To say that Don West is less than brilliant would be a mistake. He's an extremely intelligent defense attorney and is highly regarded in the Central Florida area, but yesterday's opening statement was not one of his best days to plenty of people. I'll be the first one to admit, Larry the Cable Guy he's not; so he might be wise to keep his jokes in the office and not bring them into a courtroom setting, but I did understand the point he was making. No adult with a driver's license living in Seminole County was ever expected to be free from all knowledge of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. And he was right. No, the joke didn't work; however, the point of opening statements is to give the jury a synopsis of the trial each side is about to present. Was West's opening statement a synopsis? Not in the sense that it's supposed to be a condensed statement. No, not by any means. Altogether, it lasted around two-and-a-half hours. But was it as bad as all that? I don't think so. His job was to get the Defense message across, and while there may have been minor lags in some of the juror's attention, I feel he did do that. He set out what he intended to do. Whether the jury absorbed it all remains to be seen, because it was a lot of information, but remember the old saying -- you heard it here first! And I think that was the idea. You heard it from him first.
John Guy is a veteran Assistant State Attorney with the Fourth Judicial Circuit. He's been at it twenty years, and his experience showed up in court during his opening statement just before West's. He came across like a seasoned professional. Which is exactly what he is. He was clear and concise, and his message got completely across to the ten jurors who were awestruck by what he had to say. While I did see fidgeting during West's performance. the jury was glued to Guy. If you saw the jury stare at him once, you saw the jury stare at him the same way twenty minutes later. In other words, they could have been straight from a scene from The Day The Earth Stood Still -- totally riveted! The man is in a class by himself.
I would describe today's action in the courtroom as extremely interesting. There was some incredible lawyerin' goin' down in there. I don't want to go on and on about the day, and I won't, because you could simply read about it in your newspaper or online. Instead, I will offer one part of the day that really stood out to me, and it's one that I can explain in a manner you should completely understand.
When State witness Selene Bahador took the stand, it pitted one veteran against another in a courtroom drama starring Bernie de la Rionda and Mark O'Mara. Bahador used to reside at 2841 Retreat View Circle inside the Retreat at Twin Lakes community. To get a good picture in your head, think about the "T" where George Zimmerman maintains he was sucker punched and beaten to within an inch of his life. Looking at the "T" from overhead, she lived on the right side, three doors down. That's on the east side. Trayvon's body was just west of the sidewalk heading south, virtually outside her back door.
Why was it so crucial for O'Mara to discredit this witness on his cross examination? Because she told de la Rionda she saw two people flailing their arms and moving from left to right along the sidewalk. On cross examination, O'Mara got her to admit that, in her interviews and depositions, she never mentioned anything about running left to right. All she said was moving. Liar, liar, right?
She told O'Mara she had no interest in being a star, but he told her about the interview she had with Matt Gutman from ABC News. She countered that it never aired. He pressed on. He asked her if she ever "Liked" the Justice for Trayvon Facebook page. She admitted that she had. He asked her if she ever signed a petition titled Prosecute the Killer of Our Son Trayvon Martin at change.org. Yes, she said, she did do that.
While some people may think that makes her a bad witness, guess again. The State has theirs and the Defense has theirs. Robert Zimmerman and the entire Zimmerman family are much more slanted, as are Trayvon's parents, yet they will be allowed to testify. They are family, you might say. Yes, but they are entitled to their own opinions, and that's what this comes down to. Opinions do not disqualify you from testifying. When you take that oath, you are expected to tell the truth. Does it mean everyone does? Hell no! But it doesn't mean you cannot have an opinion. If Trayvon had survived, you'd better bet his opinion of the shooting would be far apart from Zimmerman's. Both would tell their stories and you can choose which one you want to believe, but it won't matter. The jury is all that counts.
As for running from left to right, why is it so important to O'Mara? Because it would mean that the fighting started farther south; let's say, closer to Trayvon's house, and it would mean the fight didn't start at the "T" intersection. Unless the Defendant was running back to his truck from the south side and they caught up there.
But that's not one of his stories. And on redirect, de la Rionda asked her if any one of the investigators had asked her which direction the movement came from. She said no. As a matter of fact, none of the transcripts made mention of that question. No one asked her. That includes the Defense deposition of Ms. Bahador. Mark O'Mara never asked her the direction. Neither did Don West. What was that old saying? You'll never know if you never ask. Or something like that.
Dave Knechel is a credentialed journalist reporting from inside the courtroom at the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman trial. You can follow his daily reports on his Facebook page.