George Zimmerman trial: Zimmerman learned about self-defense in criminal litigation class, military attorney testifies

George Zimmerman, left, arrives in Seminole circuit court, with his wife Shellie, on the 11th day of his trial, in Sanford, Fla., Monday, June 24, 2013. Zimmerman is accused in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)
Joe Burbank
Capt. Alexis Carter of U.S. Army JAG gives his testimony during the George Zimmerman trial in Seminole circuit court, July 3, 2013 in Sanford, Florida.
Photo by Jacob Langston-Pool/Getty Images

(CBS) -- Prosecutors Wednesday called a military attorney to the stand who gave accused murderer George Zimmerman an "A" in his criminal litigation course, but the defense questioned the witness closely about self-defense laws in front of the jury.

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Prosecutors say Zimmerman did have knowledge of Florida's controversial stand your ground law, although he claimed in an interview last year with Fox News television host Sean Hannity that he didn't know about the law before his fatal Feb. 26, 2012 confrontation with Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman is standing trial in Martin's shooting death, charged with second-degree murder. Zimmerman claims he shot the teen in self-defense.

Responding to questions from prosecutors, U.S. Army Capt. Alexis Francisco Carter said that the class he taught at Seminole State College delved in detail into self-defense laws, including Florida's "Stand your Ground" statue.

"It's something I think the students really wanted to know about, it was so practical, so they were very much engaged in class discussions regarding the issue," Carter said. "I remember talking about this quite a few times, not just on one particular occasion."

Carter described Zimmerman as one of his better students, and said he gave him an "A." When asked if he knew the defendant, Carter raised his hand in greeting and said, "How you doing, George."

Defense attorney Don West asked Carter to detail the concepts in Florida's self-defense statue. Though his line of questioning was met with repeated objections from the prosecution, Circuit Judge Nelson allowed Carter to detail the concepts he discussed in class.

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Carter said that if a person has "reasonable apprehension and fear" of death or great bodily harm, they may respond with deadly force in order to defend themselves. Under the "Stand your Ground" statute in Florida, the person does not have the duty to first retreat before responding with force, even if the person is outside their home, he said.

West questioned Carter about whether a person needs to be injured to be in fear for their life, apparently referencing Tuesday testimony from a medical examiner who said Zimmerman's injuries were "insignificant."

"The fact alone that there isn't an injury doesn't necessarily mean the person did not have a reasonable apprehension and fear," Carter replied.

However, injuries "tend to show or support that the person had a reasonable apprehension and fear," he said.

"You don't have to wait until you're almost dead to defend yourself?," West asked.

"No, I would advise you probably don't do that," Carter replied, as some in the courtroom laughed.

Carter also explained the concept of "imperfect self-defense," when a person is being threatened but then counters with a force disproportionately greater than the force used against them.

"They would have the right to defend themselves?," West asked.

"Right," Carter said.

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for's Crimesider.