Haunting photos and unexpected support for defense on Day 2 of Zimmerman trial

Eric Adelson

SANFORD, Fla.—The photos were as unforgettable as they were haunting: Trayvon Martin’s dead body, sprawled out in wet grass; the 17-year-old’s Nike shirt, pierced with a bullet hole; his limp wrist; his chest; and his face, slack.

The second day of the murder trial of George Zimmerman brought forth those photos and other powerful pieces of evidence, including the clothes Zimmerman was wearing and the gun he carried on the night he fatally shot Martin in February 2012. There was also a display of the now-iconic hoodie Martin wore on the night he died.

Zimmerman looked at the images without a strong reaction, though with more focus than he showed during opening arguments. Martin’s parents turned away, looked down and eventually left the courtroom as the photos of their son were shown to the jury.

The litany of graphic evidence, paired with the testimony of the Sanford police officer who described his efforts to save Martin, brought the trial to an early emotional crescendo. The 14-year veteran of the department, Anthony Raimondo Jr., gave sober detail of the bubbling sound coming from Martin’s lungs as he tried to administer CPR. He eventually placed a blanket over Martin that was too small, leaving his lower legs and feet exposed in another poignant crime scene photograph.

Emotionally, the significance of the photos is unmistakable and resonant. Legally, the most important turn in the second day of proceedings might have been something far more mundane: In the morning session, before the crime scene photos were shown, a neighborhood watch supervisor with the Sanford police department was called to the stand by the prosecution—and emerged as a key witness for the defense.

Wendy Dorival, who trained Zimmerman in his duties as the watch representative for his gated community, described him as “a little meek” and someone who wanted to “make changes in his community to make it better.”

Although a PowerPoint slide as part of Dorival’s orientation presentation declared citizens are “NOT the vigilante police,” she told defense attorney Don West that seeing an unknown or suspicious person walking around in the rain or on a pathway not meant for walking would be grounds for calling the police department’s nonemergency number. That testimony could assist the defense in painting Zimmerman as someone who was simply carrying out his neighborhood watch duties rather than hunting down an unarmed teenager.

The defense’s case was further strengthened by testimony that there had been burglaries in Zimmerman’s community, including one in which a home was entered while a mother of a small child was upstairs. “She was alone,” Dorival said. “It was terrifying for her. She was still shaken up by it. It seemed very fresh to her.”

Dorival testified that residents who had an issue “were directed to call Mr. Zimmerman.”

Perhaps just as significantly, Dorival came to Zimmerman with the idea of assuming greater duty in community policing. Asked why, Dorival said it was because of Zimmerman’s “demeanor” and “his high interest in being part of a Sanford community.”

The prosecution will continue to argue that Zimmerman went against protocol by leaving his car after he saw Martin rather than waiting for police to arrive.

“Let law enforcement take the risk of approaching the suspect,” Dorival said.

And the defense got some help from the 911 dispatcher who took Zimmerman’s call, who testified on Monday that his foul language didn’t raise any red flags.

What may raise flags with the jury would be the multiple calls Zimmerman made in the weeks and months leading up to Martin’s death. Several were played in the courtroom without the jury present in the prosecution’s efforts to bring them into testimony. The calls featured Zimmerman mentioning recent break-ins and alerting authorities of African-Americans in the gated community where he lived. The judge has not yet decided if the calls will be permitted.

If they are heard by jurors, defense will argue that they were “good acts” meant to help keep watch over a community that had crime problems. Prosecutors will say the repeated calls reflected anger that climaxed on the fateful February night Martin returned from a local convenience store with Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea.

The crucial moments between Zimmerman leaving his vehicle and the shooting of Martin will put even more emphasis on the expected testimony of the young woman Martin was speaking with on the phone as the confrontation loomed. She was reported to be scheduled on Tuesday but has not yet taken the witness stand.

Instead, the jury heard from a witness who said she looked out her window on the night of the shooting and saw “arms flailing” and heard yells of “no” and “uhh.” She said it was too dark to identify who was outside her townhouse, but she went to check the stove and heard a gunshot. She then returned to see a body laying in the grass.

The witness also said she saw movement from “left to right,” and the defense grilled her on cross-examination, suggesting that she had never said that before to law enforcement. The “left to right” action is important because that might imply some kind of pursuit.

Zimmerman’s mindset during those moments will have to be shown as something other than the “meek” persona Dorival described. Asked on Tuesday if Zimmerman was “polite, courteous and respectful,” she replied: “Yes, every time.”

Jurors will likely not forget the images of Martin’s body, yet their mental picture of Zimmerman on the night of Martin’s death will weigh far more in the outcome of this trial.