Joe Burbank Orlando Sentinel

George Zimmerman, right, looks up at a projection screen as Don West, center, one of his lawyers, talks to an assistant at Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial Tuesday in Sanford, Fla.

Defense expert says Martin was on top

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013 - 8:02 am

SANFORD, Fla. – With the defense a day away from wrapping up its case, a widely known expert in forensic pathology, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, testified Tuesday that Trayvon Martin was on top of and leaning over George Zimmerman when Zimmerman fired his gun last year.

A witness for the defense, Di Maio said the gun barrel rested against Martin's sweatshirt, which hung two to four inches away from Martin's chest. The bullet, he said, entered his heart from the front, in a left to right direction, and plunged into one of his lungs.

"This is consistent with Mr. Zimmerman's account," said Di Maio, the retired longtime chief medical examiner for Bexar County, Texas, whose county seat is San Antonio. "That Martin was over him, leaning forward, at the time that he was shot."

Di Maio also said it was possible for Martin to have moved or talked for at least 10 to 15 seconds after he was shot because of the reservoir of oxygen in the brain. Defense lawyers hoped this might explain why Martin was not found on his back with his arms outstretched, as Zimmerman has described, but face down with his arms under him.

Di Maio will be one of the defense's final witnesses. By day's end, Mark O'Mara, one of Zimmerman's lawyers, said he would be finished by today.

At this juncture, Zimmerman appears unlikely to testify, a sign of confidence on the part of the defense.

On Tuesday, Di Maio, who wrote a book on gunshot wounds, walked the jury through the science of the bullet's trajectory and chronicled the injuries of both Martin and Zimmerman.

Under cross-examination, Di Maio said it was possible that Martin could have been trying to get off Zimmerman, even if he was leaning. The doctor also told the jury that he had been paid $2,400 so far by the defense to testify at the trial, adding, "This is not exactly a complicated case forensically."

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, on Feb. 26, 2012.

He told the police that he shot Martin in self-defense after the teenager knocked him to the ground, punched him in the nose, straddled him on the ground and repeatedly slammed his head into pavement.

The prosecution maintains that Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watch coordinator, pursued Martin and instigated the confrontation that ended in Martin's death.

For the defense, the purpose of Di Maio's testimony was to document the injuries and the path of the bullet to show that they were consistent with Zimmerman's account of the struggle. The prosecution contends that Zimmerman's injuries were relatively minor, defying his claim that his head had struck concrete again and again.

On Tuesday, the chief prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, suggested to Di Maio that perhaps a tree branch or rolling on pavement could have caused the cuts and lumps to his head. Yes, he replied, but "you'd have to have a tree branch there and I didn't see any," he said.

Di Maio testified that Zimmerman suffered at least six identifiable injuries to his face and head. These included two separate swollen spots on his head, along with rows of red spots, that were consistent with the assault that Zimmerman had described. A nose injury – most likely a broken nose that was pushed back in place – and markings on his forehead were consistent with punches, he added.

Asked whether the lack of bruising on Martin's knuckles was significant, Di Maio said knuckles can bruise or not bruise depending on what they hit.

Di Maio also said bruising can sometimes be found inside the hand, but the doctor who performed the autopsy did not check. The prosecution contends that the near lack of wounds on Martin's hands shows he did not punch Zimmerman repeatedly.

Di Maio also was critical of crime scene and evidence technicians. Martin's wet clothing was sealed in plastic, which led to the accumulation of mold and bacteria. This can degrade DNA, he said. The cuffs and sleeves of Martin's sweatshirt did not contain Zimmerman's DNA, despite the struggle.

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