A judge on Tuesday ordered jurors in the murder trial of Florida volunteer watchman George Zimmerman to ignore part of testimony by a police detective who said he believed Zimmerman told the truth in his account of killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in self defense.
That part of lead investigator Chris Serino's testimony in a central Florida court on Monday had weighed in favor of Zimmerman, 29, who is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Martin on Feb. 26 last year.
The jury heard it, then was told by the judge a day later to ignore it in one of the pitfalls of a trial: improper evidence sometimes falls on the jury's ears.
Judge Debra Nelson said Serino expressed that opinion in response to an improper question during Monday's testimony in Seminole County criminal court when Serino was describing his questioning of Zimmerman three days after the shooting at a gated community in the town of Sanford.
Serino said he falsely told Zimmerman the entire encounter had been videotaped in a bluff to see if he would stick to his story of shooting in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Zimmerman seemed relieved, Serino said, leading him to conclude the defendant was either telling the truth or was a pathological liar.
"Do you think he was telling the truth?" asked one of Zimmerman's lawyers, Mark O'Mara.
"Yes," Serino replied.
The judge said witnesses were not supposed to comment on the credibility of other witnesses or defendants because it was the jury's job to decide who to believe. She ordered the six women jury to ignore that exchange.
Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and could face life in prison if convicted. He says he killed Martin, 17, in self-defense after Martin pounded his head onto a sidewalk.
The racially charged case captivated much of the United States in 2012. Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, believing his story of self-defense, sparking protests around the country. A special prosecutor later brought the murder charge.
Martin was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the housing development's homeowners. He was walking back to the home in the rain after buying snacks at a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him and called police, saying Martin looked suspicious. There was a confrontation between the men in which Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart with a handgun he was licensed to carry.
Prosecutors claim Zimmerman profiled Martin and chased after him vigilante-style rather than waiting for police to arrive.
In order to win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors would have to convince the jury that Zimmerman acted with "ill will" or "hatred" and "an indifference to human life."
In questioning Serino on Tuesday, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked about vulgar language Zimmerman used to describe Martin during his call to police just before the fatal scuffle.
"That is ill will and spite," Serino said.
Asked whether Zimmerman had profiled Martin when he repeatedly referred to him as "the suspect," Serino replied, "It could be construed as such."
Prosecution and defense lawyers took multiple turns questioning Serino, attempting to extract the most favorable responses for their respective cases.
Prosecutors were still presenting their case on Tuesday. The trial was scheduled to run through Wednesday and take a break on Thursday for the U.S. Independence Day holiday. Nelson said court would resume on Friday.
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