In Sanford, Florida, a family has buried a teen killed by a “watch captain” in a gated community on February 26th. However, question remains not only about the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, but why the shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, has not been charged. Zimmerman reported a suspicious character to 911 and was expressly told by the police not to confront the individual. Instead, he pursued Martin and shot him — claiming that the shooting was in self-defense. [UPDATE: A statement reportedly from the Zimmerman family denies that he confronted Martin].
A gunshot can be heard on the 911 tape. The refusal of Zimmerman to yield to the suggestion of the police brings back memories of the Horn case in Texas.
Like Horn, Zimmerman was not required to follow the instruction of the police to avoid a confrontation.
The teen was returning from a 7-11 after buying Skittles. He was carrying the candy, a small amount of cash, and an iced tea. Yet, police insist that they have no evidence to refute the account since the teen is dead. However, a witnesses who lives nearby has come forward to contest the account of self-defense — though it is not clear how much of a view the witness had of the encounter.
It appears uncontroverted that the two fought. Various callers to 911 described an ongoing fight. Reports indicate that Zimmerman was found standing over the body, with his gun in his waistband. He allegedly complained that no one came to his aid despite calls for help and his shirt showed evidence of a struggle. Perhaps more importantly, he is reported to have been bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. Yet, some witnesses have suggested that it appeared that it was the teen who called out for help. Zimmerman outweighed Martin by 100 pounds. One witness also complained that police told her that she was wrong in reporting Martin called for help — saying that it was Zimmerman.
The family has said that Zimmerman has a record of violence in the assaulting of a police officer despite assurances from police at the time of the shooting that he had no record.
This makes a truly messy case, though the 911 tapes may help fill in some details. The family has demanded the tapes. The fact that Zimmerman insisted on the confrontation despite the instructions of police raise serious questions over who instigated the fight. Yet, any criminal charge could be difficult without more evidence. Zimmerman was allowed to confront Martin. Even if he was rude or out of line, there remains the question of who started the fight and the grounds for self-defense. Since Martin was armed only with a bag of Skittles and was physically smaller than Zimmerman, the use of lethal force is questionable.
The family could pursue this in tort as a wrongful death case based on battery. While Zimmerman has the privilege of self-defense, it is limited to commensurate force and must be reasonable. There is also a defense of mistaken self-defense but that also must be a reasonable mistake. The latter would not appear relevant here. Zimmerman would have to argue actual self-defense and a fear of serious bodily injury or death to justify the use of lethal force.
In either case, there remains a paucity of direct evidence. That would not bar a criminal charge but would make any trial more challenging on the current record. Nevertheless, if a witness is prepared to testify that it was Martin who cried out for assistance, an indictment could be based on that testimony when coupled with Zimmerman allegedly forcing the confrontation. We will continue to watch the case closely.
Here is the statement that has been attributed in the media to the Zimmerman family:
“The tragic events of February 26 are very sad for all concerned. The Martin family, our family, and the entire community have been forever changed.
The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that lead to the tragic shooting are false and extremely misleading. Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have used this tragedy to further their own causes and agendas.
George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever. One black neighbor recently interviewed said she knew everything in the media was untrue and that she would trust George with her life. Another black neighbor said that George was the only one, black or white, who came and welcomed her to the community, offering any assistance he could provide. Recently, I met two black children George invited to a social event. I asked where they met George. They responded that he was their mentor. They said George visited them routinely, took them places, helped them, and taught them things and that they really loved George. The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth.
The events of February 26 reported in the media are also totally inaccurate. Out of respect for the on-going investigation, I will not discuss specifics. However, the media reports of the events are imaginary at best. At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event become public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media.
Our entire family is deeply sorry for the loss of Trayvon. We pray for the Martin family daily. We also pray that the community will grieve together and not be divided by more unwarranted hate.
The Zimmerman family will have no further contact with the media prior to the resolution of the investigation. It would be greatly appreciated if the media would respect our privacy.”