(CBS/AP) SANFORD, Fla. - A volunteer coordinator with the Sanford Police Department testified Tuesday that murder suspect George Zimmerman was concerned about burglaries in his neighborhood and contacted her about starting a neighborhood watch program.
Wendy Dorival said Zimmerman passed out fliers and helped coordinate a neighborhood watch meeting on Sept. 22, 2011 - several months before Zimmerman shot unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in the community after calling a non-emergency dispatcher to report him as a suspicious person.
Zimmerman is standing trial in the teen's shooting death, charged with second-degree murder. He claims he killed Martin in self-defense.
"The first time [Zimmerman] emailed me was about starting a neighborhood watch," Dorival said. "There were several burglaries that had occurred in the community. He was concerned about them."
Dorival said Zimmerman "seemed like he wanted to make changes in his community and make it better." She asked him to join another program, Citizens on Patrol, a training program for citizens to patrol their neighborhoods, but he declined. She described Zimmerman's role as a neighborhood watch volunteer as someone who would act as a liaison with police about community safety concerns, encourage citizens to act as "eyes and ears" for police and recruit "block captains."
Dorival was questioned repeatedly by attorneys about the advice she gave to citizens about what to do when they saw a suspicious person in their neighborhood. On the evening of the fatal altercation, Zimmerman told a non-emergency dispatcher he was following Trayvon Martin.
She said neighborhood watch volunteers shouldn't follow suspicious people. She emphasized that citizens shouldn't engage anyone suspicious, but rather, contact police.
Defense attorneys questioned Dorival about when it would be appropriate to call a non-emergency number, asking if she would advise residents to call about a person "doing something that seemed to be inconsistent with what people would be doing in a similar circumstance...like walking around without any particular purpose in the rain."
She replied in the affirmative.
The defense team has implied that on the night of the altercation, Zimmerman was attempting to give the dispatcher more information about Martin's location, and stopped following the teen after the dispatcher said, "We don't need you to do that."
Also testifying Tuesday was Donald O'Brien, president of the Retreat at Twin Lakes homeowner's association.
"Since day one with the neighborhood watch, they said at that meeting and every meeting we had after that, 'Do not get close to anyone, stay at a safe distance, call 911 and let the police handle it,'" O'Brien said.
Still at issue is whether several non-emergency calls Zimmerman placed in the months leading up to the fatal altercation will be allowed to be played for the jury.
Prosecutor Richard Mantei told a Florida judge Tuesday that the half-dozen calls are central to the prosecution's argument that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder since it shows his state of mind. Mantei said the calls demonstrate Zimmerman's prior "profiling," and will give jurors context on a "building level of frustration this defendant had" that the suspicious people he reported in his neighborhood were getting away, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
The defense said the calls are irrelevant and shouldn't be introduced.
Attorneys and Circuit Judge Debra Nelson listened to the calls in court Tuesday morning before the jury was called into the courtroom. "We've had a lot of break-ins in our neighborhood recently, I'm on the neighborhood watch," Zimmerman said in one of the calls. "There are two suspicious characters at the gate of my neighborhood. I've never seen them before - I have no idea what they're doing. They're just hanging out, loitering."