George Zimmerman Trial: Opening statements launch Monday

George Zimmerman arrives in circuit court for his trial, along with co-counsel Don West, Monday, June 10, 2013, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman is charged in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)
Joe Burbank
George Zimmerman arrives in circuit court for his trial, along with co-counsel Don West, Monday, June 10, 2013, in Sanford, Fla.
AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)

(CBS) SANFORD, Fla. -Opening statements are scheduled to start today in the case of George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer accused of murder in the shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin last year.

PICTURES: George Zimmerman in court

READ: Trayvon Martin Shooting: A timeline of events

The high-profile, racially-charged case has drawn the national and international spotlight, and for six jurors and four alternates chosen Thursday, sequestration began this weekend. The jurors will be allowed limited contact with friends, family, and the outside world. However, they will have monitored entertainment and won't be exposed to media reports on the case for the duration of the trial.

Central to the case will be who started the deadly altercation the night of Feb. 26, 2012, whether George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense and whether his shooting of Martin was justifiable under Florida law.

For prosecutors, experts say opening statements will likely center on Zimmerman's alleged profiling of Trayvon Martin, 17, as he walked through the Sanford, Fla. gated community that evening. They'll likely seek to indicate to the jury that Zimmerman labeled Martin as an intruder and a potential criminal in the community, and then confronted him, said David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

"I think they've got a very solid case here - someone went and confronted and killed an unarmed person, and did it in a mental state of they were taking the law into their own hands," LaBahn said.

VIDEO: George Zimmerman trial: Self-defense, murder at case's core

In order to prove second-degree murder, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin's death was caused by Zimmerman's alleged criminal action, and that the killing was committed with ill-will or spite and showed an indifference to human life.

Prosecutors may point to a phone call Zimmerman placed to non-emergency dispatchers the night of the deadly altercation in attempting to prove Zimmerman was acting with ill will, LaBahn said. As Zimmerman called the dispatchers to report a suspicious person, Zimmerman said Martin "looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something" and later used the term "a**holes."

While prosecutors may allege Zimmerman labeled Martin as a criminal, LaBahn said they likely won't argue he racially profiled Martin, who was black, in an attempt to keep the facts "straightforward" for the jury. Use of the term "racially profiled" in opening statements was disallowed last week in a key ruling by Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, although Nelson said that prosecutors won't be barred from using words including "profiled," "wannabe cop" and "vigilante" - language the defense argued could be inflammatory.

PICTURES: George Zimmerman Crime Scene Photos

"If I'm the state in this case, I want to make this case very simple - it's not about Trayvon Martin or about George Zimmerman. Those two names have a brand and they have an identity - this is a case about an unarmed kid in the vicinity of George Zimmerman and he did absolutely nothing to cause him to be in fear," said Brian Tannebaum, president of the Florida Association of Bar Defense Lawyers and past president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "If I start adding to it, then I start opening the door to other issues and I start creating other emotions and other thoughts about racism."

Meanwhile, the defense in their opening statement will seek to demonstrate that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense after he was attacked by Martin, experts say. Florida's controversial "stand your ground" statute means that a person isn't required to retreat first when confronted by a threat, but can respond with deadly force if they believe their life is in danger.

"You'll have his attorneys making the argument that Trayvon presented a threat to him, and he didn't have to back down from the threat under Florida law," said California criminal defense attorney Michael Cardoza.

The defense may also  point to evidence including photos of George Zimmerman bleeding from the face after the altercation to bolster their case, and may call Zimmerman to the stand to testify during the trial, Tannebaum said.

In another key ruling, Nelson on Saturday said that prosecution audio experts who said Trayvon Martin was screaming in the background of a neighbor's 911 call moments before he was killed won't be allowed to testify at trial.

The screams could be crucial pieces of evidence for the jury in weighing who was the aggressor in the confrontation, but experts have come to mixed conclusions about who was screaming in the background of the call.

One state expert claimed that he heard Martin saying "I'm begging you." Defense experts have said the quality of the tape was too poor to determine who was screaming, and on Thursday, defense attorney Don West said any attempt to analyze the call reliably would be a "fool's errand."

Nelson ruled that the methods used by the state experts aren't reliable, but her ruling doesn't prevent the 911 calls from being played at trial, the Associated Press reports.

Attorneys initially anticipated the trial to last two to four weeks, but the elimination of the audio experts will likely shorten the trial by a week, according to the AP.

Complete coverage of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case on Crimesider

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for's Crimesider.