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Police Testify in Zimmerman Trial; Live Coverage of the George Zimmerman Trial

Aired July 02, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. We're beginning NEWSROOM a few minutes early again today, because we want to bring you live testimony from key witnesses in the George Zimmerman murder trial.

First up this morning, Chris Serino, the homicide detective who led the investigation in its early stages. Yesterday the detective seemed to bolster the defense and its core argument that Zimmerman shot the unarmed teenager in self defense.


DET. CHRISTOPHER SERINO, LEAD INVESTIGATOR: I believe his words were, "Thank God, I was hoping somebody would videotape it."

MARK O'MARA, ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The fact that George Zimmerman said to you, "Thank God, I hope somebody did videotape the event," the whole event, what -- his statement, what did that indicate to you?

SERINO: Either he was telling the truth, or he was a complete pathological liar.

O'MARA: Is there anything else in this case where you got the insight that he might be a pathological liar?


O'MARA: So if we were to take pathological liar off the table as a possibility just for the purpose of this next question, you think he was telling the truth?



COSTELLO: We're going to take you live to the courtroom. Things begin to heat up again, and, of course, we have our team of reporters and analysts to break down all of today's testimony.

But let's begin our coverage, as usual, in Sanford, Florida, with CNN's George Howell. He's live outside the courthouse. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning. Yes, we do expect to hear more from Chris Serino this morning. We just saw a few minutes ago George Zimmerman step into the courtroom. In just a few minutes, court will be under way. And by way of hearing from Chris Serino, we expect to hear more from George Zimmerman telling this jury his every move without ever having to even open his mouth.


HOWELL (voice over): The first investigator to interview George Zimmerman took the stand on day six of the trial, Doris Singleton explained the process.

DORIS SINGLETON, SANFORD POLICE: It was recorded on a -- just a voice recorder that they give us.

HOWELL: Then prosecutors played the tape. The jury listened closely.

ZIMMERMAN: There's been a few times where I've seen suspicious person in the neighborhood. We call the police, non-emergency line, and these guys always get away.

HOWELL: A key witness for the state, Singleton told the jury Zimmerman agreed to be interviewed without an attorney present.

She says he didn't realize Trayvon Martin died from the shooting until she told him. She told defense attorneys Zimmerman dropped his head to the table.

O'MARA: Did he evidence that he was angry with Trayvon Martin?


O'MARA: That he had hatred for him?


O'MARA: Spite or ill will?


O'MARA: Does he had anything that would suggest to you some type of bad attitude towards Trayvon Martin?


O'MARA: Rather he seemed to be effected by the fact that he realized that Trayvon Martin had passed?

SINGLETON: He seemed affected by that.

HOWELL (on camera): One day after the shooting, and George Zimmerman returned to this neighborhood with lead investigator Chris Serino to do a video reenactment.

(Voice-over): Serino later conducted a more aggressive interview, challenging Zimmerman on some points. For instance, in the first statement Zimmerman talked about Trayvon Martin jumping out of bushes to ambush him. In the reenactment, he didn't mention that, but in court, Serino's final analysis --

O'MARA: Did you notice anything to bring to the jury's attention today that caused you that concern?

SERINO: Nothing I can articulate, no, sir.

HOWELL: There was also the testimony from Dr. Hirotaka Nakasone, an FBI audio analyst for the defense who was called to the stand by prosecutors. His focus, the 911 call where you can hear screaming in the background.

While he told jurors it's not possible to determine age or analyze this tape through science, Dr. Nakasone left one possibility wide open.

DR. HIROTAKA NAKASONE, FBI AUDIO ANALYST: If for this particular case, best approach would be for me the voice recognition by the individual who have heard him in his whole life.


HOWELL: I want to go back to the courtroom here in Sanford, Florida, live. You see Bernie de la Rionda there dealing with improper opinion evidence, asking the judge to consider that. We're expecting to hear more on that in just a moment, but I do want to go back to this information from Dr. Nakasone. Basically by saying that anyone, anyone who is familiar with the voice, if they get on the stand and say that is the voice of my son, that's big for the prosecution, because now the prosecution could open that to lay witnesses, could open it to Trayvon Martin's family to take the stand and make that case, Carol. So definitely a big thing for the prosecution.

COSTELLO: Absolutely. We're expecting maybe Trayvon Martin's mother will take the stand and say, yes, that's my son's voice on that 911 recording. We'll just have to see. But as you said, George, Detective Serino expected soon on the stands. Once his testimony begins, of course we'll take you back to Sanford live.

