Trial turns to Zimmerman's neighborhood-watch role

3:19 PM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
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Yamiche Alcindor
USA TODAY

SANFORD, Fla. -- The trial of George Zimmerman focused Tuesday on whether the former neighborhood watch volunteer targeted others for alleged suspicious activities.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, in a February 2012 confrontation. Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, a black teenager; defense attorneys say Trayvon attacked Zimmerman in a gated community.

Prosecutors want jurors to hear recorded telephone calls by Zimmerman to police in 2011 in which he describes seeing suspicious black males in his neighborhood. Defense attorneys have objected to admitting the calls into evidence, saying they are irrelevant to Zimmerman's state of mind the night he shot Trayvon.

An FBI report shows Zimmerman had a pattern of calling authorities about criminal activities and safety issues in his neighborhood. In one of the calls to Sanford police, Zimmerman complained about children playing and running in the street. Four calls were about black men he said he witnessed in the neighborhood after break-ins, according to the report, release by the state attorney's office.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei argued Tuesday he wants the jury to hear the calls to show that Zimmerman had a growing frustration and that in the past he had not approached people. Something changed on Feb. 26, 2012, Mantei said, and the jury should hear that Zimmerman took action in a way he never had before.

Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara said the state is trying to improperly introduce character evidence against Zimmerman. "They have nothing and they want to make a stealth argument," O'Mara said, explaining Zimmerman wasn't doing anything wrong in the calls.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson said she would make a ruling after reviewing prior cases.
Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted "imminently dangerous" and demonstrated a "depraved mind without regard for human life" -- Florida's definition of second-degree murder. Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense.

In testimony Tuesday, Wendy Dorival, who worked as the volunteer program coordinator for the Sanford Police Department, said she made a presentation to facilitate a neighborhood watch program in 2011 for residents of Retreat at Twin Lakes, where Zimmeran lived and Trayvon was visiting a friend of his father's on the night he was killed.

Assistant State Attorney John Guy showed the jury a slide show that Dorival used at neighborhood meetings. The presentation warned citizens against being vigiliantes and urged them to work with police -- be the eyes and ears of the community and report suspicious activity. "They're not supposed to take matters into their own hands," Dorival said.

Dorival said she doesn't discuss whether residents should carry firearms while participating in neighborhood watch program.
She added that she believe Zimmerman was a professional person who wanted to make a change in his community, which had been targeted by burglars. Dorival said she tried to recruit Zimmerman to a citizens patrol program, but that he didn't want to participate.

In cross-examination, Zimmerman lawyer Don West asked Dorival whether a person walking in rain between houses without a particular purpose -- a description of Trayvon the night of the shooting -- was suspicious. Dorival said yes and added that she encourages neighbors to know who doesn't belong and to call police.

In his opening statement Monday, Assistant State Attorney John Guy moved quickly to try to jolt the jurors by using the "f-word" followed by "punks" in quoting from Zimmerman's conversation by cellphone with a police dispatcher as he followed the unarmed Trayvon.

Guy told the jury they would hear from a young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon the night of the shooting, as well as police officers who arrived shortly after and emergency personnel who tried to save Trayvon's life. He also said a medical examiner and residents who live near the shooting site will testify.

West countered that Zimmerman shot Trayvon in self-defense after he was viciously attacked by the Miami-area teen.
He told jurors that Trayvon had thrown a "sucker punch" at Zimmerman after possibly hiding before the struggle. "Trayvon Martin decided to confront George Zimmerman," West said. "The evidence will show this is a sad case. There are no monsters."
West showed enlarged pictures of Zimmerman's injuries to the jury as well as Trayvon from the 7-Eleven surveillance camera, where he is seen wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt.
On Monday, prosecutors called four witnesses including the police dispatcher who took Zimmerman's call the moment he spotted Trayvon.

Sean Noffke, a 911 operator who also answers non-emergency calls, testified that it is police policy not to give orders to callers. He said he told Zimmerman he did not need him to follow the teen.

"It's best to avoid any type of confrontation," said Noffke, who described the call as routine.

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