SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) – George Zimmerman’s account of his fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin is consistent with the forensic evidence in the highly publicized case, an expert on gunshot wounds said on Tuesday.
Dr. Vincent DiMaio, a forensic pathologist testifying for the defense at Zimmerman’s murder trial, said the trajectory of the bullet that pierced Martin’s chest and gun powder on his body supported Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was on top of him when he fired him 9mm semiautomatic.
“It’s consistent with somebody leaning over the person doing the shooting,” said DiMaio, a former chief medical examiner in Texas.
He also testified that Martin could have been conscious and able to move for five to 10 seconds after he was shot through the heart, based on the typical reserve oxygen in the brain.
The testimony appeared to bolster Zimmerman’s claim that he placed Martin’s arms out to the side after shooting him, despite a photograph taken of Martin after he died that showed his arms under his body.
It was a new blow to the prosecution after Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled late on Monday that defense lawyers can introduce evidence that Martin had the active ingredient of marijuana in his system when he was killed.
Nelson was expected to rule later on Tuesday on whether jurors should see a digital reconstruction of Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. The shooting sparked a national debate on race, profiling, gun rights and self defense.
DiMaio testified that Zimmerman, 29, had at least six injuries after his clash with Martin – including two on the back of his head that appeared to indicate impacts with concrete – one on each temple, one on his forehead and one on his nose.
Valerie Rao, a medical examiner testifying for the prosecution last week, said Zimmerman suffered “insignificant” injuries in the incident, as the state attempted to undermine Zimmerman’s claim he feared for his life.
“They were not life-threatening. They were very insignificant,” Rao said.
DiMaio said the injuries could be worse than they appeared.
Two lacerations to the back of Zimmerman’s head suggested the use of “severe force,” he said, lending credence to his claim that Martin slammed Zimmerman’s head into a concrete walkway after knocking him to the ground with a punch that broke his nose.
“You’re going to be at a minimum stunned. And it can be much worse than that,” DiMaio said. “You can get severe trauma to the head without external injury.”
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder and faces up to life in prison if convicted, although either side can request that the jury also consider the lesser offense of manslaughter, with a maximum penalty of 30 years.
The case revolves around sometimes murky evidence, including disagreements among witnesses over whose voice – Martin’s or Zimmerman’s – can be heard in the background of a 911 emergency call on the night Zimmerman shot Martin.
Zimmerman remained free for 45 days after the killing, because police initially declined to arrest him, accepting his claim he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense.
A special prosecutor brought the charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman after protests and cries of injustice in Sanford and several major U.S. cities.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case against Zimmerman on Friday after nine days of witness testimony. Lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he hopes to rest by Thursday, meaning the case could go to the jury by this weekend.
Once a verdict is rendered, it seems likely that many Americans will be disappointed however Zimmerman’s fate is decided, because they have already made up their minds about the killing, an event became a virtual national obsession last year.
Highlighting fears of racial tensions in Sanford, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in south Florida, the state’s largest, said on Monday it was working closely with the Sanford Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies to coordinate “a response plan in anticipation of the verdict.”
Sanford’s population of 54,000 is about 30 percent black.
“Freedom of expression is a constitutional right. While raising your voice is encouraged, using your hands is not,” the Broward Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
“We don’t have information about a specific event that might take place at the conclusion of the trial, but we encourage everyone to keep any protests peaceful,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said.