Defense Rests Its Case In George Zimmerman Trial

The trial of George Zimmerman is nearing its end — the defense rested its case on Wednesday after calling 18 witnesses. Zimmerman will not testify.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And now we turn to another high-profile case, this one in Sanford, Florida. Today, the defense rested its case of the trial of George Zimmerman. He's the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in last year's shooting of Trayvon Martin. In nearly three weeks of testimony, prosecutors and the defense have called almost 60 witnesses. Zimmerman himself did not testify.

NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from the courthouse in Sanford. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And I guess it really wasn't a surprise that Zimmerman didn't take the stand in his own defense, was it?

ALLEN: No, I don't think so. You know, he - we've heard a lot from George Zimmerman in depositions he gave and in the interviews he gave to police. His voice has been heard in courtroom - the courtroom a lot, but his lawyers always said they'd only put him on the stand if it was warranted. I think they have a certain amount of confidence that it just was not needed in this case.

SIEGEL: There have been some tense moments in the courtroom. Tell us about some.

ALLEN: Well, last night, the courtroom didn't shut down until 10 p.m. Some of the attorneys were starting to say this is going on too long to be humane, and there was some very heated exchanges between the defense attorneys for George Zimmerman and the judge, who is trying to run the courtroom the way she wants to.

They were arguing over motions about information they wanted to put into the trial about Trayvon Martin, some of his text messages on his phone where he talked about some of his past fights and some other material. Ultimately, the judge said they shouldn't be in, but left everybody with a sore taste to the - a bad taste in their mouth, and then the courtroom started today. Some of that same tension started this morning, but they finally got through the day.

SIEGEL: What would you say have been some of the strengths of the defense's case in some of their witnesses?

ALLEN: Well, you know, the defense brought forward a procession of witnesses, all of whom listened to this 911 call that many people have heard where you hear someone screaming in the background. There were several people - family, friends, business associates - all who said they were sure that was George Zimmerman. Some people called him Georgie. So that certainly was one part of their case.

But maybe the strongest part is this neighbor, someone who lived in that townhome community, someone named John Good, who came out while the fight was going on between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and much of what he said kind of corroborates Zimmerman's story. He says he saw Zimmerman on the bottom. He says Zimmerman actually looked at him and asked him for help and that he saw the person that he described as Trayvon Martin on top. That kind of goes along with Zimmerman's story, and that does a lot to help his case.

We also heard from a gym owner who - at a gym that George Zimmerman worked out at for a year or so, and he said that George Zimmerman was certainly no athlete. He was soft, and he described him as someone who really couldn't handle himself in a fight.

SIEGEL: Yeah. He was saying he was - he wasn't good enough to actually have been aggressive in the encounter with Trayvon Martin, which is strange - then he was called back today, and he was asked: Are you promoting your advice to George Zimmerman online?

ALLEN: Right. And I think they dispensed with him fairly quickly because of that. They went forward from there. But he said - I mean, I think the argument from the defense lawyer was that, well, how will that help you, saying that George Zimmerman got to you to train, right? The guy couldn't handle himself in a fight.

SIEGEL: I train guys who have to resort to shooting people. How about the prosecution? Who's been their best witness?

ALLEN: Well, you know, the - someone who's described as their star, you might recall, is Rachel Jeantel, this young woman from Miami who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin when the fight began. And her testimony, while different, very different from what George Zimmerman says, was somewhat problematic, and I'm not sure how much credibility she'll ultimately have with the jury.

She just was not very kind of respectful of the judge, the court and the attorneys. Eventually, she kind of came around, and the story she told was that Trayvon Martin was on the phone when something had - there was a bump, and the phone is dropped, suggesting that maybe it was George Zimmerman who started the fight. But she's about the only person we really hear saying that, and it'll be interesting to see how the jury weighs what she says against what George Zimmerman says.

SIEGEL: OK. So closing arguments tomorrow, eh?

ALLEN: That's right. They'll begin tomorrow. The judge scheduled two hours for the prosecution's argument. The defense will present its closing arguments to the jury for three hours, though not until Friday. The prosecution then has one more hour for rebuttal.

SIEGEL: And then it goes to the jury.

ALLEN: Right. And they'll have a lot to consider here about who to listen to, what - whose story they believe - George Zimmerman's or the story that the prosecution has brought, saying that he was, you know, profiled Trayvon Martin, and that he started the fight.

SIEGEL: Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Sanford, Florida.

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