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THE SITUATION ROOM
State: George Zimmerman Lied; Zimmerman "Had To Exaggerate"
Aired July 11, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the prosecution pleads with jurors to hold George Zimmerman accountable for killing Trayvon Martin. The state's closing arguments wrapped up just a few moments ago. Our analysts listened to every word. They are standing by live.
Plus, fireworks in the courtroom before the judge ruled on whether the jury could consider lesser charges against Zimmerman. You're going to see the tension. We'll talk about that pivotal decision.
And a year after -- a year-and-a-half after Trayvon Martin's death, the focus returns to the teenager with Skittles wearing a hoodie.
Is this trial ending on the same themes that prompted a national discussion about race in America?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The prosecution wrapped up its case against George Zimmerman by portraying him as a frustrated, angry wannabe cop who profiled Trayvon Martin as a criminal, making false assumptions that proved deadly. The lead prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, told the six women on the jury that Zimmerman's claim that he shot the unarmed teenager in self- defense is a lie.
He spent more than two hours delivering the state's closing argument, outlining the case for second degree murder and the lesser charge, potentially, of manslaughter.
The judge, Debra Nelson, agreed the manslaughter charge, but in a testy hearing, she denied the request to add a third degree felony murder charge.
Listen to the powerful beginning of Bernie de la Rionda's remarks.
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, PROSECUTOR: A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions. That man assumed certain things. He is dead not just because the man made those assumptions, because he acted upon those assumptions. And unfortunately, unfortunately, because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks on this Earth.
The defendant in this case, George Zimmerman, acted upon those assumptions. And because of that, a young man, a 17-year-old man, a barely 17-year-old man -- I think he was three weeks past his birthday -- is dead. Unfortunately, this is one of the last photos that will ever be taken of Trayvon Martin. And that is true because of the actions of one individual, the man before you, the defendant, George Zimmerman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The jury saw that photo. We can't show you that photo.
Let's bring in our panel, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; our CNN correspondent, who's been covering this trial, Martin Savidge; and our legal analyst, the former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin -- Jeffrey, let me start with you.
I thought he delivered a very powerful closing argument.
What did you think?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I thought he did a good job. I think he bet very heavily, especially in the second half of his summation, that Zimmerman's own words, that his various descriptions of the events of that night will convict him, the contradictions. He spent an enormous amount of time going over Zimmerman's own words. I think, in part, that was effective. I also thought he neglected a lot of the rest of the evidence. And I expect you'll hear more from the defense on that subject tomorrow.
But this was, I thought, a very competent closing argument. And the jury has enough before it to convict him of either second degree murder or manslaughter.
BLITZER: And now that the judge, Sunny, allowed that potential manslaughter charge to be considered by the jury, there's less of a hurdle, less of an obstacle to get a conviction as far as manslaughter is concerned, as opposed to second degree murder. That was extremely important for the state.
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, no question about it. I mean the jury is going to have several choices in front of it. And, you know, I echo Jeff. I thought it was a very good, solid closing argument. Remember, this is just part one. Part two is coming.
John Guy is going to rebut whatever the defense puts forth because, of course, the burden is on the prosecution.
And I think that the state did a really, really good job about framing the narrative in the way the state needs to. The state needs to talk about who started this, who started the ball in motion, who made the assumption that Trayvon Martin was some sort of criminal, who profiled, who followed, who chased, who targeted?
And that's what the first part of his closing argument was about. And that's what it needed to be about, because, let's remember that the jury is going to be instructed to remember common sense, to think as people, as mothers, as citizens.
How would you feel if someone were chasing you and you weren't doing anything wrong?
The person that kills you in that kind of scenario, shouldn't he or she be held responsible?
And I really think that that narrative is what could get the prosecution a second degree murder conviction here.
BLITZER: Jose Baez is joining us, as well, the well-known criminal defense attorney. He represented Casey Anthony. He's also, one of his former clients, Chris Serino, who was the lead investigator in this shooting.
I'm anxious to get your bottom line on how you think the prosecutor did in his closing argument.
JOSE BAEZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't share Sunny's view, unfortunately, which is not very common. Actually, you know, I think it could have been presented a little bit more effective. You have him going through each and every statement of George Zimmerman and explaining where the contradictions were, as opposed to showing them where the contradictions were.
