Forensic expert backs Zimmerman beating claims

ebenn@MiamiHerald.comJuly 10, 2013 

APTOPIX Neighborhood Watch

George Zimmerman appears before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. Friday, April 20, 2012, during a bond hearing in Sanford, Fla. Lester says Zimmerman can be released on $150,000 bail as he awaits trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin. He claims self-defense. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool)

GARY W. GREEN — AP

SANFORD -- Medical evidence supports George Zimmerman's claims he was beaten and on the bottom of a scrum with Trayvon Martin when he fatally shot the Miami Gardens teen, a forensic-pathology expert testified Tuesday.

"This is consistent with Mr. Zimmerman's account that Mr. Martin was over him, leaning forward at the time he was shot," defense witness Dr. Vincent Di Maio said in Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

Prosecutors accuse Zimmerman, 29, of profiling, pursuing and slaying Trayvon, 17, in a Sanford gated community Feb 26, 2012. Zimmerman, a former Neighborhood Watch coordinator, maintains he shot the unarmed teen in self-defense after Trayvon punched him to the ground and bashed his head against a sidewalk. A 44-day gap between Trayvon's killing and Zimmerman's arrest led to march

es and protests throughout Florida and elsewhere in the country.

Di Maio, a former longtime San Antonio chief medical examiner and author of a textbook called "Gunshot Wounds," answered lawyers' questions Tuesday in a commanding voice.

The doctor's findings, based on a review of Trayvon's autopsy report, photographs and other evidence in the case, contradicted several witnesses who testified for the state, which rested its case last week. He also pointed out what he said were forensic flaws in the initial investigation.

Di Maio said he concluded:

• DNA and other evidence from Trayvon's hooded sweatshirt may have been compromised because crime-scene technicians improperly stored Trayvon's wet clothes in plastic bags. Wet evidence should be allowed to dry out and be packaged in paper bags that allow it to "breathe," Di Maio said.

• Gunpowder markings on Trayvon's body and sweatshirt indicated the muzzle of Zimmerman's gun was touching the sweatshirt and was 2 to 4 inches from Trayvon's chest when Zimmerman pulled the trigger.

Dr. Shiping Bao, the associate medical examiner who conducted Trayvon's autopsy, testified for the state last week that the gun could have been anywhere from a half inch to 4 feet from Trayvon; prosecutor John Guy said in his opening argument that Zimmerman had pressed his gun into Trayvon's chest.

"This is basic, you know, 101," Di Maio said of the gunshot evidence.

• Trayvon would have been able to talk and move for a minimum of 10 to 15 seconds after being shot. Zimmerman told investigators Trayvon said something like "you got it" or "you got me" immediately after he was shot.

"If I reached over and ripped out your heart, you could stand there and talk to me for 10 to 15 seconds," Di Maio explained to defense attorney Don West.

Zimmerman also has said he spread Trayvon's arms apart after the shooting, and investigators found Trayvon with his arms tucked under his body. Bao testified he thought it would be unlikely Trayvon could have moved his arms after the shooting.

• Trayvon likely was dead within one to three minutes of the shooting. Bao said Trayvon could have been alive and in pain for up to 10 minutes.

• Zimmerman's injuries to the back of his head were likely from two impacts, not one as Bao had testified. Another state witness, Dr. Valerie Rao, also had given a lower estimate than Di Maio of the number of times she believed Zimmerman was struck.

"He's obviously been punched in the nose and hit in the forehead," Di Maio said of photographs of Zimmerman taken at the scene. He said first-responders should have given more attention to Zimmerman's head injuries.

"Police in this case should have taken Mr. Zimmerman to the hospital, not the police station," Di Maio said. "He had head injuries -- and that means you take him to the hospital."

• Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman when Zimmerman fired his weapon. Di Maio said gunshot markings were consistent with Trayvon being on top, his sweatshirt hanging down slightly from the pull of gravity and the can of Arizona fruit drink he had in his sweatshirt pouch. A state eyewitness, Jayne Surdyka, had testified she believed she saw Zimmerman on top of Trayvon.

"No, sir, that's not possible," Di Maio said when asked about Surdyka's account.

Di Maio acknowledged under cross-examination that the defense is paying him $400 an hour for his work on the case, a total of $2,400. "This is not exactly a complicated case, forensically," he said.

He did not testify about the trace amounts of marijuana metabolites Trayvon had in his system the night he was killed. Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled Monday defense attorneys could introduce as evidence a toxicology report on Trayvon, but they did not do so Tuesday. It's unclear if they plan to call a witness who could testify to the toxicology report.

In other testimony Tuesday, jurors heard from Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte, who said he and the mayor played 911 recordings from the case to Trayvon's family "as a courtesy," outside the presence of police.

A Zimmerman neighbor, Eloise Dilligard, testified via Internet video that she recognized the screams on a 911 call as coming from Zimmerman. She was the eighth defense witness to say she thought the chilling cries belonged to Zimmerman. Three people -- Trayvon's mother, father and brother -- have testified they thought they heard Trayvon screaming for help.

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara told Nelson he planned to rest the defense's case after a few final witnesses Wednesday. The state would then have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses.

Late Tuesday, after Nelson dismissed jurors for the day, she heard arguments but reserved ruling on a defense request to allow into evidence a computer-animated re-creation of what the deadly fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon may have looked like.

Crime-scene animator Daniel Schumaker testified about his credentials and methodology in an admissibility hearing outside the presence of jurors. He said he used a combination of motion-capture suits, lasers, drone cameras and other technology to create his re-enactment. Prosecutors argued to keep the animation out of evidence, saying it did not accurately depict what happened.

David Ovalle, Miami Herald staff writer contributed to this report.

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