Trayvon Martin's Final Hour

On the rainy night of February 26, 2012, neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed seventeen-year-old named Trayvon Martin. Three months later, a regular at the Conservative Treehouse blog known as Diwataman discovered the raw video of Martin's visit to the 7-11 that fateful night and initiated arguably the best bit of blogging detective work since the busting of Dan Rather's Air National Guard scam eight years earlier.

"I think Trayvon may know these three guys," Diwataman commented in reference to a trio of hooded young men who entered the store almost immediately after Martin left. For a variety of good reasons, Diwataman labeled the guys "the three stooges," and the name stuck. What Diwataman discovered quickly is that the blogger "noneyobusiness" had already come to the same conclusion. Together, they and other "Treepers" from the Treehouse -- "People help each other out," says Diwataman -- reconstructed Martin's final hour in a way that was wildly at odds with the scenario advanced by the major media but much closer to the truth. In all versions, the iconic bag of Skittles is at the heart of the story.

On March 7, 2012, in the first national news story on the case, Reuters led with the Skittles angle: "Trayvon Martin was shot dead after he took a break from watching NBA All-Star game television coverage to walk 10 minutes to a convenience store to buy snacks including Skittles candy requested by his 13-year-old brother, Chad." Reuters attributed this information to Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump. "What do the police find in his pocket? Skittles," Crump told Reuters. "A can of Arizona ice tea in his jacket pocket and Skittles in his front pocket for his brother Chad."

Much of this information was wrong. The game had yet to start. Chad was fourteen. He was not Martin's brother, but the son of his father's girlfriend, Brandy Green. And the drink Martin was carrying was not ice tea -- more on this later.

The Skittles talking point was largely accurate, however, and it resonated. Two days later, the Christian Post elevated Martin's mission to the purely altruistic. "Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin simply wanted to get Skittles for his younger brother, Chad," read the opening sentence in the March 9 article. In the weeks that followed just about every media piece done on the shooting mentioned the Skittles, often as a symbol of Martin's youth, innocence, and compassion.

On April 2, Geraldo Rivera's brother Craig interviewed Chad Green and his mother Brandy for a segment of Geraldo at Large. The Riveras treated the Greens gingerly. A week earlier, Geraldo had offended Trayvon Nation, including his own son Gabriel, by blaming Martin's hoodie for the young man's demise. "I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies," Geraldo said on Fox & Friends. He had been walking it back ever since.

Although Chad was far from fully grown, his voice had matured and deepened. Polite and soft-spoken, he described Martin as "nice to hang around with" and added a little nuance to the narrative. Martin did not go to the store just to get him Skittles.  He went to the store because "he was bored" and "wanted something to snack on." Brandy Green said much the same thing to a local TV reporter the day after the shooting. "[Trayon] just came down here. He was bored. So he walked to the store." At the time Brandy did not know about the Skittles and did not mention them. A month later, Chad and the rest of the world knew about the Skittles. According to Chad, as he was leaving Martin asked him what he wanted, and Chad said "Skittles."

According to Chad, Martin never came back, and he heard nothing of the altercation or the shooting. The latter assertion rings true. The former is questionable. Again, as Brandy told the local reporter, "[Trayvon] was on his way back home. I'm living down here. He was sitting on the porch and this man killed him." If Martin had reached Brandy's porch only Chad would have known.

A 7-11 security camera captured Martin outside the store walking east to west at 6:22 that evening (all times rounded to the minute). The Green townhome was roughly a mile away. This suggests that Martin left Green's about 6:05, almost an hour before the start of the NBA All-Star game, and walked north and west to the 7-11. Inside the store, Martin grabbed an Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail from a row of glass-fronted refrigerators. The Skittles he picked up from a row of shelves perpendicular to the cash register. He then approached the clerk and put some bills and coins on the counter to pay for the snacks. At this point, he pulled out a couple more bills and appeared to negotiate unsuccessfully for something behind where the clerk was standing. Upon leaving at 6:25 Martin kept the bills visibly in his hand.

Ninety seconds later, at 6:26, the three stooges entered. The clerk must have seen them before as he did not seem alarmed by their appearance. All three had their heads covered with hats, wraps, sunglasses, and/or hoodies as to be unrecognizable on a security camera. The head cover on one of them allowed just a little peep-hole for his eyes. Two of the three appeared to be black, and the third either white or Hispanic or, like Zimmerman, a "White Hispanic." Diwataman dubbed the white guy "Curly" as at one point he took off his knit cap and shook out his long curly dark hair.

Of note, Curly walked into the store with a couple of bills visible in his hand, likely the bills Martin exited with. Curly took the bills to the counter and bought two cheap cigars, or "blunts" as they are known on the street. The Urban Dictionary defines a "blunt" as a "cigar hollowed out and filled with marijuana." Its virtue is that it can be smoked in public "somewhat inconspicuously." The clerk kept the cigars behind the counter. (source: Court filings)

Curly then went into his wallet for more money and bought another blunt, probably for himself. He left the store at 6:28 while his buddy -- Moe?--was still checking out. Fifty seconds later, at 6:29, the security camera picked up Martin walking back east toward the Retreat at Twin Lakes. He was turning as he walked as though he were making some parting comments to an unseen party. That party was almost assuredly Curly who had just as assuredly bought Martin a blunt or two. Too young to have bought them on his own, Martin had no other good reason to wait nearly five minutes outside the store. Earlier that morning, Martin had waited outside that same 7-11 while his cousin bought a blunt, a "Black and Mild" that sold for about a dollar. The cousin gave this account to the Sanford PD but did not say (page 9)for whom he bought the blunt.

