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Zimmerman hearing heats up as lawyers spar

Joe Burbank / Getty Images file

George Zimmerman at a pretrial hearing April 30.


A pre-trial hearing in the George Zimmerman case got heated Thursday as defense lawyers charged that Florida prosecutors have withheld photos of guns taken from Trayvon Martin’s phone.

"We caught you hiding the information and confronted you about it and you never gave it to us," Zimmerman attorney Don West, testifying on the witness stand, told Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda.

De la Rionda had just laced into West, asking why a report from a defense expert was delayed. “Should we be asking for sanctions for you all?” he demanded.

The defense team wants the court to punish the State Attorney’s Office, but the judge put the matter on hold until after Zimmerman is tried for second-degree murder in the Feb. 2012 shooting death of Martin in Sanford, Fla., a suburb of Orlando.

Earlier, Zimmerman’s team questioned the state office’s information technology officer, Ben Kruidbos, who came forward with his concern that prosecutors did not turn over everything from the 17-year-old’s cellphone – including pictures of a hand holding a gun and a gun on a bed.

He said he found the photos after using software to analyze the raw data from the phone, put it all in a report and turned it over to de la Rionda – who, he said, gave him mixed signals about whether he intended to pass it onto the Zimmerman’s lawyers.

Kruidbos said that in May he took his concerns to an ex-prosecutor, Wesley White, who contacted the defense.

“I think all of the information being shared in the process is important to make sure it’s a fair trial,” Kruidbos testified.

West testified that he received the numerical raw data from the phone in February but did not get Kruidbos’ more useful analysis until a few days ago.

“We still don’t know completely what is on the phone,” West said, complaining that the defense wasted time and money trying to perform its own analysis.

The questioning was testy at times: At one point, de la Rionda grilled White, his former colleague, about whether he had an ax to grind and had contacted the defense out of revenge.

“Do you have problems remembering things or do you have a vivid recollection of things?” de la Rionda asked.

“I remember a lot of things, sir. I remember those things that I believe I need to remember ... After 33 years you learn to, sort of, box off things that need to be remembered and others that you can let go,” White replied.

“Unpleasant things you kind of want to put to the side,” de la Rionda pressed.

“Not necessarily unpleasant things, sir. I remember you...” White said to laughter.

The daylong hearing focused on two other pre-trial matters:

  • Judge Debra Nelson rejected a defense request to shield the identities of as many as seven witnesses, including one who saw the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin. Defense lawyer Mark O’Mara cited  “personal concerns for their safety” and suggested they testify behind a screen, in view of jurors but not of reporters. The prosecution and a media representative objected.
  • The court also began hearing testimony about voice-comparison technology that experts have used to analyze a 911 call from the night of the shooting. Screams and a gunshot can be heard on a recording of the call, which was played in court while Zimmerman listened in court.

The defense called FBI scientist Hirotaka Nakasone, who detailed the limitations and pitfalls of the technology, including whether experts could match screams to someone’s spoken voice.

“I doubt that very much,” he said.

Nakasone submitted a report last year that concluded the quality and length of the sound on the tape was insufficient to determine who was screaming. One of the prosecution’s experts has said the screams came from Martin.

Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty, is a former neighborhood watch volunteer. He has claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Jury selection begins Monday.

Additional reporting by Tracy Connor and Erin McClam

Editor’s Note: Zimmerman has sued NBCUniversal for defamation in civil court, and the company has strongly denied his allegations.