Joining me now for some perspective, though, from Sanford, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin and here in Atlanta criminal defense attorney, Page Pate, and HLN contributor, Jason Johnson.

Welcome to you all, once again.

Sunny, I want to start with you, though, because you seem to be the only lawyer on the planet that says the prosecution scored some points with Detective Serino yesterday.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Really, wow. I didn't realize that. I thought there were some other people that agreed with me.

Well, listen. Bottom line is, that this trial is by no means over. We are in the beginning of the second week of trial. Only about 25 witnesses, and I think that the evidence that came in through Serino, which are the few statements that George Zimmerman made, were inconsistent where it was needed for the prosecution. And that is, who was the first aggressor?

He gave different stories as to why he got out of the car. Did he get out of the car to find a street address, where there is only three streets at the Retreat at Twin Lakes where he is the neighborhood watch captain? Or did he get out to follow Trayvon Martin? He admitted finally on the tape that he was -- while not following him, walking in the same direction.

And so I think that really advanced the ball for the prosecution in terms of the first aggressor, in terms of who started this altercation.

Now the other thing, Carol, that I think is important to mention is, remember, the Sanford Police Department, this investigation was taken over by the State's Attorney's Office and the Sanford Police Department didn't think there was enough evidence to charge George Zimmerman. So of course, they believed his story.

And that's what you've got out of Chris Serino. I mean I sense in a way that we saw a little bit of pushback from the Sanford Police Department from the investigators, because they believe that they were right, when this prosecution believed they were wrong.

So those are the dynamics that I saw in the courtroom yesterday, so perhaps -- and because I'm in the courtroom, perhaps I'm -- that's the reason why I'm the only lawyer that saw it that way, because I'm able to see it in real time.


COSTELLO: Maybe so.

Page, let me ask you this, something that I thought the prosecution should have hammered home more. Detective Serino, for all that he said that was, quote, "good" about George Zimmerman, he wanted to charge George Zimmerman with manslaughter, and that, to me, was lost somehow yesterday.

PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it was completely lost, but it's not common for a lawyer to be able to ask a detective or a cop or a law enforcement officer his opinion of the case. In order words what did you think this individual should have been charged with. That's usually a question that they're not going to be able to ask.

What is important, though, is to get out from the officer the things he did in response to Zimmerman's interview. He continued to investigate the case, he challenged him on a few points to show that even this officer who seemed to be favorable to the defense is not 100 percent behind George Zimmerman.

COSTELLO: But Jason, if you're Trayvon Martin's family and you're sitting in there, you know, in the gallery and you're watching, what's going through your mind?

JASON JOHNSON, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, probably a lot of things. There were two key pieces of information yesterday. One, George Zimmerman coming out and saying, I hope this is videotaped. You don't say that if you think you did something wrong, but the other was this, you've got George Zimmerman saying when he hears the 911 tape, that's not me. When he hears the screaming, he says that's not me screaming for help. Well, if that's not you screaming and the screaming stopped once you shot that --

COSTELLO: Well, he didn't exactly -- he said that doesn't sound like me. But if I'm screaming in fear, which I don't do very often, I might sound very different to myself.


JOHNSON: And yet, right after that instance, I would think, if his narrative is, look, I was screaming and screaming and screaming the whole time because I was terrified, I thought that was something the prosecution should focus on. Because essentially it sounds like you shot somebody who's screaming for help. That would be the argument they should be trying to advance. So I thought there were bits of evidence for both sides.

COSTELLO: OK. So on that note, let's go back to yesterday and listen to Detective Serino's testimony about that from yesterday.


BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, STATE PROSECUTOR: Investigator Serino, in about 52 minutes when you're playing the recording, you specifically say, are you hearing yourself, and Mr. Zimmerman says, that doesn't even sound like me. Do you recall that?

SERINO: Yes, sir.


COSTELLO: The other discrepancy, I thought, Sunny, was George Zimmerman said when Trayvon Martin confronted him that night, he said, do you have a problem with me? And George Zimmerman said, no, I don't have a problem. Now I would wonder why George Zimmerman as the neighborhood watch captain would say, hey, I'm the neighborhood watch captain, what are you doing here, it's my job to check it out.

Why didn't George Zimmerman do that?

HOSTIN: Yes, I mean, that's something certainly that was addressed yesterday. And I think, Carol, you're dead on. I mean, that's the question everyone has. If you are the neighborhood watch guy and you -- and someone does say, you know, why are you following me, the response, you'd think, especially if you're armed, would be, listen, I'm the neighborhood watch captain. I've never seen you around this neighborhood. What are you doing around here?

