Reporter's notebook: Former federal prosecutor said prosecution beat defense

Legal expert answers questions about George Zimmerman trial's opening statements

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

David S. Weinstein is a former Assistant United States Attorney for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  He held that position from 1998 to 2009.

David Weinstein, a former Assistant United States Attorney and an Assistant State Attorney in Miami Dade County, opines on Monday's opening statements. 

David Weinstein has 25 years of experience in criminal law. His courtroom experience includes more than 100 jury trials ranging from burglaries and homicides through international money laundering and drug trafficking cases. for about a decade.

Q: State Opening Statement: High points? Impact on jury? 

A: He was very effective and he got his points across to the jury in short order. They seem to like the prosecution and as a result, they will pay attention to what they have to say.

Q: Defense: Will the 'knock knock' joke that fell flat have a lasting impact on the jury?

A: Absolutely, you only have one shot at making a first impression and this was not a good one. In any trial, jurors tend to favor one side or the other based in part on personalities. From the impression that the defense made with their opening, from their body language, it appears that the jurors don't like the defense team. That is something that's going to stick with them for the duration of the trial.

Q: The state's opening statement: 30 minutes
The defense's opening statement: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Why was the defense's statement so much longer than the state's?
What was defense co-counsel Don West trying to achieve? 
In your opinion was he successful? 

A: An opening statement is supposed to be focused and to get the jury to start thinking about what you believe the evidence will show. It is the only opportunity that you have, other than closing argument, to speak directly to the jury and not through witnesses. If you control where the mind of the jury is focused, then you can be more effective during direct and cross examination.

The defense was trying to present their case before the prosecution even put a witness on the stand. This was an effort to train the juror's minds on what the defense wants them to hear when the evidence is presented. However, Don West went too far. It seemed like he was thrown off his script when his joke didn't go over well. He then tried to save himself and get back on track. In doing this he lost his sense of direction and went off on tangents that will be lost on the jury.

Q: From opening statements to the start of testimony - thoughts?

A: The prosecution did a good job with maintaining the edge they created in their opening statement. From the first few witnesses who testified today, it appears that they are presenting a narrative that the jury can follow. They began with what was going on before Trayvon Martin went to the 7-11 to buy candy and a drink and followed through with attempting to introduce evidence to show that George Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred and an indifference to human life. These subjective elements are essential to proving the charge of second degree murder.

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