I think he could have played the other audios, one right after the other, or displayed them on a screen or on a demonstrative aid. That would have been much more effective than inserting sarcastic statement after sarcastic statement. And if I had one word to define this entire closing argument, it would have been sarcasm. And I don't think that's the way you persuade. And I don't think that's the way you win over jurors.
BLITZER: Well, there are six women on that jury -- Martin Savidge, yes, you've been covering this from the very, very beginning.
There's -- you know, he was waving his arms. He was very passionate. He was very lively in that two hour presentation, making the point, going after all of the inconsistencies, shall we say, it what George Zimmerman said over those many months when he was out there in TV interviews, giving interviews to police officers and others.
What did you make of that?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I thought that he was effective in his presentation. It was very interesting to see how the state began versus how they had their closing statements. Remember, you had John Guy begin with the opening statement, with that string of blue language, that shocking profanity.
This time, you have Bernie de la Rionda starting in a very somber tone. It's almost like he is overseeing a eulogy and beginning with that very quiet cadence, but very powerful language. So that was different to see all that.
But he progresses. You know, he becomes like that preacher who gets wrapped up with the fire and the delivery. And I thought he was strong in that, maybe, at times, a little too strong.
I looked at the jurors. They are watching pretty much impassively. You don't see people nodding their heads or seeming to agree in any way like that. The note taking nowhere near as persistent. But then again, you know, this is not evidence, this is the state summing up its case.
Occasionally, though, and especially when you started to see the play backs of some of the things that George Zimmerman has said, either in audio or on video, they started to take a few notes there. But they are taking it in. But I, you know, if you're trying to read their faces, I can't do it.
And, of course, tomorrow -- Mark O'Meara, I spoke to him last evening. He was very bothered by this schedule that the prosecution is allowed to make this big opening -- closing statement and then the jury gets excused. So they're going to sleep on this all night long. They're going to have that sort of -- that tale echoing in their heads.
And, of course, he doesn't get to have a crack at that until tomorrow morning.
BLITZER: And then after him, there will be one final opportunity for the prosecution to give its rebuttal, if you will. They'll get the last word before the jury starts its own deliberation.
Let me play another clip.
Here's Bernie de la Rionda in his final statements. It shows a little different tone than the clip we played earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DE LA RIONDA: I ask to you come back with a verdict that speaks the truth, a verdict that is just. You heard from many people in this case. And I've summarized some of them. There's a lot more, actually, that you heard. We know you paid close attention throughout all these proceedings.
Some of the people you heard from were the parents of both, the victim and the defendant.
Unfortunately, the only photographs left of Trayvon Martin are those M.E. photographs. I mean they've still got other photographs and you saw some of them -- the football in his younger days. But they can't take any more photos. And that's true because of the actions of one person, the man before you, the defendant, George Zimmerman the man who is guilty of second degree murder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: George Zimmerman shaking his head.
What did you think of that last little maneuver, pointing his finger, Jeffrey, directly at George Zimmerman?
TOOBIN: You know, the first line of Scott Turow's famous book, "Presumed Innocent," in the voice of the prosecutor, is, "You must always point." It is sort of the classic gesture of the prosecutor.
It's a very -- it's a very aggressive thing to point at someone. And prosecutors always point. And that's very good. It's very standard. It's also, you know, it's done all the time, so I don't think it's exceptional.
But you know, I think it's very competent, like this entire summation.
HOSTIN: But it...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Sunny.
HOSTIN: -- it's exceptional for this jury because this jury hasn't, you know, been empanelled as a jury. So this is the first time they see that.
And Jeff is right, this is something that prosecutors are trained to do. It's something I did with each and every closing argument.
And the reason behind it, Wolf, is that if you are asking six women, or 12 men and women, to convict someone of second degree murder and send them to prison, you have to show the jury that you are confident that this is the person that did it. You can't be afraid to point and lay blame and place responsibility.
And that's why it's so effective. You are, in a sense, giving the jury permission to find the defendant culpable. And I think it's a very effective tool that's been done for decades by prosecutors.
