George Zimmerman trial Judge Debra Nelson rules computer animation is not evidence

Day 12 of George Zimmerman trial testimony

Forensics animation expert Daniel Shumaker leaves the bench after playing a video for judge Debra Nelson during the George Zimmerman trial in Seminole circuit court, in Sanford, Fla., Tuesday.
Forensics animation expert Daniel Shumaker leaves the bench after playing a video for judge Debra Nelson during the George Zimmerman trial in Seminole circuit court, in Sanford, Fla., Tuesday. (POOL PHOTO)

SANFORD, Fla. – George Zimmerman trial Judge Debra Nelson ruled Wednesday that defense attorneys can use a computer animation depicting the fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin for demonstrative purposes, but not as evidence.

For several hours, attorneys argued Tuesday about an animation that showed avatars that looked like they came from a Sims Community computer game. In the animation, one of the avatars representing Trayvon Martin punched the avatar representing Zimmerman in the face.

The animation is a "supposition inside a riddle, wrapped in an enigma," prosecutor Richard Mantei said.

READ: State's motion regarding computer animation

He deemed the animation to be "speculative and irrelevant evidence" and asked defense witness Daniel Schumaker to explain where he had gotten the data to support the animation's account.

Schumaker is a specialist on visual communication, who does crime scene reconstruction for attorneys.

During questioning, Mantei uncovered that Schumaker had talked to witness John Good to fine tune the animation to his testimony. Judge Debra Nelson jumped and said Good was "a witness on sequestration subjected to recall."

When a witness violates the rule of sequestration, the court can issue sanctions that can include the disqualification of a witness. Nelson did not make any decisions. O'Mara  said Good was a consultant.

"There is no evidence to support anything but what John Good saw,"  O'Mara said.

Schumaker used audio of witness Jenna Lauer's call to police on Feb. 26, 2012.


Schumaker also said he used technology such as helicopter drones and motion capture suits, which were used to create the 3-D movie Avatar and Iron Man. 

READ: Defense witnesses

"I'm the only one in the United States with the wireless motion capture suit," Schumaker said.

Mantei took issue with that.

"What we've heard is that they use it for the movies ... This isn't Iron Man," Mantei said.

Schumaker said he relied in part on police reports that were contrary to witness testimony, items defense attorneys provided and on testimony to create the animation.

"There is no reason why it [animation] shouldn't be admitted into evidence," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said

Nelson started the day frustrated with O'Mara's pace while questioning Schumaker. When prosecutors said they needed 45 more minutes to cross examine Schumaker, Nelson said she was not going to keep jurors waiting any longer.

Nelson put the matter on hold until the end of day 11 of testimony. The hearing on the computer animation continued on Tuesday afternoon, after the jury was dismissed.

Prosecutors were frustrated with the matter Monday, after they found out that Schumacher andDr. Vincent J. M. Di Maio, who had already been deposed had more information about the animation that had not been disclosed.

Mantei walked into the courtroom and rushed to tell other prosecutors. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda was so upset he turned to defense attorney Don West and shouted a question from his seat.

"When were we going to find out about this?"

Prosecutors first found out about the animation during Schumaker's deposition June 21. On Monday, prosecutors reopened the deposition they thought they had completed July 2nd.

"The witness testified that he deliberately omitted any depiction of the firearm," Mantei said.

Mantei had a file Monday with still frames from the animation, and complained to  Nelson that there was a newly-generated animation that he had not been made aware of. Mantei claimed the defense's late disclosure of the exhibit should be considered a discovery violation.

"State would request that the court prohibit mention" of the animation during trial, Mantei said.

The computer animation must be a fair and accurate depiction, prosecutors argued. Instead, they said, the animation was full of inaccuracies such as an artificial depiction of lighting conditions that weren't there.

"The problem is that their argument is masquerading as evidence," Mantei said.

O'Mara argued that the exactitude the prosecution wanted was not required by law. Nelson said she did not have issues with the methodology, but with the facts.