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Hightower reports: "When George Zimmerman tries to convince a judge or jury that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, the evidence he'll be able to call on appears to be a mixed bag."

Trayvon Martin, 17, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. (photo: ABC News)
Trayvon Martin, 17, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. (photo: ABC News)

Detective: Trayvon Didn't Start Fight

By Kyle Hightower, Associated Press

18 May 12


hen George Zimmerman tries to convince a judge or jury that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, the evidence he'll be able to call on appears to be a mixed bag.

More than 200 pages of photos and eyewitness accounts released by prosecutors Thursday show Zimmerman and Martin were in a loud and bloody fight in the moments leading up to the shooting and that Zimmerman appeared to be getting the worst of it, with wounds both to his face and the back of his head.

But the original lead detective in the case believed Zimmerman caused the fight by getting out of his vehicle to confront Martin, who wasn't doing anything criminal, and then could have defused the situation by telling Martin he was just a concerned citizen and tried to talk to him. He didn't think Zimmerman could legally invoke Florida's "stand your ground" law and should be charged with manslaughter.

Under that law, people are given wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat in a fight if they believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously injured, they weren't committing a crime themselves and are in a place they have the legal right to be. The original prosecutor in the case accepted Zimmerman's invocation of the law after the Feb. 26 shooting but a special prosecutor rejected his claim last month and charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. The former neighborhood watch volunteer has pleaded not guilty, has been released on bail and reportedly is in hiding.

He and his attorney will have two more chances to invoke the law. First, they will try to convince a judge during what will be a mini-trial. If the judge agrees, the charges will be dropped although prosecutors could appeal. That is likely months away. If the judge rejects the claim, Zimmerman could they try to convince the jury and win an acquittal. A trial is unlikely to start before next year. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, didn't return a phone call seeking comment Thursday from The Associated Press.

Speaking Friday on NBC's "Today" show, O'Mara said he couldn't talk about the individual pieces of evidence in the case. But he said that rather than talking about the "what-if's" - as in what if Zimmerman had stayed in the car - O'Mara said "we have to deal with what happened and try to explain that."

Joelle Moreno, a Florida International University law school professor, said the evidence now released makes it difficult to predict if a "stand your ground" defense will work. She is a member of a state senator's task force examining the law.

Larry Kobilinsky, professor of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that after reviewing the evidence, he thinks Zimmerman is in a good position.

"I think the prosecution's case has been seriously diminished by all of this evidence," he said.

Still, many of the pertinent questions remain unclear: What was in Zimmerman's mind when he began to follow Martin in the gated community where he lived? How did the confrontation between the two begin? Whose screams for help were captured on 911 calls? And why did Zimmerman feel that deadly force was warranted? Did the fact that Martin was black play a role in Zimmerman's actions?

The evidence supporting Zimmerman's defense includes a photo showing the neighborhood watch volunteer with a bloody nose on the night of the fight. A paramedic report says Zimmerman had a 1-inch laceration on his head and forehead abrasion.

"Bleeding tenderness to his nose, and a small laceration to the back of his head. All injuries have minor bleeding," paramedic Michael Brandy wrote about Zimmerman's injuries in the report.

But other evidence supports the contention of Martin's parents that Zimmerman was the aggressor.

The investigator who called for Zimmerman's arrest, Christopher Serino, told prosecutors the fight could have been avoided if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement. He said Zimmerman, after leaving his vehicle, could have identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and talked to him instead of confronting him. The report was written March 13, nearly a month before Zimmerman's eventual arrest.

He said there is no evidence Martin was involved in any criminal activity as he walked from a convenience store to the home of his father's fiance in the same gated community where Zimmerman lived.

The lawyer for Martin's parents seized on the investigator's recommendation.

"The police concluded that none of this would have happened if George Zimmerman hadn't gotten out of his car," said attorney Ben Crump. "If George Zimmerman hadn't gotten out of his car, they say it was completely avoidable. That is the headline."