BAEZ: Wolf, they issue that finger on the first day of prosecutor...
HOSTIN: That's right.
BAEZ: -- prosecutor school.
TOOBIN: That's true.
BLITZER: It's a technique...
BLITZER: -- I guess, it's well-known. As soon as I saw that finger pointing directly at George Zimmerman, I said I think I've seen that before. But you never know, these six ladies on the jury, whether or not they like it, they don't like it. We'll find out at some point.
Everyone stand by. We have more analysis to go through, more excerpts from this closing argument from the prosecutor.
He goes to the floor with a dummy. Once again, it was just one of the pieces of evidence used in today's dramatic closing arguments. We're going to break down this part.
What was Bernie de la Rionda doing before the jury in his closing argument with that dummy?
We're going to break it down for you, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DE LA RIONDA: Arm pits.
How does he get the gun out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In the prosecution's closing argument, we heard repeated claims that George Zimmerman exaggerated and flat out lied when he told police he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. The prosecutor, Bernie De La Rionda zeroed in on specific points, showing jurors the video of Zimmerman's reenactment that he did for police and disputing his claim that he got out of his truck to check the street sign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, PROSECUTOR: Did you catch him in one lie right there? He originally told the police over and over before and even after his interview, he didn't know the name of the street. And then, when they just kind of let him talk, he gives the name right there. IO mean, it's common sense.
There's only three streets and he's lived there four years. Again, why did he have to lie about that? Because he does not want to have to admit that he was following this innocent young boy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring back our panel. You see Jeffrey Toobin, Martin Savidge, Sunny Hostin, and Jose Baez. Martin, this notion that he was repeatedly lying, what did you make of that?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these would be called inconsistencies, you know, of course, by the defense. One of the aspects that is rather unique to this particular case was that George Zimmerman has made so many recorded statements. A number of them, of course, were police interviews. Other ones were the reenactment that he did, but then, he also went on television.
So they, meaning the prosecution, have used those over and over because each time they played it, they've highlighted where the story might have changed subtly. Now, the prosecution would these are big changes and they point out that George Zimmerman cannot keep his story straight and he must be lying.
The defense would say, look, you know, nobody gets their story told the same way particular each time. But it was affected by which say in the courtroom today because of his time after time shown over what was a period of two hours versus what have been nine days in the original presentation of the state's case.
BLITZER: Jose, how effective was that?
JOSE BAEZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, I think it was to a limited extent. Again, you know --
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What?
BAEZ: You know, I just -- the way the entire presentation was laid out, I just think it was flawed. And if you have the situation where you have all of these inconsistencies and you have all these statements, you already know what you're working with. And here's the problem with the way it was presented.
Now Bernie's an excellent lawyer and a very experienced lawyer, but why not show them if he's off by just a little or if that jury remembers things just a little bit differently, it's going to work against him and they may disregard the entire -- the arrest of his inconsistencies.
BLITZER: I think it's a fair point, Sunny, and I'm anxious to get your sense, because a lot of people have noticed that in the case of the prosecutor in his closing arguments, he kept raising questions, basically saying to the jury, you decide. He has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of George Zimmerman.
Usually, it's the defense that tries to raise questions about beyond a reasonable doubt. Did you notice that repeated theme he was saying he would say something, raise a question, say to the jury "you decide."
HOSTIN: That was very effective and it was intentional. It's a theme that I've used often in trial. He was letting the jury know that they decide what the facts are that they believe. They decide what -- their memory controls, because you got to understand that tomorrow, the defense is going to put on this cartoon reenactment of what they believe happened and sort of pushing that narrative, pushing that -- those facts down the jurors' throats.
So, this prosecutor wants to let them know, listen, I'm not trying to push any facts on you. These are the inconsistencies. Ladies, you decide. And I've got to tell you, they're going to go back into the jury room and it's very effective, because I've used it. And that's why he did in that fashion.
It may seem like it was meandering and it may seem like it wasn't as linear as it could have been, but it was intentional. And I think that folksy style that Bernie has is effective.
BAEZ: Why not say it that way? You know, it maybe --
BAEZ: You laid it out perfectly. Why couldn't he have?