But rather his response was, you know, I didn't want to confront him. I was fearful. I've got to tell you, I think practically the jury's always told not to leave your common sense at the door of the jury room, so there are going to be those jurors that say, fear doesn't seem appropriate if you're getting out of your car to follow someone and you are armed.

And so I think that's one of the points that the prosecution did score yesterday, because that was discussed between Detective Serino and George Zimmerman.

COSTELLO: Of course, this entire case against George Zimmerman focuses on events in a gated neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. Let me take you through that.


COSTELLO (voice-over): It was here at the Retreat at Twin Lakes just a few blocks from the home Trayvon Martin was staying, where Zimmerman first spotted Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with some snacks.

Just down the road, Zimmerman stopped at the neighborhood clubhouse and called the Sanford Police Department's non-emergency line. One block away, George Zimmerman got out of his truck. He says it was to find a street sign to give the dispatcher more information. This is where Zimmerman admitted to following Martin.

The physical altercation between Zimmerman and martin took place behind those homes. The shooting happened moments later.


COSTELLO: All right. So that's just the short synopsis of how it all supposed went down, at least according to George Zimmerman. Now you can see Mark O'Mara, he's getting ready and is going to continue -- he's going to continue questioning this detective, Page, right?

PATE: Right. I would expect so.

COSTELLO: So he's probably going to keep hammering home that George Zimmerman was truthful, he was cooperative with police, he granted every interview that requested, et cetera, et cetera.

PATE: Absolutely. And it's -- you're usually not supposed to do this. You can't ask one witness to comment on the credibility of another witness, but once you've done that as a defense lawyer the prosecution, what are they going to do, object , to you asking the law enforcement officer whether he thinks Zimmerman was truthful or not?

It's a difficult position to be in as a prosecutor, because you expect your cops to be on your team, and that's not what's been happening so far.

COSTELLO: In every episode of "Law and Order," the cops usually are on the side of the prosecutor, right?

PATE: In reality, does what happens. And because Cops are testifying to a jury and they are considered to be so credible, these are not normal witnesses. These are super witnesses. The jury is going to pay attention to these folks. They like to believe cops, they trust cops. So whoever the cops believe, which ever story they seem to support, that's going to be incredibly effective.

COSTELLO: OK. So we're wondering what's going on in court right now. Sunny Hostin is actually listening in, again she's in Sanford, what are they talking about, Sunny?

HOSTIN: Yes. What they are talking about is exactly what you guys are talk about in studio. Listen, the prosecution this morning is saying, you know what, the fact the detective or Investigator Serino talked about whether or not he believed George Zimmerman was truthful, was credible is off balance. That is not something that a witness should do. You never have a witness bolstering the credibility of another witness or giving an opinion as to the credibility of another witness, especially when it's a police officer.

Police officers usually just talk about the facts. They talk about the facts of the case, they certainly talk about the interviews, they talk about their perceptions, but they don't give opinions. So first thing this morning, the prosecution wants to address it, the prosecution says the defense was completely wrong by eliciting that testimony, and I think, Carol, that's why we were all so shocked, the legal nerds like me, I was just shocked that you have a detective on the witness stand saying, yes, you know what, I thought he was credible.

I thought he was believable. That struck a blow to this prosecution and the court is addressing that now.

COSTELLO: OK. So the court is addressing it. Jason and I are, we're court observer, we're normal people. We might be members of the jury, right, but once the cat's out of the bag, the cat's out of the bag.

JOHNSON: Right. You can't make people forget what they just saw. What I thought was really fascinating, is you know, the questions that Serino and the other officer asked during the taped investigation. They seemed less convinced a year ago than they do today. And as a juror, I would be wondering what happened between that interview and now that you're suddenly saying you think he's credible when you didn't seem to think he was credible 12 hours later.

COSTELLO: Sunny, you wanted to add something. About the jury. And how the jury -- like if the judge comes back to the jury and says, oh, just discount all that stuff that detective said, I mean, how do you make the jury actually do that?

HOSTIN: Yes. You know, I think you're absolutely right. You can't unring the bell. And it's something that surprised me yesterday when the note that the examination ended on was, yes, I believed he was truthful. This is something, I think, that the prosecution should have addressed yesterday, especially because they addressed opinion, improper opinion evidence, early on before the trial, in limine, before the trial. Perhaps it was a missed opportunity by the defense during this examination or perhaps it was really good lawyering by Mark O'Mara to kind of slip it in at the end of the day and end his examination on that note.

