Getting the Facts Straight in the Zimmerman CaseBy Jack Cashill
As the late Senator Daniel Moynihan reportedly said, "[e]veryone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." The commentary on the George Zimmerman case, I've noticed, gets edgy when those who know the facts argue with those who venture opinions. The facts that follow are the ones with which both the defense and the prosecutor must contend.
Late Sunday night, February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman sat down in front of Sanford Police Department (SPD) detectives and wrote out in longhand his own account of the shocking incident that had just left him rattled and bloody. Zimmerman, who writes well, began with some useful background information: in August 2011, his neighbor's house had been broken into while she was home with her infant son. The neighbor barricaded herself and her child in a bedroom and called 911.
The SPD quickly responded, and the intruders fled. Zimmerman's wife Shellie saw them fleeing and "became scared of the rising crime." Zimmerman promised that he would do what he could to keep her safe. One result was that he and some of his neighbors at the Retreat at Twin Lakes formed a Neighborhood Watch Program.
Although technically "a gated community," the Retreat imploded after the Florida real estate bubble burst. By 2012, townhouses were selling for less than $100,000, fifteen percent were vacant, more than half were being rented, and fewer than half of the residents were white.
Trayvon Martin had been staying with his father's girlfriend, Brandy Green, who rented one of the units. Martin had gone to a neighborhood 7-11 that evening and left the store at 6:29. Zimmerman spotted him near a shortcut entrance to the Retreat about 7:05. The 7-11 is about a 10-minute walk from that spot. Do the math.
At 7:09:34, after spotting Martin, Zimmerman called the non-emergency number the SPD had given him. He described "a male approximately 5' 11" to 6' 2" casually walking in the rain and looking into homes."
At this point, it sounds as if Zimmerman is getting out of the truck, but not yet moving.
Trayvon Martin headed east along an east-west sidewalk cut-through between the two streets, Twin Trees, where Zimmerman was parked, and Retreat View. He then turned south on a sidewalk that intersects the cut-through and runs between the backs of the buildings on either street. The townhouse where he had been staying was less than 400 feet down that sidewalk.
Zimmerman could see the direction Martin took but could no longer "maintain a visual" from the truck. Ambient wind sounds suggest he started walking swiftly, likely in the same direction Martin was running.
The dispatcher obviously heard the wind sounds.
At this point, Zimmerman's breathing relaxed, and the sound of wind abated.
The call ended four minutes and change after it started at 7:13:39. Zimmerman picked up the written narrative: "The dispatcher told me not to follow the suspect & that an officer was on the way. As I headed back to my vehicle the suspect emerged from the darkness and said, 'You got a problem?'" When Zimmerman answered "No," the suspect said, "You do now."
Heard in the background of the 911 call from Witness #11 was a man desperately yelling "help" over and over again for about forty-two seconds. The call started at 7:16:11, about two and a half minutes after Zimmerman ended his call with SPD.
The screams ended abruptly with a single gunshot at 7:16:59. Zimmerman's narrative continues.
Zimmerman's own account ended here. Officer Timothy Smith arrived less than a minute after the shooting at 7:17:40 p.m. and reported finding Zimmerman standing near Martin, who was lying face down in the grass about 40 or so feet south of the intersection between the east-west cut through and the north-south walkway, roughly 100 yards from Green's townhouse. Smith noted that Zimmerman's back was wet and covered with grass and that he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head.
As Smith would tell the State Attorney's Office, Zimmerman volunteered that he had shot Martin. "I was yelling for help but no one would help me," he told Smith and complained that his head was hurting. The officer handcuffed Zimmerman "for safety reasons." Officer Jordan Broderick arrived shortly afterwards and saw "that the back of Zimmerman's head was cut and he was bloodied."
Officer Jonathan Mead also saw Zimmerman in custody and "noted his injured nose and bleeding head." As Mead told the state attorney's office in April 2012, he had "dealt with Zimmerman before at the complex when Zimmerman had found open doors and houses. Zimmerman had reported suspicious persons that he had lost sight of when they (the suspicious person) went around a building. Zimmerman had been on foot when [he] met him on prior occasions."
Officer Richard Ayala arrived at the scene soon after Smith. When Ayala got there, Smith had Zimmerman at gunpoint, so Ayala tended to Martin, who was then lying face-down with his hands under his body. Ayala rolled Martin over and "felt a large cold can in the center pocket." Martin had $40 and change in his pants pockets as well as "one (1) red '711' brand name lighter, photo button, Skittles, and headphones."
When Ayala and a fellow officer attempted CPR and other first aid, the can came loose and was misidentified as an "Arizona brand name tea can." (It was actually an Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail.) The officers located Martin's cell phone in the grass away from the body.
Officer Smith drove Zimmerman to the SPD station. Before leaving, Smith had asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital. Zimmerman declined. On the way to the police station, though, Zimmerman complained "that his head hurt and he felt a little light headed." Asked once again if he wanted to go to the hospital, Zimmerman hesitated and then declined.
Once at the station, Smith took Zimmerman to the interview room and kept an eye on him for health reasons. Soon after, the SPD fingerprinted him, removed his clothes as evidence, conducted forensic tests on his hands for gunpowder residue, and kept his handgun to be examined. The police then questioned him at length. The session began at 8:15 p.m. Sunday and ended more than five hours later.
An hour after the shooting, Witness #6 told the SPD that he saw a "black man in a black hoodie on top of either a white guy...or an Hispanic guy in a red sweater on the ground yelling out help." According to #6, the black man on top was "throwing down blows on the guy MMA [mixed martial arts] style." Witness #13 waited until the fighting ended, went outside, and saw Zimmerman walking towards him. "Am I bleeding?" Zimmerman asked. Witness #13 answered affirmatively. He also noticed "blood on the back of his head" and took a picture of it.
According to Witness #8, the girl with whom Martin had been speaking on the phone during this sequence, Martin "attempted to run home." By "home" she meant the townhouse where Martin was staying.
In its probable cause affidavit accusing Zimmerman of murder in the second degree, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey cited Witness #8 and echoed her claim that "Martin attempted to run home but was followed by Zimmerman." According to the affidavit, Zimmerman then "disregarded" the SPD, "continued to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home," and "confronted" him.
At the time, Zimmerman was four inches shorter and fifty pounds heavier than Martin. He also gave Martin at the very least a twenty-second head start to a destination no more than twenty seconds away. In fact, however, by the time Zimmerman's call with the SPD ended, Martin had had a leisurely two minutes to run the 400 feet to Green's townhouse.
The challenge for the prosecutors is to prove that despite the obvious handicaps, Zimmerman managed to catch a fleeing Martin, confront him, and somehow scare him into yelling "help" during the forty-two seconds he was pummeling Zimmerman MMA-style.
Bottom line: Judge Debra Nelson will have to work very hard to keep Angela Corey from being coupled forever in the public's memory with Mike Nifong.
An illustrated map: http://bit.ly/Zp2gBm
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