BLITZER: Jeffrey, I want to get your thought also. There was a lot of -- you know, we bleeped it out and other networks, television networks didn't bleep out all of the F-bombs or whatever that were used, the "N" word that was used.
The viewers who were watching it live on CNN, they didn't hear that, but the jurors did, and he didn't shy away, Bernie De La Rionda at all from some of the language that George Zimmerman allegedly used or at least used on some of those recordings during, of course, of this investigation. How effective was that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, look, that's the evidence in the case and he used it. I think jurors are grown- ups. I think they know that people use swear words. I don't think people are terribly shocked by it in this day and age. And I also think that rhetorical questions can sometimes be very effective ways of arguing. And certainly, he was doing a lot of that today.
The problem I've always had with the prosecution in this case is they haven't clearly answered the question of what happened, in what order, who did what when. Yes, you know, you can point out that George Zimmerman told things slightly differently, but what's your version, prosecutors? How did this happen?
Where did he walk, what did he do when? And I think that's a big problem. If you are trying to prove what happened, you got to show what happened.
BLITZER: Martin, don't you want to weigh in on that point?
SAVIDGE: Well, I think you're exactly right. We've seen an evolution, and maybe that's being kind as to what the prosecution has said. And the introduction of the dummy actually is an interesting way that we watched this, because of course, initially, it was said that it was George Zimmerman who was on top. It was George Zimmerman who was the aggressor. It seemed that with the introduction of the dummy, it was used yesterday, it was used again today.
But, no, the story is now different. In fact, it appears that it was Trayvon Martin who was on top, but there is a reason that he may have been pulling away and that is because he saw the gun and was now trying to get away from a man who was armed and shot the teenager. So, this story and the way it has evolved, I think, does raise some questions of what exactly happened here?
Are you adapting the prosecution to fit the case as it moves or is there one solid story line from front to back?
BLITZER: Yes. This is the second day in a row the prosecutors had Trayvon Martin on top. Earlier, they said George Zimmerman was on top. I'm going to play that clip of what Bernie De La Rondia did with that dummy when we come back.
Also, we aren't, of course, allowed to see the jurors on television, but Sunny Hostin, she was in the courtroom. She watched them very closely. She's going to tell us how they reacted.
Plus, how the prosecution used Skittles and other pieces of evidence to try to humanize Trayvon Martin. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The prosecutor once again used that dummy in the courtroom to try to show what happened the night that George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Let me play the clip. Here's Bernie De La Rionda with that dummy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DE LA RIONDA: Arm fist (ph). How does he get (INAUDIBLE)? The truth does not lie. He showed you. He showed the police where that gun was. So, how does he manage to get out and get a perfect shot to the heart of a 17-year-old man?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Jose, what did you think of that argument that Bernie De La Rionda made before the jury?
BAEZ: Well, I liked the way they used that presentation today. I didn't think too much of it yesterday when they used it with a defense witness. You never used -- you never do a demonstration with an adverse witness, ala Christopher Darden with the glove. So, you know, I think that today's presentation was much, much better using the dummy.
And I like it. It's a visual aide. You have to engage the jury, especially when you're doing a closing argument that's over two hours. That's the length of a movie. You're going to have to do something to keep their attention. And let's not forget, it was after lunch, too.
BLITZER: You know, Sunny, that the defense will argue tomorrow that for days the prosecutors were saying it was George Zimmerman on top, Trayvon Martin on the bottom. All of a sudden, the last two days, the prosecution has come around to the version that the defense had. How are they going to handle that? You know that's coming up tomorrow in the closing argument from the defense.
HOSTIN: I may be the only one on the planet, as I have often been during this trial that believes this, but I don't think that the prosecution conceded by any means that Trayvon Martin was on top. In fact, you heard the prosecution say today that there were two witnesses that described George Zimmerman on top. They also pointed out that George Zimmerman had grass stains and wetness on the front of his shoes, which is consistent with being on top of someone else in the wet grass.
What they did was provide an alternate theory two what the defense witnesses were saying. So, if you're saying that George Zimmerman was on the bottom, is it possible that this is what happened? Just giving the jury an alternate possibility that is favorable to the prosecution. So, to suggest that somehow they've changed their theory or that they've abandoned their theory, I just don't think it's accurate.