But I think you're right. Wow. Once something like that comes out, even if the judge takes, let's say, the extraordinary measure to tell the jury you are to disregard everything Detective Serino said other than what is in the audiotape recording or the videotape, and that's the kind of remedy I think would be appropriate in a case like this, you can't unring the bell. The jury's already heard he believed him.

COSTELLO: All right. As we await Detective Serino -- as we await Detective Serino to enter the courtroom and to take the stand, we're going to take a break. We'll be back with much more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: All right. You're looking at live pictures out of Sanford, Florida. Lawyers are still arguing whether to allow certain portions of detective Serino's testimony to remain on the record so the jury can consider them.

We do expect detective Serino to take the stand any time now. He's the detective that initially questioned George Zimmerman right after the incident happened with Trayvon Martin.

I want to talk a little about other witnesses who may take the stand today, one of them, a forensic scientist who conducted the autopsy on Trayvon Martin.

Some interesting things might come out about that autopsy and the number one thing was the size of Trayvon Martin, because George Zimmerman said he was afraid of Trayvon Martin. He looked big and menacing, right?

But actually he's a 17-year-old kid. He's 5'11", he weighs 158 pounds.

And then, of course, they'll move on to the cause of death. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the left-hand side of the chest. The bullet went through Trayvon Martin's heart and into his lung.

The other interesting thing about this autopsy is the lack of extensive injuries on Trayvon Martin's hands. He just had a little tiny abrasion on the ring finger of his left hand. Prosecutors are going to -- actually, let's ask Sunny Hostin.

Prosecutors are going to argue, how could he have been beating George Zimmerman within an inch of his life if he has a tiny abrasion on one knuckle on his left hand?

HOSTIN: Yes, I mean, that is really important evidence for the prosecution. Not only did he have one very small abrasion on his left hand, he was right handed.

And so, that's why I've been cautioning everyone that, you know, we are just in the middle of this case. We haven't heard from the medical examiner about stippling, which shows how close the gunshot was and how close the shooter was to the victim. We haven't heard about this abrasion, we haven't heard about whether or not Trayvon Martin died instantaneously. So, there is information that still needs to come in to support the prosecution's theory of the case as to whether or not this struggle happened the way George Zimmerman said it happened. Because, you know, in the CSI day we're in, jury wants to hear that, they want to hear the forensics. They want to hear how that evidence fits in with George Zimmerman's versions of events.

COSTELLO: The other thing George Zimmerman said, and you mention the chest wound and stippling. George Zimmerman said Trayvon Martin continued to talk after he was being shot.

Page, in your experience, is that possible for someone who's been shot through the heart and into the lung?

PATE: Not in that location. Certainly possible for someone to say something, get out a word or two, a moan, a cry, but not to state a full sentence like that, especially given the location of the wound. I think that's very surprising.

COSTELLO: All right. Let's dip back into the courtroom and listen to some of the lawyer's arguments.


RICHARD MANTEI, PROSECUTOR: My problem was, and I explained this to them, the witness wasn't available to reschedule. He was having to be at the airport in the morning to fly out and he was going to be, essentially, unavailable. So I proceed to at least preserve the direct testimony on videotape and a transcript, both of which have been provided to counsel.

The witness indicated there would be sporadic availability perhaps. But for video conference type testimony, he's traveling through the New Mexico desert on a hike and is occasionally reachable by cell phone, sometimes he can find enough service to call.

Yesterday, I managed to reach him via that method, and Mr. West informed me last night they were not going to be stipulating or agreeing the perpetuated testimony could or should be admitted and, therefore, they wanted the witness, if he was going to testify, to have to do so by video link or some other such.

He is not available to do that today for sure, because he is in transit across a couple different states and given the environment. He may, once he arrives tonight, be able to locate a place to be available tomorrow morning, even though he's a couple time zones away, but he can't guarantee me that. He believes that would be likely.

So I wanted to, number one, bring that to the court's attention. Number two, hear how the defense propose we handle that situation or issue if there's an objection to what's potentially playing that videotape and get that out of the way for now before we run get to that this afternoon when we call the witness.

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, SEMINOLE CO., FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT: Response? DON WEST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I'm not quite sure what the proposal is. I think it's to play the video of Mr. Pleasant's (ph) direct testimony and then not afford the defense an opportunity for cross-examination. I don't know if that's it.

That, of course, is completely unacceptable. If Mr. Mantei seeks to offer the witness's testimony through Skype, then he should offer the direct and then we can cross as appropriate. We also need an opportunity, though, to speak to Mr. Pleasant's prior to him taking the stand by whatever method that he does.

