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Trayvon Martin trial pivots on tape of 911 screams

Mothers of victim, suspect split on voice

Sybrina Fulton, mother of the late Trayvon Martin, testified at the murder trial of George Zimmerman.

GARY W. GREEN/POOL

Sybrina Fulton, mother of the late Trayvon Martin, testified at the murder trial of George Zimmerman.

SANFORD, Fla. — The mothers of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman listened Friday to the 911 recording of someone screaming for help, and each said she was convinced the voice was that of her own son.

The starkly conflicting testimony over the potentially crucial piece of evidence came midway through Zimmerman’s murder trial in the 2012 shooting of the unarmed 17-year-old.

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‘‘I heard my son screaming,’’ Sybrina Fulton, the teenager’s mother, said firmly after listening to a recording in which distant, high-pitched wails could be heard in the background as a Zimmerman neighbor asked a dispatcher to send police. Moments later on the call, there was a gunshot and the crying stopped.

Gladys Zimmerman testified she also recognized the voice all too well: ‘‘My son.’’ Asked how she could be certain, she said: ‘‘Because it’s my son.’’

The testimony came on a dramatic, action-packed day in which the prosecution rested its case and the judge rejected a defense request to acquit Zimmerman on the second-degree murder charge.

The question of whose voice is on the recording could be crucial to the jury in deciding who was the aggressor in the confrontation between the teen and the neighborhood watch volunteer.

The identity of the person sharply divided the two families: Martin’s half-brother, 22-year-old Jahvaris Fulton, testified the cries came from the teen. And Zimmerman’s uncle, Jose Meza, said he knew it was Zimmerman’s voice from ‘‘the moment I heard it. . . . I thought, that is George.’’

The question of whose voice is on the recording could be crucial in deciding who was the aggressor in the conflict between the teen and the neighborhood watch volunteer.

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The prosecution rested after calling 38 witnesses over two weeks. Defense lawyer Mark O'Mara promptly asked the judge to acquit Zimmerman, arguing the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

O'Mara said an ‘‘enormous’’ amount of evidence showed that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and he argued that Zimmerman had reasonable grounds to believe he was in danger, and acted without the ‘‘ill will, hatred, and spite’’ necessary to prove second-degree murder.

But prosecutor Richard Mantei countered: ‘‘There are two people involved here. One of them is dead, and one of them is a liar.’’

Mantei told the judge that Zimmerman had changed his story, that his account of how he shot Martin was “a physical impossibility,” and that he exaggerated his wounds.

After listening to an hour and a half of arguments from both sides, Judge Debra Nelson refused to throw out the murder charge, saying the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence for the case to go on.

Earlier in the day, Sybrina Fulton introduced herself to the jury by describing how she has two sons, one of whom ‘‘is in heaven.’’ She sat expressionless on the witness stand while prosecutors played the 911 recording.

‘‘Who do you recognize that to be?’’ prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked her.

‘‘Trayvon Benjamin Martin,’’ she replied.

During cross-examination, O'Mara suggested — haltingly, in apparent recognition of the sensitivity of the questioning — that Fulton may have been influenced by others who listened to the 911 call.

O'Mara asked Fulton hypothetically whether she would have to accept that it was Zimmerman yelling for help if the screams did not come from her son.

He also asked Fulton whether she hoped Martin didn’t do anything that led to his death.

‘‘I would hope for this to never have happened and he would still be here,’’ she said.

O'Mara asked Jahvaris Fulton why he told a reporter last year that he wasn’t sure if the voice belonged to Martin. Jahvaris Fulton explained that he was “shocked” when he heard it. ‘‘I didn’t want to believe it was him,’’ he said.

The doctor who performed an autopsy on Martin also took the stand. Shiping Bao, associate medical examiner, started describing Martin as being in pain and suffering after he was shot, but defense lawyers objected and the judge directed Bao away from that line of questioning.

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