It's something that the government or prosecutors do all the time. They give you alternative scenarios to consider when you go back into the jury room.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, hold on a second. I'm going to -- Jose, first, go ahead.
BAEZ: You see, first of all, John Guy actually mentioned it during his opening statement that somebody saw Trayvon on top. So, it wasn't something that they just made up. However, throughout the presentation of their case, it seemed like they went away from it, and now, they're coming back to it at closing.
I don't know if that's effective or not. I think you keep your points and you keep hammering them home. I don't like this alternative theory stuff. I don't think it works.
TOOBIN: Especially at summation. I mean, you know, it one thing to keep your options open in opening, but, you know, this is the end of the case. This is the key moment in the whole exchange. This is when Trayvon Martin is shot. What is the prosecution theory? Maybe he was on top? Maybe he was on bottom? That's a pretty big deal.
And the idea that at this late date, the prosecution is giving alternative theories? I just think that's -- that's a big problem. I think they have to commit to something and argue it, not give the defense -- give the jury choices to make.
BLITZER: All right, guys. There's another important aspect of what was going on, maybe the most important, namely the reaction of the six members of the jury. The prosecution has noted more than once that George Zimmerman -- that during this trial, that Trayvon Martin isn't alive to tell his side of the story.
And during his closing argument, the prosecutor, Bernie De La Rionda spoke for Trayvon Martin showing the Skittles and the drink that the teenager, the 17-year-old, bought at a convenience store saying the unarmed team wasn't doing anything illegal. So, how did those moments play with this all-female jury? Sunny, you were inside and I know Martin, I think you were inside for part of it. Let me go to Martin first. What do you think? Unfortunately, we lost Martin. I'll let Sunny weigh in.
HOSTIN: You know, I thought that it was very powerful for this jury. There's one woman in the back, a blond woman. She has, I believe, two children, 11 and 13 if I recall correctly. She's one of the women that takes a lot of notes. She was really engaged today, not taking notes initially but so very engaged, so much so that she even put sort of her hand over her mouth and nodded yes at one point.
Now, I'm not a body language expert, but I did observe that. Jose and I were talking about that earlier. And there were -- the one gentleman that's on the jury, he's an alternate, he, too, learned forward and put his hand over his mouth and sort of was drinking it in.
So this jury, in my view, they were really with Bernie and they were really considering the argument that he was making for second- degree murder.
BLITZER: Yes, and I think that was a pretty effective argument in a sense they were humanizing this 17-year-old, he had just gone to the convenience store, got himself some Skittles, got himself a drink, was going back to his dad's house.
He was making him look just like a teenager who was in effect profiled as a potential criminal by George Zimmerman.
Go ahead, Jose.
JOSE BAEZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, I agree. I think it was very effective, especially when he was describing the night of his death. I would have liked to have seen him draw it out a little bit more as to the effect on Trayvon Martin. He said he'll never walk this earth. Those were his exact words.
I would have liked to have heard he'll never graduate from high school, he'll never meet the woman of his dreams, he'll never have children, he'll never be able to hold his child, unlike Mr. Zimmerman. And it was his decision that brought us all here. So, you know, making -- taking something from the abstract and giving the jurors an example of a real-life scenario is where you really grab them.
And I think he could have done a little bit more but at the same time I like the way he presented that.
BLITZER: Well, John Guy, who's another prosecutor, he'll have that chance because he'll have at least another hour tomorrow after the defense delivers its closing argument. And maybe they're watching you right now, Jose. Maybe they'll come up with those lines during the closing argument.
Jeffrey, hold on for a moment. We're going to continue our conversation. We're taking a close look at one of the most controversial parts of the prosecution's closing arguments, the insinuations of racial profiling.
BLITZER: We heard the lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda accuse George Zimmerman of profiling Trayvon Martin but in his closing argument today he didn't actually refer to racial profiling. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, 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. That 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That assumption, that presumption, Jeffrey, that's going to be -- I think that's going to resonate with the six members of the jury.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, just to go back, this is why this case drew national attention in the first place. Because all of us asked the question what country -- what kind of country do we live in where a 17-year-old African-American can't go to buy Skittles and a drink, walk home to watch the NBA All-Star Game without getting killed?
