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Martin was leaning over Zimmerman when shot, expert says

Martin was leaning over Zimmerman when shot, expert says
Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a forensic pathologist and gunshot wound expert, testifies in George Zimmerman’s trial.
(Joe Burbank, Pool Photo)

Trayvon Martin was leaning over George Zimmerman when the neighborhood watch volunteer fired the fatal shot into the unarmed teenager’s chest, a forensic pathologist said Tuesday in testimony that supports Zimmerman’s account of the confrontation.

Zimmerman, 29, on trial on a charge of second-degree murder, maintains that he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense after Martin attacked him on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.

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Dr. Vincent Di Maio, an expert testifying for the defense, said evidence showed the muzzle of Zimmerman’s gun was touching the teen’s clothing, which was 2 to 4 inches away from Martin’s chest. Di Maio said he based his conclusions on analysis of the clothing and wound.

He looked at debris from the gunshot and “powder tattoo marks” surrounding the wound, which give the appearance of a reddish, circular rash on the skin. Such marks, he said, would not be present if the muzzle had been held against Martin’s skin.

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“So … the muzzle of the gun was against the clothing. But the clothing itself had to be 2 to 4 inches away from the body at the time Mr. Martin was shot,” he said. “This is consistent with Mr. Zimmerman’s account — that Mr. Martin was over him, leaning forward at the time he was shot.”

On the stand for about 3 1/2 hours, Di Maio said during cross-examination by prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda that he could only testify about the forensic issues involving the gun shot. The pathologist said he could not speak to how the fight began or who threw the first punch. Nor, he said, could he testify about the exact positions of the combatants when the shot was fired.

The testimony came on the 11th day of the trial. Attorney Mark O’Mara said in court that he hoped to complete the defense case Wednesday, meaning the six-woman jury could begin deliberations by the end of the week.

Di Maio, a noted expert who has testified in a variety of forums including the Phil Spector murder trial in Los Angeles, was an important witness for the defense because he gives its explanation credibility. He said he had examined photographs and the autopsy and toxicology reports and concluded that the evidence was consistent with Zimmerman’s statements to authorities that Martin was straddling him when Zimmerman fired his gun with his right hand. The path of the bullet ran from Martin’s left side through part of his heart and into a portion of the right lung, Di Maio testified.

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“The medical evidence ... is consistent with his statement,” Di Maio said of Zimmerman’s version of events.

But under cross-examination, Di Maio said it was possible that Martin could have been pulling away when Zimmerman fired.

Di Maio also said that there was “definite evidence” of six impacts that caused wounds to Zimmerman’s nose, the back of his head and his forehead. Those injuries were also consistent with Zimmerman’s account, Di Maio said, though he agreed with the prosecution that the wounds were not life-threatening.

Di Maio’s testimony on how long Martin lived after being shot differed from the testimony of an expert witness for the prosecution. Di Maio said Martin remained alive from one to three minutes. The state’s forensic expert, Dr. Shiping Bao, originally gave a similar estimate but changed his testimony last week, saying that Martin could have been alive for up to 10 minutes.

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Earlier, Judge Debra S. Nelson held an evidentiary hearing on whether to admit a defense animation of the confrontation. The prosecution objects, saying the animation isn’t accurate.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

tina.susman@latimes.com


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