BLOOMINGTON — Two of Kirk Zimmerman's children and a pair of women who heard suspected gunfire were among the witnesses called as the defense opened its case Tuesday in his murder trial.
Zimmerman is charged with killing his former wife, Pam Zimmerman, Nov. 3, 2014, in her Bloomington office. She was shot four times.
Heidi and David Zimmerman, two of Zimmerman's three children, who were teenagers at the time, offered testimony about their father's demeanor in the days leading up to their mother's death.
Heidi Zimmerman described her father as "his normal self" when she stayed with him Oct. 28 and 30 as part of the couple's routine visitation schedule for the children.
The Zimmerman children were concerned when their mother didn't come home to start dinner around 5 p.m. Nov. 3, said Heidi Zimmerman. She said her multiple texts and phone calls to her mother drew no response.
The following day, a Bloomington police officer came to Normal Community High School to tell the Zimmerman children their mother was dead.
Zimmerman's daughter told jurors about comments made by her mother's fiance, Scott Baldwin, two days after the homicide. Baldwin told the Zimmerman children, "I want you to know I had nothing to do with this," referring to the death, said the witness.
David Zimmerman told the jury his father was not emotional or upset in the days before his mother's death. Both children denied knowing anything about a dispute between their parents over money.
The roster of 14 defense witnesses Tuesday included Merrie Seip, who testified she heard what she thought was gunfire on Nov. 3 as she sat with a client in her counseling office near Pam Zimmerman's office at 2103 E. Washington St.
The three gunshots were "sharp and startling," said Seip. She said she reported the sounds to police within two weeks of hearing them.
Assistant State's Attorney Brad Rigdon asked Seip about her professional and personal relationship with Zimmerman's former girlfriend, Kate Arthur. Seip admitted she spoke with Arthur about the gunshots she may have heard around 5:40 p.m. but denied the two talked about the police investigation.
A second woman described a separate incident involving suspected gunfire at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 as she traveled as a passenger in a vehicle near the intersection of Mercer Avenue and and East Washington Street. She said she told police about what she had heard the following day after hearing about Zimmerman's death several blocks from the intersection.
Other defense witnesses included dentists and their staff members who worked in or near the victim's office building and a member of a cleaning crew. Two witnesses recalled seeing the same suspicious thing in the victim's parking lot after working hours: a van that has now been identified as Pam Zimmerman's.
Jason Crosier did not hear gunshots as he cleaned an eye care business one floor below the victim's office starting at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 3, according to his testimony.
"I didn't hear anything," said Crosier, adding that a vacuum cleaner was being used during the hourlong cleaning detail.
The trial is entering its final stages, Judge Scott Drazewski told jurors.
Rogers is expected to call two expert witnesses on Wednesday to rebut state evidence on cell tower tracking and gunshot residue.
Depending upon what, if any, rebuttal testimony the state presents, closing arguments could be delivered Thursday. The judge told jurors to expect to report Friday, a deviation from the four-day court schedule in place since the trial started April 1.
Drazewski denied a defense motion Tuesday morning for a directed verdict that, if granted, would have ended the trial in Zimmerman's favor.
Rogers argued that police did not seriously investigate the victim's fiance or her last client of the day, Eldon Whitlow.
"There's never really been three suspect in this case," said Rogers.
Zimmerman was met by four police officers at his State Farm office on Nov. 4, 2014, and taken to the Bloomington police station under false pretenses that he would see his children, said Rogers.
The defense lawyer called gunshot residue tests performed by Bloomington police on Zimmerman's hands and his car "flawed" because the police officers conducting them were wearing weapons, a possible source of contamination for the tests.
Prosecutors tried to "fool and manufacture evidence" related to Zimmerman's alleged financial difficulties, said Rogers. The defendant was earning about $100,000 and had $30,000 in savings at the time of his former wife's death, said Rogers.
Rigdon countered that Zimmerman was evasive in his interview with police on Nov. 4, 2014. The interview "shows so very much in the answers he gave to police and the answers he didn't give," said Rigdon.
Zimmerman's request that he be allowed to "recharge his batteries" before answering specific questions about his whereabouts shows "it's obvious he's looking to hide something," said Rigdon.
On the issue of money, Rigdon said Zimmerman spent a $50,000 loan from his investment account within a year and was "outspending his monthly income by $2,000."
In denying the motion for a directed verdict, the judge acknowledged that gunshot residue allegedly found on the gearshift of Zimmerman's car is the only physical evidence introduced by the state. But, said the judge, "the absence of evidence can be a double-edged sword" if the absence is used to show planning and preparation on the part of a suspect.