If his own communications were to be believed, Martin's drug use did not stop with marijuana.  In July 2011 Martin began subscribing to the daily video log of a character named Andy Milonakis, whose life seems dedicated to drug use, specifically a concoction known by various street names including "purple lean" or "purple drank." The Urban Dictionary describes purple drank as "a mixture of Promethazine/Codeine cough syrup and Sprite, with a few jolly ranchers and/or skittles thrown in." In May 2012, the Treehouse screen-captured a revealing Facebook exchange from June 2011 between Martin and a character called "Mackenzie DumbRyte Baksh:

MARTIN: unow a connect for codine?

MACKENZIE: why nigga

MARTIN: to make some more

MACKENZIE: u tawkin bout the pill codeine

MARTIN: no the liquid  its meds. I had it b4

MACKENZIE: hell naw u could just use some robitussin nd soda to make some fire ass lean

MARTIN: codine is a higher dose of dxm

MACKENZIE: I feel u but need a prescription to get it

Martin obviously had some familiarity with this world. The reader will have noted too that a soft drink like Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail and some Skittles would get the user two-thirds of the way to some "fire ass lean." On the night of the shooting, the Sanford PD incorrectly identified Martin's drink of choice as "Arizona brand name tea." They did not do so on purpose, and the media followed their lead. But the media continued to refer to the drink as tea long after they should have known better. This was due in part to sloppiness, in part to racial sensitivity about the word "watermelon," and in part to the drug implications of a fruity soft drink.

Although the video quality of Martin outside the store was far from clear, a distinctive black and white button on his hoodie made it possible to identify him with some certainty. Even in the dark and the rain Zimmerman noticed it and told the dispatcher, "He's got a button on his shirt." The button memorialized one "Cory Craig Johnson," a cousin of Martin with a long rap sheet and a short life span. He died at age thirty-six in 2007 of unknown causes. When Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, appeared on a videotaped interview with the Miami Herald on March 16, she visibly froze when the host said to her, "I'm aware [Trayvon] was wearing a button that night." After glancing uncomfortably at Martin's aunt, Stephanie Sands, Sybrina said abruptly, "That's a family member." Unaware she was treading on unwelcome ground, the host kept asking about the button before Sybrina switched topics to Trayvon's love of his grandmother.

At roughly 7:05 Zimmerman spotted Martin at 1460 Retreat View Circle at the northeast corner of the Retreat at Twin Lakes, very near the pedestrian shortcut that Martin likely took into the gated community. This spot was no more than ten or twelve minutes away from the 7-11. This left some twenty-five minutes in Martin's last hour unaccounted for, more than enough time for Martin to smoke at least one of the blunts that he openly favored. He liked his marijuana. Upon Martin's death, several of his friends posted images on Twitter of rolled blunts as a memorial, and his autopsy revealed traces of tetrahyrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive agent in marijuana, in his blood and urine.

Martin left the store with the ear buds from his cell phone firmly planted. He did a lot of phoning that day. He had been on one call continuously from 5:09 to 6:30. He would either make or receive a half-dozen more calls in the remaining forty-five minutes of his life, most of that time with the mystery girlfriend Dee Dee. Truthfully or otherwise, she would try to provide something of an alibi for the missing minutes. The relevant part of her interview with state prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda went as follows:

DeeDee: It started raining.

DLR: It started raining, and did [Martin] go somewhere?

DeeDee: Yeah, he ran to the, um, mail thing.

DLR: Like, I'm sorry, what?

 DeeDee: Like a mail, like a shed.

DLR: Like a mail -- like a shed, like a mail area?

DeeDee: Yeah, yeah.

DLR: Like a covered area, because it was raining?

DeeDee Yeah.

DLR: So did he tell you he was already inside, like, the gated place?

DeeDee: Yeah. He ran in there.

De la Rionda was leading Dee Dee to account for the time gap in a more innocuous way. Her retelling suggested that Martin had stopped at the mail shed to get out of the rain and waited there until it abated. Her memory of the mail shed, however, seemed much too convenient. Would Martin have specified his location that precisely and, if so, would she really have remembered it? Neither possibility was likely.

More critically, Zimmerman spotted Martin at the shortcut into the community about thirty-five minutes after he left the 7-11. When he led the Sanford PD on his walk-through the day after the shooting, Zimmerman had no reason to lie about the timeline. In his retelling, Martin never stopped for shelter. He would be dead about twelve minutes after Zimmerman saw him. To reinforce the boy-in-the-rain narrative, both Dee Dee and Crump insisted that Martin put his hood up because it started raining. In fact, Martin had the hood up in the store and when he left it.

Dee Dee made at least one other claim that was suspect. As she told Crump and ABC's Matt Gutman in her initial phone interview in March 2012, "Then somebody pushed Trayvon because the headset just fell." The police, however, found Martin's phone buds in his pocket. He apparently took them off before the encounter. He took the button off as well. The police found that in his pocket. The police did not find the blunts. Martin had ample time to go back to the Greens' porch, stash whatever was left of them, pocket the button and the ear buds, and return to seek out Zimmerman.

In no realistic scenario could Zimmerman have run Martin down and "confronted" him as the prosecutors charged. He was four inches shorter than Martin and fifty pounds heavier. If that were not enough, Martin had a forty-second head start. Although both Zimmerman and Dee Dee said Martin was running from Zimmerman, Martin could have easily made it back to Green's unscathed even if just walking.

Zimmerman did leave his truck to keep an eye on Martin but consented to the dispatcher's request that he not follow Martin.  He was heading back to this truck when Martin confronted him. No other explanation makes sense -- except to the Florida prosecutors and the nation's media.  The trial begins next month and, despite the evidence, there is no guarantee good sense and justice will prevail.

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