All along I have anticipated that Zimmerman would take the stand. Defendants almost always need to take the stand in self-defense cases. As an affirmative defense, self-defense requires a defendant to prove that he had a reasonable fear that made his use of force appropriate. It’s very hard to do if the Defendant doesn’t take the stand. However, Zimmerman’s defense has already been laid out for the jury.
The jury has heard first hand, during the State’s case-in-chief, no less, testimony from Zimmerman. They have heard him describe in detail how he was beaten, and seen ample physical evidence to support his story. They have heard his claim that Martin told him that Martin was going to kill him during the beating, and how he was afraid for his life. If the jury finds that reasonable: if they believe him, or believe enough of what he said to give them a reasonable doubt of his guilt, he should not be convicted. The jury heard his claim multiple times during the multiple interviews he gave to detectives, first at the station, then on video, walking them through the neighborhood where everything occurred. It is not necessary for him to testify to make the case to the jury.
There are risks in putting him on the stand. It will give prosecutors a chance to attack his credibility, to question his motives, and to challenge him for following Martin after he was basically told not to by the 911 operator. A skillful cross-examination could reduce his sympathy with the jury, and give the state another chance to develop their theory that he wanted a confrontation or to suggest malice in following Martin. While the jury may like to see the Defendant take the stand to protest his innocence, they will be instructed by the court not to take that into consideration. And as the Defense can point out, they have already heard Zimmerman’s story during the multiple interviews he gave to police.
I have long anticipated that Zimmerman would take the stand. But with the risk being high, and the case going so well, I’m not so sure we’ll see him on the stand. Frankly, if the Defense feels confident that they are in the driver’s seat, they may not want to risk handing the keys over to the State in cross-examination. It’s a tricky strategic decision the Defense will not take lightly. As the case draws near a conclusion, we will know their decision soon.
UPDATE: Zimmerman has decided not to take the stand. I think that’s a reflection of how well the trial appears to be going for the defense. If he is found guilty, the decision will be horribly second guessed, but right now, that seems to be a smart decision based not only on how strong the defense case appears, but on limiting the risk of the case turning the other way during a long cross-examination. The Defense has now rested their case, and the State is beginning their rebuttal.