The release of evidence did little to clear up whose voice is screaming for help in the background of several 911 calls made during the fight.

Since first hearing the calls in early March, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, has been unequivocal in saying it was her son's voice on the tapes.

But Serino wrote in a report that he played a 911 call for Martin's father, Tracy, in which the screams are heard multiple times.

"I asked Mr. Martin if the voice calling for help was that of his son," the officer wrote. "Mr. Martin, clearly emotionally impacted by the recording, quietly responded 'no.'"

Zimmerman's father also told investigators that it was his son yelling for help on March 19.

"That is absolutely positively George Zimmerman," Robert Zimmerman said. "He was not just yelling, he sounded like he was screaming for his life."

Investigators sent all the recordings to the FBI for analysis. They were asked to determine who was screaming, and also if Zimmerman might have used an expletive in describing Martin. Prosecutors said in their charging documents that Zimmerman said "(expletive) punks" in describing Martin as he walked in the neighborhood.

But the analyst who examined the recordings determined the sound quality is too poor to decipher what Zimmerman uttered. In regards to the screams during the altercation, there also wasn't enough clarity to determine who it is "due to extreme stress and unsuitable audio quality."

The case has become a national racial flashpoint because the Martin family and supporters contend Zimmerman singled Martin out because he was black. Zimmerman has a Peruvian mother and a white father.

Two acquaintances painted an unflattering picture of Zimmerman in police interviews.

A distraught woman told an investigator that she stays away from Zimmerman because he's racist and because of things he's done to her in the past, but she didn't elaborate on what happened between them.

"I don't at all know who this kid was or anything else. But I know George, and I know that he does not like black people. He would start something. He's very confrontational. It's in his blood. We'll just say that," the unidentified woman says in an audio recording.

A man whose name was deleted from the audio told investigators said he worked with Zimmerman in 2008 for a few months. It wasn't clear which company it was.

The man, who described his heritage as "Middle Eastern," said that when he first started, many employees didn't like him. Zimmerman seized on this, the employee said, and bullied him.

Zimmerman wanted to "get in" with the clique at work so he exaggerated a Middle Eastern accent when talking about the employee, the man said. The employee told investigators that Zimmerman made reference to terrorists and bombings when talking about him.

"It was so immature," said the employee, who ended up writing a letter to management about Zimmerman.

Zimmerman's parents say he wasn't racist. They say he had mentored black students and had a black relative.

The autopsy says medical examiners found THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, when they tested Martin's blood and urine.

Kobilinsky said the amount was so low that it may have been ingested days earlier and played no role in Martin's behavior. He doubts the judge will even let it be used by the defense if they try to introduce it at trial.

A police report shows the 17-year-old had been shot once in the chest and had been pronounced dead at the scene. The autopsy says the fatal shot was fired from no more than 18 inches away.

In a police interview, Zimmerman's father, Robert, described the toll the case had taken on family members who also are in hiding because of safety concerns.

"It just seems like it's an avalanche and I'm standing at the bottom of it," Robert Zimmerman said.

Associated Press writers Tamara Lush and Mitch Stacy in Tampa, Fla., Matt Sedensky in West Palm Beach, Fla., Curt Anderson, Kelli Kennedy and Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report. your social media marketing partner


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+50 # JJS 2012-05-18 18:00
Stand your ground:

The 2011 Florida Statutes Chapter 776
 "(3) A person (Trayvon) who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked (By Zimmerman) in any other place (not his dwelling) where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

Trayvon was standing HIS ground. Unfortunately, he couldn't meet the force of a gun with a can of tea and Skittles. He had to use his fists. If Floridians want to keep their SYG law then Zimmerman has to take the hit!

