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George Zimmerman Trial: Officer Chris Serino at odds with prosecution

12:41 PM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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Sanford Police Officer Chris Serino.

 

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  • SANFORD, Florida (USA TODAY) -- The judge in George Zimmerman's murder trial agreed Tuesday to strike from the record the lead investigator's testimony that he found defendant George Zimmerman's account of his fight with Trayvon credible.

    Citing case law, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said it was harmful for a witness -- especially a police officer -- to tell the jury that he thought Zimmerman was telling the truth.

    Judge Debra Nelson agreed that the jury should decide whether Zimmerman is telling the truth, and that a police officer's testimony about truthfulness would be given improper weight by the jury. She told jurors to disregard the statement Detective Chris Serino made Monday.

    Serino, who continued testifying Tuesday, had testified that he believed the defendant's account that race was not a factor in the killing.

    Serino said Zimmerman, 29, told him shortly after the shooting that he wasn't following Trayvon, 17, because he was black. Serino later recommended Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter; prosecutors charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.

    The shooting and speculation that Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, profiled, followed and murdered Trayvon sparked racial controversy and protests across the nation last year. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claims that he acted in self-defense when Trayvon jumped him in a gated residential community on Feb. 26, 2012.

    Serino said there were no major inconsistencies in Zimmerman's comments to police and that Zimmerman came off as believable, even when pressured by officers. "I think he was being straightforward," Serino said. "I kept an open mind that he (Zimmerman) could be a victim."

    The investigator also said witnesses the night of the shooting didn't conflict with Zimmerman's version of events and that he had information from interviews and evidence to support the self-defense claims.

    Also Monday, the first police officer to interview Zimmerman after the shooting testified that Zimmerman appeared "shocked" to learn the teen was dead. Officer Doris Singleton told the jury that the defendant didn't appear angry or spiteful to Trayvon.

    Singleton's testimony came as a video of her interrogation of the defendant was played to jurors, some of whom took copious notes. The video shows Singleton asking Zimmerman to explain what happened that night.

    Zimmerman says his neighborhood was dealing with an increase in burglaries, and he started a neighborhood watch program. He says he had called the police about suspicious people, but often they weren't stopped.

    "These guys always get away," Zimmerman says on the recording.

    Zimmerman says the encounter began when, while in his car, he saw Trayvon walking in the neighborhood in the rain. Zimmerman says he called police and pulled over before Trayvon started circling his car, then walked off.

    Zimmerman says he got out of his car to find a street sign and to see where Trayvon was going. Zimmerman says he was walking back to his car when Trayvon, probably hiding in the bushes, came out and said, "You got a problem, homie?"

    Trayvon then punched Zimmerman and was banging his head into the concrete, Zimmerman says. Within seconds, Trayvon's hand was moving down his body toward Zimmerman's gun, Zimmerman says. Fearing for his life, he says, he shot the teen.

    In the interview, Zimmerman tells Singleton that Trayvon said, "You got me," then "Owww" as Zimmerman held him down.

    Singleton, following a prosecution request, read from a written statement Zimmerman gave to police. De la Rionda pointed out to jurors that Zimmerman repeatedly refers to Trayvon as "the suspect" in the statement Zimmerman signed.

    Singleton said she didn't ask Zimmerman to use that language and that officers routinely refer to suspected criminals as "the suspect." Singleton said Zimmerman referred to Trayvon as "the suspect" only in written statements and not in conversations with officers.

    The issue is relevant because prosecutors may argue that Zimmerman was a "wannabe cop" who liked to use police language. State attorneys had to argue before Circuit Judge Debra to keep the option of using the term "wannabe cop" at trial.

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