The motion to perpetuate, as the court's aware, is a last-minute motion during the course of the trial when the state realized Mr. Pleasants wasn't available. We don't fault them for the effort that they made. We didn't become aware of the significance, frankly, if any, of this witness's testimony as well as some time after the trial started when we began to realize why he was being offered in connection with Mr. Zimmerman's coursework. I think Mr. Pleasants may have taught an online course at the Seminole State College.

In any event, the issue last Tuesday was a scheduling complication. I don't dispute that the deposition was set some time after court on Tuesday and that at some point may have known that. There were no reminders or any conversation during the day, and then at the end of the day, when Mr. Manti had set up the video deposition with Mr. Pleasants here and contacted me by phone to say where are you, at that point we had already left the courthouse, but more importantly, Mr. Zimmerman had already been escorted off the property.

A motion to perpetuate testimony either requires the accused presence or a specific waiver. We are unable to accomplish either of those at that moment. I apologize to Mr. Manti, and here we are today. As the court's aware, we have been working full days and then some, and, of course, there's lots of work to do at night and on the weekends.

With this witness's unavailability, I think we should target when he is available, give us a chance to talk with him, and schedule his testimony by Skype if he's otherwise allowed to testify. We have no objection to that.

We have no objection that the court place him under oath as opposed to him being in the presence of a notary, wherever it is where he testifies. And we have no objection if at some point when he testifies, it's out of order.

NELSON: OK. Response?

MANTEI: I guess my response to that is twofold. We're discussing waiver. The state's position is we had the argument on Monday. The court was pretty clear in its ruling.

I think we were all pretty clear on the reason that we had to do it was because the witness was leaving before we would actually have the opportunity to start trial and present his testimony, and that's the reason it was set when it was. So, from the state's position, number one, for whatever reason the defendant and his counsel didn't show up, we think that should constitute a waiver of the right to presence. Simply not coming isn't really -- isn't really a reason to bar the direct testimony.

My proposal, my counterproposal, is that we play the direct, and there was one exhibit that he identifies during the direct and I intended to introduce, play the testimony of the direct, introduce it, and if counsel wishes to cross, then hopefully he would be available tomorrow, but I can't, obviously, I can't guarantee that, given the locations and places. And that's the reason we move to perpetuate in the first place.

And if they want to cross at that time, that's fine. I'm not attempting to deprive them of the opportunity to completely --

NELSON: Well, there's a lot of different scenarios that could play out here, and if we could find out -- if you could find out some time today what his availability would be tomorrow, let me table this argument until this afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Your Honor, thank you.

NELSON: Thank you.

Is there anything else? Let's get officer Serino in here, please.

And, Shelley, can you cue up to that last question and answer?


COSTELLO: All right, just to give you an idea what the argument was about, they are talking about George Zimmerman's professor, his criminal justice professor who was supposed to testify today. Well, apparently that witness got caught up somehow, couldn't appear in court, so they were arguing about whether to admit his testimony later and so forth.

As you can see, detective Serino has now entered the courtroom. He's about to take the stand and take the oath and continue his testimony about questioning George Zimmerman about the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Let's listen.


NELSON: One question and answer, yes.


COSTELLO: All right, we'll have a detective to get settled and take the oath. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: All right. The judge is now talking to the jury. As you know, the jury is sequestered, so the judge is asking the jury if they watched any television, if they talked to anyone about the case, if they used electronic devices. I assume the jury is saying no to each and every question.

Detective Chris Serino is set to take the stand any moment. He is the lead investigator or was the lead investigator in the case against George Zimmerman. He initially wanted to file manslaughter charges against Zimmerman, but he was overruled by a special prosecutor who filed murder charges against Zimmerman.

Let's go back to the courtroom and listen.


NELSON: My instruction to you is that is an improper comment by a witness as to the truth and voracity of another witness and you are to disregard the question and the answer. Thank you very much.

Mr. O'Mara, you may proceed.

O'MARA: Good morning, Officer. How are you?

SERINO: Good morning, sir. Fine, thank you.

O'MARA: When we -- we're talking yesterday before break, we were talking about the -- we agreed to use the term challenge interview, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: We're talking about the context of that challenge interview, right?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Some of what you challenged him with in the context of that interview.

I want to back up a little bit. I mentioned yesterday as an example that one technique that law enforcement officers are trained to use is what I call a command voice. Of course, you're familiar with that, right?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: That's when you basically had to take control of a situation and you say it in a stern voice, almost a yelling voice, because what you want to do is let everyone know you're the person in charge, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: In that context, you're not actually yelling at the person like you're angry with them, are you? SERINO: No.