I mean, that's what this case has always been about. And now of course it's become a lot more complicated with the claim of self- defense, but I did think particularly the opening part of the summation where he asked that question, what did Trayvon Martin do wrong here? That's the most effective and that's the most stirring, upsetting part of this case.
BLITZER: Yes, I think it's going to resonate with those women, Jose. What do you think?
BAEZ: I agree. And I think he did an effective job in that part of the presentation. He -- you know, Bernie is -- needs to grab their emotions and hold it. And I think certainly at that point, I don't know anyone who wouldn't be grabbed by that.
BLITZER: And that's why, Sunny, I believe, and you tell me if you agree, that this judge's decision to allow manslaughter to be also considered a lesser charge than second-degree murder gives those members of the jury, if they want to convict him, don't want to necessarily convict him of murder and life in prison, but they do want to punish him in some way, and they think manslaughter might be the way to go. They don't know what the -- what the sentencing guidelines are for manslaughter, the judge is not going to tell him but it would give them what potentially they could see as a compromise.
HOSTIN: I think so. I mean think Jeff said it so well. That is what really is at the core of this case. Why can't a 17-year-old African-American boy go to the 7-Eleven, buy a watermelon drink and Skittles, and get back home safely without being profiled, without being lumped -- lumped and, you know, targeted as a criminal?
I think that all the mothers on the jury are going to think, shouldn't the person that made these wrong assumptions be found responsible? Because George Zimmerman is the one that set this ball in motion.
And I just can't imagine that when they get back into the jury room, Wolf, and they put their commonsense hat on and their mother hat on they're not going to go there. Maybe they won't find this ill will, spite, hatred, although I think there is evidence of that quite frankly. But they -- I can't imagine that they won't find him culpable of something.
BLITZER: As far as that manslaughter lesser charge as opposed to second-degree murder, Jeffrey, how significant is that decision by the judge to allow the jurors to consider the lesser charge?
TOOBIN: It's enormous because the jury can think to itself, oh, well, we're not going all the way but we're compromising, we're just finding him guilty of manslaughter. Now, as we've been discussing over the last few days, under Florida law, he could get an enormously long sentence, decades in prison for manslaughter. So if the jury convicts of manslaughter, that will be a win for the prosecution, there's no doubt about it.
BLITZER: But the jury won't know about the sentencing guidelines.
TOOBIN: Correct. Yes.
BLITZER: The judge is not allowed to tell the jury that because there was a gun involved, the manslaughter conviction could lead, as you say, potentially to decades in prison. They're not going to know that. They might think it will be three, five, eight years, something like that. Maybe that's what he deserves for profiling this 17-year- old to begin with. We don't know what's going to happen but I'm just raising that as a potential possibility out there.
All right, stand by, we're going to continue our conversation.
The fireworks that the jury didn't see. You will see some of those fireworks. The judge and one of Zimmerman's attorneys, they got into a real battle today. Will it affect the final outcome? Stand by.
BLITZER: Before the start of the closing arguments today, there were serious fireworks in the courtroom after prosecutors threw a curveball at George Zimmerman's defense team. They asked the judge to allow the jury to consider lesser charges in addition to the second degree murder charge. One of the lesser charges, a third degree felony murder, prompted the defense lawyer, Don West, to accuse the prosecution of playing dirty tricks.
Listen to his angry response and then his clash with the judge, Debra Nelson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON WEST, ZIMMERMAN DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, my god, just when I thought this case couldn't get any more bizarre. The state is seeking third degree murder based on child abuse? Is the court going to give this any serious contention or consideration? Because if so, we have a lot of talking to do.
We can start with Mr. Mantei dumped all of this on us sometime around 7:30 this morning. There was an e-mail, oh, by the way, we've changed our lesser included request from aggravated assault to third degree murder based on child abuse? And put 10 or 15 cases that obviously he has spent hours, if not days, if not in fact maybe more than a year plotting for this moment when he can spring it on us and the court.
The state is seeking this instruction as part of a larger scheme, another trick that the state is seeking because --
JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, SEMINOLE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: I don't need to hear the word "trick" anymore in regards to these arguments please.