My heart goes out to the parents of Trayvon and Zimmerman equally, but I feel Z was in the wrong.
+31 # wyrdotter 2012-05-18 22:13
I agree. Even if Zimmerman felt he was in immanent danger of death or great bodily harm, he put himself in that position. All he had to do was stay in his car, as the police advised him to do, and they'd have both been fine.
+20 # Capn Canard 2012-05-19 09:44
absolutely... in my opinion, Martin was standing his ground, he had no knowledge of why a stranger(Zimmer man) would be following him. As I understand it, self defense is to retreat first, and fight only in self defense. Martin was in effect retreating until Zimmerman left less opportunity to retreat further. Then an altercation and/or fight ensues. (frankly who started it is not as important but the law will insist that who the was instigator is vital) Zimmerman could've avoided the whole event by stopping his pursuit and if he'd done so then nothing happens. I see the whole situation as the complete responsibility/ fault of an incompetent like George Zimmerman trying to playing "cop".
+21 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-19 10:08
It seems obvious that if Zimmerman was losing a fistfight -- which he chose to get involved in -- he could have just run away. There was no need to shoot anyone. Martin would have continued on his way because that was what he had been trying to do all along. Martin was not the aggressor.
+14 # darryl 2012-05-18 23:37
Let's see, Zimmerman was armed but was screaming for help? Yeah, right.
Let's just suppose: I recall one of the "Dirty Harry" movies where some punk wanted to bring a police brutality case against Harry Callahan. So, he paid some dude to beat him up really bad and then he called the press to claim police brutality.
Does anyone think Zimmerman--or one of his enablers?--was smart enough to have someone bang his head iot look beat up? OR he himself could quickly have banged/scraped his head and nose against a brick wall iot to look bloody.
Considering how much Zimmerman outweighed Martin, there's no way Martin could have done this damage to Zimmerman.
Have any forensic cops examined any walls to check for blood? Not in Sanford!!!
Just wondering.
+15 # bluebluesdancer 2012-05-19 12:42
My guess would be (and it is only a guess) that Zimmerman became verbally aggressive initially towards Trayvon and then physically, who was not doing anything but 'being black'. Trayvon tried to walk away, but Zimmerman was in his face too much, so Trayvon knocked him down in self-defense, hit him in the face and caused the back of his head to get scratched-up. Zimmerman, the chicken-shit, was screaming and that is what was heard on the phone. When Zimmerman found his 'plan' had backfired, he panicked and shot Trayvon, killing him.
With people like Zimmerman out there who needs terrorists?!
+21 # xflowers 2012-05-19 03:15
It appears, ironically, that in Florida "stand your ground" applies to the use of guns not fists. A very bad law. Look at the possible alternative scenarios. If Trayvon Martin had also had a gun, they may have had an old west style shootout as both stood their ground: outcome, two dead. If Trayvon Matin had a gun and Zimmerman did not, Martin might have shot Zimmerman: outcome, Zimmerman dead and Martin claiming stand your ground. If Zimmerman had not had a gun, it would have stayed a fistfight: outcome, two with minor injuries when police arrive and break up the fight. Or, more likely, if Zimmerman had not had a gun, he probably would have stayed in his van as police told him to do: outcome, two uninjured men.
+5 # bluebluesdancer 2012-05-19 12:44
Whoa! What are you saying?? This is America! We are entitled to shoot whomever we please... it's our right... and anyway, it's not guns that kill people...Good grief! Next thing you know you'll want to repeal our rights to automatic weapons!! ;-]
+14 # LeeMG 2012-05-19 05:07
It appears Martin first attempted to avoid confrontation, walking away. He did not run because that might cause suspecion. When Zimmerman followed him, even though he may have turned back, there was still the threat. Martin was still standing his ground, near his relatives, while Zimmerman was agressor with no actual reason to defend that area.
+24 # RMDC 2012-05-19 05:10
Why is the media always looking at this event from Zimmerman's perspective. JJS and Holyone are right. Martin was accosted and his freedom of movement and his right to be in a place were challenged by Zimmerman.

