Jury selection in the George Zimmerman trial started this week in Sanford, Fla., without any resolution to the so-called “Frye hearing” to determine whether certain scientific evidence is admissible.
In the Zimmerman case, the evidence in question is the allegedly scientific audio analysis of just who was desperately screaming help for 40 seconds before a single gunshot ended the screaming – Zimmerman, the shooter, or Trayvon Martin, the young man who was shot.
The state of Florida wants its own audio experts to testify. Zimmerman’s attorneys think the science is very nearly bogus and thus inadmissible, but both sides have to know that it was Zimmerman who was doing the screaming.
By insisting on expert testimony, the prosecutors are doing what defense attorneys do when they have a weak case, namely muddying the waters and hoping to plant the seed of reasonable doubt.
For a defense attorney this is standard practice. For a prosecutor, it is unethical, perhaps even criminal. All evidence points to Zimmerman as the man who screamed “help” or “help me” at least 14 times as recorded on one of the 9-1-1 calls.
The best witness is George Zimmerman himself. On the night of the shooting, he told the Sanford police, “As I looked and tried to find my phone to dial 9-1-1 the suspect punched me in the face. I fell backward onto my back. The suspect [Martin] got on top of me.”
“I yelled ‘Help’ several times. The suspect told me, ‘Shut the f— up.’ As I tried to sit upright, the suspect grabbed my head and slammed it into the concrete sidewalk several times. I continued to yell, ‘Help.’”
“Each time I attempted to sit up, the suspect slammed my head into the sidewalk. My head felt like it was going to explode. I tried to slide out from under the suspect and continue to yell, ‘Help.’”
At the time he wrote this, Zimmerman had no way of knowing that a 9-1-1 call would record his screams exactly as he described them. The screams ended abruptly with a gunshot.
And then there were the witnesses. Zimmerman made eye contact with two of them while he was being beaten and while he was yelling for help.
Witness No. 6 told the Sanford PD that he saw a “black man in a black hoodie on top of either a white guy … or an Hispanic guy in a red sweater on the ground yelling out help.”
According to No. 6, the black man on top was “throwing down blows on the guy MMA [mixed martial arts] style.”
Witness No. 13 waited until the fighting ended, went outside, and saw Zimmerman walking towards him. “Am I bleeding?” Zimmerman asked. Witness No. 13 answered affirmatively. He also noticed “blood on the back of his head” and took a picture of it.
Sanford PD’s lead investigator, Chris Serino, was hesitant to press charges against Zimmerman, and one reason why he made clear in a report two weeks after the shooting: “Zimmerman can be heard in the background frantically yelling for help.”
Three weeks after the February 2012 shooting, the Orlando Sentinel quoted Serino on whose screams the 9-1-1 call recorded.
“It was Zimmerman, Serino said. He said he is certain of that because he played a recording of that voice for Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, and the Miami man said the voice was not his son’s.”
Serino’s comments have added weight in that he was openly sympathetic to Martin’s plight and critical of Zimmerman. Tracy Martin would later deny that he ever said the screams were not his son’s, but three other officers heard him say that and swore to the same in depositions.
The Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, also insisted the screams were Martin’s. “Logically, it makes sense that Trayvon Martin was the voice you heard crying on that tape,” Crump insisted at a press conference weeks after the shooting.
As to why those screams should be Martin’s, Crump would have been better off saying nothing. Instead, he volunteered, in his reliably mangled syntax, “You can conclude who is the person crying out for help presumably when they see a gun.”
Crump wanted the media to believe that Zimmerman chased Martin down, held him at gunpoint, caused him to wail like a banshee for 40 seconds at the sight of the gun, and then shot him down in cold blood knowing the police – whom he himself had summoned – were minutes away.
That sounded good to the media. It must have sounded good to the prosecution as well. They had nothing else to go on.
The Frye hearing will resume after the jury is selected.