WEST: All right. Criminal statutes are pretty precise, they're designed to put people on notice what's illegal and what isn't. So if it's illegal to follow somebody to tell the police where they're going, there better be a law against it, otherwise you can't say it's illegal --
NELSON: You all are repeating your argument. I've heard the argument from both sides. I am not giving that instruction.
WEST: We submit that's an integral part of our theory of defense and the court is in error --
NELSON: And you can --
WEST: -- by not instructing the law -- this jury properly on the law. And --
NELSON: I understand. I've already ruled and you have -- you continually disagree with this court every time I make a ruling. I have provided you on three separate occasions with the court's professional conduct in the courtroom and included in that is do not continue to argue with the court after we've ruled.
If I have made a mistake in this case, you will appeal. If there is a conviction, it will get appealed to a higher court, and they can review it to determine whether or not I made a mistake.
This is my ruling on this issue. You are free to communicate that to the jury in your closing argument. I am not instructing them on that. Moving on to the --
WEST: I would -- I would like to --
NELSON: Moving on --
WEST: I'm not disagreeing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: She's a tough, tough judge. She ultimately decided, by the way, not to allow the third degree felony charge but she did agree to let jurors consider manslaughter as a charge.
Let's bring back our panel.
Jeffrey, she is impressive. I got to say whether you agree with her or disagree, she handles that defense attorney very, very sternly.
TOOBIN: Well, maybe it's because I'm from New York, none of this shocks me pretty much. You know, trials are rough and tumble, and -- and lawyers push as hard as they can and judges sometimes have to shut them up and sometimes they say, hey, look, this is why we have appeals courts. If I made a mistake, you go get it corrected down the road. But I don't think this was anything particularly unusual.
I do think it's worth noting that Judge Nelson made the right call on both of these issues. It was outrageous for the prosecution to try to bring a child abuse case at this late date, you know, a charge, and she wouldn't allow that. And she wouldn't allow the defense instruction that he was seeking there either.
So, you know, I think this is all par for the course, they're tired, they're frustrated, they're working hard. But this is not a big deal and it won't have any impact on the outcome.
BLITZER: And earlier, Jose, the prosecution withdrew its request for aggravated assault as a lesser charge beyond manslaughter or second degree murder. They just pulled that back and the judge didn't even have to make a decision on that. What did you think of her decisions?
BAEZ: Well, I think her decisions were dead on. Now, as it relates to the aggravated assault, they couldn't get that because the case law is clear on that that they can't ask for that so -- because of the fact that Trayvon Martin is dead and it wasn't an assault per se. It's more of a battery issue.
Now I think her rulings were dead on. It's -- it's very common what prosecutors do with lesser includeds. They -- and it's somewhat unfair to the defense when you have a situation where the case is over, you're done trying your case, and you've gone with a theory of defense strategically because these are the charges that you're facing, and to try and come through the back door with another charge, it's never -- it's not -- it's not fundamentally fair. And that's why I think --
BLITZER: And I want to point out, Sunny, also that the jurors were not in the courtroom during that angry exchange between the judge and the defense attorney. So they don't have a clue. They don't see that kind of stuff. So presumably it's not going to have any impact on them.
HOSTIN: That's right, I mean, they don't see it. And I've got to tell you, Jose and I were talking about this also. She's being pretty nice to him. I've had judges ream me, I mean, really rip into me for just doing my job. So she's doing it with a certain elegance and she's being quite nice.
New York judges and D.C. judges clearly aren't as nice. In my experience. But I've got to disagree with Jose about, you know, this -- the prosecution somehow throwing this at the defense and the defense getting caught flat-footed.
Listen, that's one of the possible lesser included offenses in the book. They know that that's a possibility so to suggest that somehow the prosecution just whipped this out on them, maybe the prosecution was being clever. It was a stretch, but it didn't just come out of nowhere. It was always a possibility. They just didn't think of it.
BAEZ: Yes, but the third degree felony has a lot of enumerated felonies.
BAEZ: To pull child abuse out of there, it's like pulling a needle out of a haystack.
HOSTIN: But it's there, you've got a list for it.
BLITZER: Well, he argued that because --
BAEZ: Yes, let's pull this through a needle.