But also the fact that Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman was armed make a huge difference. Which of these two had the real power to threaten the other. Clearly Martin had no power in this case.
+27 # humanmancalvin 2012-05-19 06:05
One sad aspect of this case outside of the saddest, a young man murdered for walking while black is the posters from average folks who have twisted the narrative that Zimmerman was the victim. My stars, only the easily confused or the outright racist citizens could jump to this conclusion. Police to Zimmerman on phone:"stay in car, do not pursue." Obviously we know he disobeyed that direct order & whatever happened after there is only one inescapable fact: Trayvon Martin is dead by a bullet for Zimmerman's gun as Martin was armed only with candy & a beverage. But the Radical Right Insurgents twist, bend, & manipulate their non-facts to suit their extremist agenda. Sad times in America to be made worse if a Republican should ever take the White House back or have majorities in one or both houses.
Reason # 611 to vote to reelect president Obama in November.
+5 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-19 10:15
The Lesson: every young Black Floridian needs to carry a gun for self defense, as long as the Florida laws are written and practiced as is happening.

As the Marshall of old Tombstone said: everyone within town limits is required to carry a firearm. (Is that what he said? Or am I misremembering that?)
+8 # bluebluesdancer 2012-05-19 12:45
+12 # tomo 2012-05-19 12:51
It seems to me the Florida law "stand your ground" is a recipe for vigilante executions. If Florida is happy with this, I don't know what to say. Well, I guess I could say: "If Florida is happy with this, all civilized people should stay out of Florida as being no longer part of the rational world."
+14 # Sensible1 2012-05-19 13:02
Zimmerman was a coward. Zimmerman would not have gone after Martin unless he was carrying a gun. Again, the reasoning by the NRA that guns are not the cause of violence and murders is found to be wrong. Handguns are made to kill people, not animals, and if there are enough available, sooner or later it will be used.

The gun gave Zimmerman the courage he needed to pursue someone vulnerable who he imagined to fit the profile of a perpetrator whom he may have seen in a video or movie. Zimmerman stepped out as a would be cop, not a neighborhood watchdog, with the intent to intercept and make an arrest. His moves and motives were deliberate and as premeditated as any homicide could be, and Martin did the only thing he could to defend himself.

With Martin dead, Zimmerman reconstructed the facts to cover his guilt, and the bigots around him gave him all the time he needed.

That's the way I see it.
+5 # hammermann 2012-05-20 04:13
Exactly, the gun gave him the courage, just as it does cops who constantly abuse their authority. Listening to that horrible plaintive screaming, an adult sounding like a girl (if Martin), he obviously was a wimp too... so we have a racist wimp wanna-be-cop who provoked a fight with an innocent that he couldn't handle (though he was 90lbs heavier), and had to use his only compensator- his gun. If he had been displaying it, Trayvon would never have fought with him, so it must have been hidden.
0 # squinty 2012-07-15 08:52
Sometimes displaying the weapon can provoke a fight. Florida law requires that firearms be carried concealed - open carry is illegal. I think Martin might have been MORE likely to fight, and had more REASON to, if Zimmerman had brandished or openly (or accidentally) displayed his gun. He might have thought he had to gain control of the firearm for his own safety. If Z did brandish or openly display his weapon, that would put him further in the wrong, but there's no evidence that he did so.
+1 # squinty 2012-07-15 08:48
"The police concluded that none of this would have happened if George Zimmerman hadn't gotten out of his car," said attorney Ben Crump. "If George Zimmerman hadn't gotten out of his car, they say it was completely avoidable. That is the headline."

I was attacked once when I got out of my car. I cut a guy off, and he followed me to my destination and once I left the car, he walked up and assaulted me for driving poorly. He wouldn't have assaulted me if I hadn't provoked him by my poor driving decision, he couldn't have assaulted me if I had stayed in my car. Does that make it my fault he attacked me? Did it obligate me to just endure the consequences of the beating without fighting back?
Not 100% applicable, nobody in my situation drew a gun - and nobody got their head slammed into a sidewalk either.

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