We have been following the investigation into the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, has not been charged and reported a suspicious character to 911. Martin was returning from a 7-11 after buying Skittles. He was carrying the candy, a small amount of cash, and an iced tea. The family and many others have called for the arrest of Zimmerman, though the accounts of the shooting have been murky. Previously, we discussed the need to hear the 911 tapes, which have now been released and are linked below.
Zimmerman is reportedly a habitual caller into the police and is heard on one of the tapes complaining that ““These a**holes always get away.” Zimmerman states on the call that Martin appeared “up to no good . . . It’s raining. He’s just walking around, looking about . . . He’s just staring looking at all the houses.” Zimmerman says on the call that it is Martin who confronts him: “Something’s wrong with him. He’s coming to check me out.” However, he later admits that he is following Martin, which the police dispatcher discourages.
Police Chief Bill Lee said the 911 calls show that the incident was not a case of racial profiling. He said Zimmerman could not say whether the suspect was black or white. However, on the tape you hear Zimmerman say “He looks black” and then a few moments later, “He’s a black male.” While he is at first equivocal, he does identify his race. That does not mean that this is a case of profiling, of course.
However, family member have been critical of the handling of the case by the police and what they view as the police bending over backward to defend Zimmerman. The family had to file a lawsuit to get these tapes. After a hearing, the police finally relented.
The tapes certainly contradict some statements by the police. However, I am not sure that they substantially alter the status in the case. The evidence still is largely based on Zimmerman’s account, though such contemporary records are generally admissible. The tapes both help and hurt Zimmerman.
The statement by Zimmerman that “these a**holes always get away” certainly shows animus and he clearly follows the youth. However, that does not translate into evidence of intent to kill. I am more interested in the level of force used by Zimmerman and the two gunshots heard on the tape. It is possible that audio creates a misleading impression of two shots but that would seem an important forensic question. It is hard to believe that Martin would allegedly continue any confrontation of Zimmerman after a warning shot unless the shot was fired in the midst of a struggle over the gun. Zimmerman can cite the tape for his statement that he believed that Martin had something in his waistband and appeared on drugs. He can also cite his contemporary description of Martin approaching him.
Putting aside the complaints regarding the handling of the case by the police and the conflicting statements given by officials, there remains the question of whether there is sufficient evidence to base a charge against Zimmerman. I would like to see the coroner’s report on the trajectory and distance of the gunshot wound as well as audio analysis of the gun shot or shots. I would also like to see evidence of the abrasions on both men. Zimmerman was reportedly bleeding from the struggle but we have not heard many details on Martin’s other injuries.
Zimmerman would be wise to secure criminal counsel. There is probably enough here for an indictment. The most salient facts against him are (1) the statement on the 911 tape showing animus, (2) the disregarded instructions not to follow Martin, (3) the advantage in weight and possession of a firearm in the struggle, and (4) the lack of any weapon or proof of criminal conduct by Martin.
What do you think about the state of the evidence?
Here is the Zimmerman tape: 911 Tape (Zimmerman)
Here is a witness tape: 911 Tape (1)
Here is a witness tape: 911 Tape (2)