BLITZER: They argue because Trayvon Martin was 17, under 18, he was a minor. Minor, as a result, child abuse could come into play. The judge, obviously, rejected that argument.
All right. Stand by. We're about to shift gears. We're going to look ahead right now. What about George Zimmerman's defenders? What do they need to tell the jury? Tomorrow, Mark O'Mara will give the defense's final argument.
BLITZER: George Zimmerman's defense team will deliver its closing arguments tomorrow and you can bet there is some tweaking going on tonight to respond to the points that the prosecution made today. Let's talk a little bit about what we can expect, Jeffrey, Sunny and Jose are still with us.
Jeffrey, I think this is going to be critical tomorrow for Mark O'Mara to come up with a strategy to rebut what we just heard.
TOOBIN: Absolutely. And let me just give you one point that I'm sure you're going to hear a lot. Self-defense is a defense to both murder and manslaughter, that if you believe in self -- that this was self-defense, it gets him off completely, because the defense here is going to be very worried about a compromise verdict, so you're going to hear a lot of stress that manslaughter is not -- it is not a legitimate compromise in the view of the defense.
BAEZ: Yes, I agree. That's a great point Jeffrey's raising at this point, because I think they need to also spend a lot of time on the jury instructions. Now Bernie didn't spend a great deal amount of time on the lesser includeds and on the -- and on the jury instructions, and that's going to have to be Mark O'Mara's focus tomorrow, both charges.
You don't ignore one and think that the jury's just going to do what you expect them to do. So he's going to have to hammer on reasonable doubt and the instructions that are going to be provided. And there's nothing better than arguing what the judge is going to tell them.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Sunny.
HOSTIN: Yes, I mean, I think they've got to change the narrative because today was wrongful -- wrong assumptions, you know, initial aggressor. This would have never happened had he not profiled. This has to be about, well, it's not illegal to follow someone, it's not illegal to be a neighborhood watch person. And even if you follow someone, you can't use this type of force against that person.
And they've got to change the narrative. And I suspect that's what we're going to see. We're going to see all about the fact that Trayvon Martin somehow was the aggressor.
BLITZER: Shouldn't they have just, Sunny, very quickly, have done manslaughter, the prosecution to begin with, as opposed to starting with second-degree murder?
HOSTIN: I don't think so. I mean, initially, I did think that. I thought, why not just go for manslaughter? I think you and I talked about this last year when the case started. But after hearing all of the evidence and the expletives that were used and the history behind all the burglaries in the home -- in the homes, I think there's enough evidence to support second-degree murder and ill will, hatred and spite. It's there for the jury.
BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go too far away. There's more to discuss. Also when we come back, digging up a dead man in hopes of finding evidence in a half-century-old crime spree. Stay with us for that.
And if you're just joining us, don't go away. We're going to recap the most dramatic points of today's closing arguments in the Zimmerman case by the prosecutor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DE LA RIONDA: Asked police where he had the gun and it wasn't right here in the front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Authorities are trying to clear up a half-century-old mystery and Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Mary, what's the latest?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, modern science finally may settle the question of whether Albert Desalvo really was the Boston strangler. He confessed while in prison for other crimes but went to his grave without ever being prosecuted for the murders of 11 women in the early 1960s.
Today, a district attorney announced Desalvo's body will be exhumed in hopes new forensic testing will link him to some of the victims.
Mortgage rates have climbed to their highest level in two years, hitting 4.51 percent for a 30-year loan. That's more than a full point higher than in early May. Couple that with the rise in home prices over the last year and people buying today can expect monthly payments to be about 25 percent higher than if they bought a year ago.
And Wall Street's back in record-high territory. Both the Dow Jones Industrials and the S&P 500 closed above the records they set in May, a big reason investors turned bullish, the latest remarks from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who's promising the Fed will remain, quote, "highly accommodative," end quote, on stimulating the economy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you.
Happening now, dramatic closing arguments. The prosecution makes its final case against George Zimmerman.
The deadliest train disaster in recent memory. We have an exclusive interview with the head of the railroad facing anger and outrage.
Plus, a former governor attempts a comeback from the prostitution scandal that toppled him, but time may be Eliot Spitzer's biggest obstacle.