guard to what's going on? See, because he's got to convince the police, and by virtue of giving that statement to the police, convince you, the defense has got to convince you that he was just kind of walking and the victim came out of nowhere.

MARK O'MARA, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: I object, Your Honor. May we approach for a moment?


O'MARA: Improper presentation of the case law and the law concerning my client's obligations to prove anything.

NELSON: Ladies and gentlemen, at the close of the -- end of the attorneys' closing arguments, I will instruct you on the law as applicable to this case. And you will be given that law back to the jury room to compare with how you find the facts to be.

Thank you.

Go ahead. DE LA RIONDA: He's trying to convince the police that he hadn't done anything wrong.


ZIMMERMAN: On my nose and on my mouth and he says, "You're going to die tonight."


DE LA RIONDA: Again, now he's saying that the level of violence towards him is escalating, because Trayvon Martin just decides to shut him up by, you know -- and the amazing thing, and I'm going to get to this in one of the slides that you will see or PowerPoint presentations you are going to see, he must have had, like, 10 hands out there or 10 arms, because he's able to do all this while the defendant's just sitting there, letting him put his hands over him, not doing anything. Does that make sense?


ZIMMERMAN: My jacket and my shirt came up. And when he said, "You're going to die tonight," I felt his hand go down on my side, and I thought he was going for my firearm. So I grabbed it immediately, and as he banged my head again, I just pulled out my firearm and shot him.

SINGLETON: OK. And then what happened? Did he...


DE LA RIONDA: So the gun wasn't exposed earlier. He's getting beat up. But he hasn't taken the gun out. It's only when the victim starts reaching for the gun. He tells Osterman he actually grabbed the gun or he touched it.

But it's as he's reaching for the gun, and then I realize, as he's holding my hand, one hand over my mouth, one hand over my nostril, I can't breathe, but I see it. He's got that third hand that he's going for the gun. Does that make sense?

And the victim only went for the gun because the gun became exposed.

Your Honor, with the court's permission, I have had the deputy check the gun. I will have him check it again.

Thank you, sir.

He's got this gun in this holster. And you will see in a few minutes, might be more than a few minutes, one of the things that he does, he demonstrates to the police where he had the gun. And it wasn't right here in the front. It was towards the back. And it was hidden. And he will demonstrate to the police out there where it was.

Look at the gun. Look at the size of this gun. How did the victim see that in the darkness? Where was it? It wasn't outside. It was tucked in behind. And he will demonstrate to the police where it was. How did the victim see this gun, or is it just another lie that he tells?


ZIMMERMAN: So, I remember I -- once I shot him, I holstered my firearm and I got on top of him and I held his hands down because he was still talking, and he, and I said, "Stay down. Don't move."

And then...


DE LA RIONDA: A key point of that is that he tells the officers out there, the police station and later out at the scene, that he didn't realize originally that he had shot the victim.

Well, if he's in such fear and he hasn't -- he doesn't realize he shot him, what the heck is he doing holstering his gun, if he's so scared? Or is that just police jargon? That's what police do when they shoot somebody. First, they make sure the person's either dead or handcuffed. And then they automatically holster the gun.

But he's got that police jargon talking, and that's what the police are taught. But, if he's so scared, what is he doing holstering his gun? Because he claims at one point that the victim said, oh, you got me, or something. And he thought, oh, he's scared of him, because he's trying to convince the police that he really didn't intend to shoot him at that point, that, yes, he was in fear, but he really wasn't intending to shoot him. He was just kind of trying to scare him, maybe.


ZIMMERMAN: I don't recall. It's always dark. They always come around nighttime and...


DE LA RIONDA: "They always come around at nighttime," they being pardon my language -- the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) when he profiled a 17- year-old boy that had Skittles.

That's the crime he committed that evening, Skittles that he didn't even steal from 7-Eleven, he legitimately bought. You saw the videotape. He wasn't instilling fear into that clerk over there because he was wearing a hoodie. But, somehow, this man right here became suspicious of a 17-year-old kid who's wearing a hoodie at 7:00 in the evening or 7:10 in the evening.


ZIMMERMAN: Straight through to see if there was a street sign that I could tell dispatch where I lost sight of him at. And when I walked back, that's when he came out of the darkness, and I guess he was upset that I called the police.

(END AUDIO CLIP) DE LA RIONDA: He's starting to speculate or trying to convince the police, oh, I guess that's why he must have attacked me or why he came out, because he must have been upset that I called the police.

See, he's trying to justify to the police why he did what he did. And, of course, it's not that he came to the wrong assumption originally. It's, no, I was just checking for the street sign. I was just doing my job as a neighborhood watchman or just a citizen concerned about crime. And I guess he came out of there because he must have realized that I called the police, meaning that first assumption's still existing in his mind. He is a criminal. And that's what criminals do. They don't want to get caught.


ZIMMERMAN: Put my cell phone away.


ZIMMERMAN: And then when I walked back towards him, I -- I saw him coming at me.


DE LA RIONDA: Did you hear that? "When I walked back towards him" -- he switches mid-sentence. "I saw him coming towards me."

He acknowledges at that point that he's the aggressor. He's the one that's going and pursuing the victim. But he catches himself when he says that, and he goes, oh, he walked towards me.


ZIMMERMAN: And I went to grab my phone. I don't remember if I had time to pull it out or not.


DE LA RIONDA: Then he claims he went for the phone, see, because he's got to then explain why he, being a 5'7'', 204-pound perfectly healthy 28-year-old man, is overpowered by this 5'11'', 158-pound kid.

And he being the one that's tracking him or following him, he's on guard. He's got two flashlights. He's got a gun. This kid is the one that's scared because this guy's following him. He's got to explain why this kid got the upper hand. "Oh, I was going for my phone and I just got distracted."

Was he going for his phone or was he going for his gun? Were they in the same place?

Defendant's interview that same day, part two. What did he do there? He drew different areas and tracks in terms of where he was, where he claims he saw the victim, where the victim just came out of nowhere, where the victim was just kind of looking suspicious. And, you know, you have got that in evidence. I'm not going to spend a lot of time with that.

But he drew the different places where he claims the victim was and what in his mind caused him to be suspicious of a 17-year-old boy -- the defendant's -- or photographs taken of the defendant that you saw.