Medical examiner calls Zimmerman’s injuries ‘very insignificant’

Jacksonville medical examiner Valerie Rao is quizzed by defense attorney Mark O'Mara as she testifies for the state in the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Jacksonville medical examiner Valerie Rao is quizzed by defense attorney Mark O’Mara as she testifies for the state in the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
(Joe Burbank/ Orlando Sentinel - Pool / Getty Images)
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A medical examiner who looked at the photographs and records of George Zimmerman said the injuries to the neighborhood watch volunteer were insignificant, as the prosecution and defense in the murder trial argued about whether Zimmerman embellished his accounts of his confrontation with an unarmed Trayvon Martin.

There was a testy bickering over details as the trial on Tuesday moved through the seventh day of the prosecution putting on its case against Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder.

Zimmerman, 29, has said in written and recorded statements with police that he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense on Feb. 26, 2012, during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.


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But Zimmerman has given several versions of the events of that night and the prosecution has emphasized the inconsistencies to the six-person jury in the hope of undermining Zimmerman’s credibility.

In a move seen as a minor victory for the prosecution, Judge Debra S. Nelson earlier in the day granted a prosecution request to strike one police officer’s statement that characterized Zimmerman’s account as truthful on the grounds that a witness should not be making such a comment about another witness or defendant.

Perhaps the biggest contradiction is Zimmerman’s claim that he was repeatedly beaten by Martin. Zimmerman has said his head was struck against the concrete sidewalk by Martin who rained a series of blows — more than two dozen in one account — on the volunteer.

Photographs show that Zimmerman had a bloody nose and two lacerations to the back of his head — wounds that the prosecution has insisted are too minor to have come from a severe attack by Martin.

Dr. Valerie Rao, the Jacksonville, Fla., medical examiner for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, testified that she reviewed Zimmerman’s photographs and medical records. She was not involved in the autopsy of Martin.


The wounds displayed on Zimmerman’s head and face were “consistent with one strike, two injuries at one time,” she testified. “The injuries were not life-threatening,” she said, adding they were “very insignificant.”

The testimony supported the prosecution’s contention of the minor nature of Zimmerman’s injuries. But on cross-examination by defense attorney Mark O’Mara, the medical examiner allowed how different scenarios could lead to more than one strike.

The attorney and doctor sparred over different possible events, with O’Mara seeking to expand the number of blows and the doctor trying to keep them to no more than three. Rao refused to commit to a specific number of the maximum number of blows that would be consistent with the injuries on Zimmerman, but agreed with scenarios that could be more than half a dozen.

“You understand that the extent of injuries is not significant in this case,” O’Mara said toward the end of his cross-examination. The defense’s argument is based on Zimmerman feeling afraid and therefore shot Martin in self-defense.

“The next injury he [Zimmerman] would have sustained,” O’Mara asked, “could that have been life threatening?”

Rao said she didn’t understand the question and the prosecution objected to O’Mara’s implication. The objection was sustained.


Earlier, the prosecution continued to pick at testimony by one of its police witnesses and got a ruling to strike a characterization of Zimmerman as credible in statements to authorities. Christopher F. Serino, the lead police investigator, was back on the stand after he said on Monday that Zimmerman’s recorded and written statements to police were generally truthful despite some inconsistencies — testimony seen as helping the defense.

But prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda on Tuesday argued that the characterization was improper because a witness isn’t allowed to give an opinion on the credibility of the defendant. Defense attorney O’Mara countered that Serino’s opinion should be allowed because he was a police officer investigating whether Zimmerman was being truthful. Judge Nelson told jurors to ignore Serino’s answer. “This is an improper comment,” she said.

Still, in cross-examination, Serino again said there were no significant inconsistencies among Zimmerman’s statements to police. “Nothing major” changed in the telling and retelling, Serino said.

De la Rionda also questioned Serino about whether Zimmerman displayed any ill will or spite, categories needed to win a conviction of second-degree murder. The prosecutor asked of Zimmerman’s profane comments about punks who “always get away,” showed spite. “That is ill-will and spite,” Serino replied.

On Tuesday, jurors also heard several more conflicting versions of the events. Mark Osterman, a good friend of Zimmerman and the author of a book on the case, said that Zimmerman told him that Martin had grabbed his gun during their struggle, but that Zimmerman was able to pull it away. That account is different from what Zimmerman told investigators in multiple interviews.

Jurors also got to watch part of a television interview Zimmerman gave to Fox News host Sean Hannity in July 2012. In the interview, Zimmerman said he didn’t pursue Martin; “I meant that I was going in the same direction as him,” Zimmerman said.


Zimmerman also told Hannity that he felt Martin reach for his gun: “It wasn’t my gun, it wasn’t his gun. It was the gun,” he said.


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