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US: More details in Martin shooting trial

03 July 2013, 10:11

Miami - Prosecution witnesses dug deeper on Tuesday into the details of the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin during the second week of a racially-charged trial gripping US media.

Florida prosecutors are trying to prove that Martin, aged 17, was killed by neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman, aged 29, in an act of racial profiling. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

A jury of six women will decide Zimmerman's fate. Prosecutors contend that Zimmerman was a bigoted vigilante frustrated by a series of break-ins. Zimmerman denies any racial motives and says he shot Martin in February 2012 in self-defence.

The main witnesses on Monday were a police investigator and a friend of Zimmerman. On Tuesday, the prosecution began calling forensic experts.

The trail has been covered prominently by nation media, resuming debate about race in US society. Police arrested Zimmerman under pressure from the African American community 59 days after the shooting, setting the stage for the ongoing trial, which could last for four weeks.

The key question is was it racism or self-defence? On the night of the shooting the unarmed Martin, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, was returning from a store where he bought candy and an ice tea.

Consistent, co-operative

Police detective Chris Serino, first to question Zimmerman after the shooting, said he thought Zimmerman seemed overly eager "to catch the bad guy".

According to Zimmerman's story, recounted by Serino, Zimmerman followed Martin by car, then on foot. Martin soon emerged from the darkness and punched him, knocking him to the ground. He repeatedly bashed his head onto concrete while telling Zimmmerman "You're going to die tonight," according to Serino's testimony.

Zimmerman said he cried for help and then shot Martin after it seemed the teenager was reaching for Zimmerman's gun.

Initially, Serino was sceptical of Zimmerman's account, but changed his mind when he told Zimmerman the encounter may have been caught on videotape to which Zimmerman replied, "thank god", indicating he believed it would exonerate him. There was in fact no video of the incident.

Serino testified that Zimmerman remained consistent throughout the investigation and he was co-operative. He said he found no evidence that Martin was doing anything criminal before the shooting, but said Zimmerman used foul language when he reported Martin to the dispatcher, indicating "ill-will and spite".

Prosecutors also played a call to the dispatcher in which Zimmerman refers to "fucking punks" after spotting Martin, adding, "These assholes, they always get away."

Derogatory term

Serino also said he believed Zimmerman continued following Martin even after a police dispatcher told him it wasn't necessary.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda attempted to point out inconsistencies in Zimmerman's statements and asked whether Zimmerman exaggerated the manner in which he was hit. Serino replied that he felt that he did.

Another witness, Zimmerman's friend Mark Osterman, said Zimmerman told him that he got out of his truck when Martin walked between two buildings, which he thought was suspicious. Osterman said Zimmerman told him Martin tried to grab his gun as the two grappled.

But he also described his friend as "detached" when he picked him up from the police station, which prosecutors could use to show he was indifferent to the killing.

The court heard testimony last week by Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin with whom he was telephoning just before his death. She testified that Martin described Zimmerman as a "cracker", a sometimes derogatory term for southern whites.

The defence however was able to highlight inconsistencies in her story during tense cross-examination.

Intricate detail

Testimony on Tuesday shifted to the injuries Zimmerman suffered - bumps and scrapes on his head, face and nose - in the scuffle with Martin. The chief medical examiner in the county, Dr Valerie Rao, testified about the wounds.

"They were not life threatening," Rao said. "They were very insignificant."

Roa said however Zimmerman's head had wounds consistent with "one strike against a concrete surface".

The prosecution later called a fingerprint expert to the stand, as the trial moved into even more intricate detail.



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