Today was the start of the George Zimmerman trial, and what I have seen so far of the recaps from the defense’s opening arguments have been painful to watch. Even ignoring Don West’s cringe-inducing “knock knock” joke, the defense appears to have done little more than offer the jury a rambling and incoherent summary of the case. West’s attempts to recount a timeline of events leading up to the shooting was, in particular, a confusing mess. He managed to both overload the jury with a torrent of disconnected facts, but also failed to provide the jury with the specific bits of information that would allow the jury to understand the narrative that the defense is trying to sell to them.
One particular item that stood out to me, however, was the defense’s failure to outline the specifics of Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. In his opening statement, West provided the jury with an aerial view of the infamous “T” junction where Trayvon died, and a timeline of various phone calls made by witnesses, the victim, and the defendant. But in describing where exactly the shooting occurred, West can only vaguely gesture to the general area, circling an approximately 1600 square foot area to indicate the location:
The reason for this vagueness is obvious: the precise location of where the altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon began is going to be a significant problem for Zimmerman’s defense, as Zimmerman’s statements concerning how the fight began are not reconcilable with the actual crime scene.
I have included full excerpts and links to the relevant transcripts below the jump, but Zimmerman’s initial police statements and interviews are all clear, direct, and consistent with one another. Zimmerman states, in three separate statements given in the days following the shooting, that after Trayvon punched him in the nose he “immediately” “fell backwards.” Those statements were Zimmerman’s 2/26 written statement, (“the suspect punched me in the face. I fell backwards onto my back. The suspect got on top of me”), the 2/26 Singleton interview (“And he punched me in the nose. At that point I fell down.”; “I fell to the ground when he punched me the first time.”; “As soon as he punched me, I fell backwards, um, into the grass”; “He punched me in the face and I fell backwards”), and the 2/27 Serino interview (Zimmerman: “… And then he punched me in the face.” Serino: “Oh, so he said, OK, you have a problem now. OK, he punched and you fell?” Zimmerman: “Yes, sir.”; “He punched me in the face and I fell backwards.”).
On the afternoon of February 27, after the interview that occurred that morning, Zimmerman then performed a walkthrough with police. During that walkthrough, Zimmerman started to describe the altercation with Trayvon in the same way as in his first three statements. Zimmerman describes that he was on the west prong of the “T” junction, walking west towards his car, having hung up with the non-emergency number approximately 1.5 minutes prior. Zimmerman then describes that Trayvon was to the south of him, and walking north along the path towards the junction, towards Zimmerman.
Also of interest is the fact that this description directly contradicts Zimmerman’s prior claims that “[Trayvon] jumped out from the bushes.” There are no bushes Trayvon could have come out from, and Zimmerman never mentions the bushes again. But there is a bigger inconsistency with Zimmerman’s statement: as seen in the walkthrough video, Zimmerman’s claim that he “fell backwards” after Trayvon “sucker punched him” cannot be true.
This is where Zimmerman claims to have been standing when he was punched and fell backwards:
There’s a problem here. Trayvon’s body was found 40 feet south of where Zimmerman is standing in this screenshot – and in front of him, not behind him. Shown below (and please forgive the MS Paint diagramming) are two pictures of the “T” junction, demonstrating how Zimmerman claims he was punched. The blue block is where Zimmerman says Trayvon came from, and the direction he approached in. The red blocks are where Zimmerman says he was standing. In his statements, Zimmerman states that he was facing Trayvon when the punch occurred, and therefore facing south. The red arrows thus indicate the direction that Zimmerman alleges to have “fallen back,” in his prior interviews. Also marked in both photos is the location where Trayvon’s body was found, face down in the grass, several feet away from any concrete:
So in Zimmerman’s walkthrough interview on 2/27, when he started to repeat the same version of events he’d given in his earlier statements, it quickly became apparent to Zimmerman that he could not actually have fallen backwards, as he previously claimed. Zimmerman tries to compensate for this newly apparent discrepancy, and for the first time, Zimmerman changes his story of how Trayvon punched him. No longer does Zimmerman claim to have been punched, and then to have immediately fallen onto his back. Instead, confronted with the actual geographical setting of where Trayvon was killed, Zimmerman tells a new version of events: he was punched, and then he stumbled forward 40 feet, at which point he fell on his back (after having stumbled forward) and Trayvon then got on top of him. Significantly, even with this new version of events, Zimmerman’s walkthrough of the altercation still comes up 20 feet short of where Trayvon was actually shot.
Following the walkthrough interview, Zimmerman stops telling his initial version of events, given in the first three days following the shooting. Zimmerman instead switches to an amended, and much vaguer, story. In the 2/29 interview, the only interview to take place after the walkthrough, Zimmerman describes a version of events that is inconsistent with the version he gave the first three times he told the story. In describing what happened after Trayvon sucker punched him, Zimmerman states the following:
When he first punched me. I don’t know if I immediately fell down, he threw me down. I was stumbling, I ended up on my back.
The reason for the sudden change is obvious: after performing the walkthrough with the police, Zimmerman had realized it was impossible for his first version of events to be correct. He could not have “fallen backwards” after he was punched, so instead he claims that after he was punched, he fell down, was thrown down, or stumbled forward 40 feet. Zimmerman is unable to provide specifics as to how he was transported forty feet from where the first punch occurred — or whether he fell, was thrown, or stumbled to get there — but unlike his prior statements, it is vague enough to not be demonstrably impossible.
Zimmerman’s Police Statements
As I headed back to my vehicle the suspect emerged from the darkness and said “you got a problem” I said “no” the suspect said “you do now”. And [illegible] and tried to find my phone to dial 911 the suspect punched me in the face. I fell backwards onto my back. The suspect got on top of me.
Zimmerman: So, I was walking back through to where my car was and he jumped out from the bushes and he said, What the fuck’s your problem, homie? And I got my cell phone out to call 911 this time.
Singleton: Um hum.
Zimmerman: And I said, Hey man, I don’t have a problem. And he goes, No, now you have a problem. And he punched me in the nose. At that point I fell down, ah I tried to defend myself, he just started punching me in the face. And, ah, I started screaming for help, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe. Then he started taking my head..
Singleton: Are you still standing at this point?
Zimmerman: No ma’am.
Zimmerman: I fell to the ground when he punched me the first time.
Zimmerman: It was dark. I didn’t even see him getting ready to punch me. As soon as he punched me, I fell backwards, um, into the grass, and then he grabbed, he was whaling on my head, and I st..then I started yelling help. When I started yelling for help he grabbed my head and he started hitting my head into the, I, I tried to sit up and yell for help. And then he grabbed my head and starting hitting it into the sidewalk. Um, when he started doing that, I slid into the grass to try and get out from under him and so that he would stop hitting my head into the sidewalk and I was still yelling for help. And I could see people looking and some guy yells out, I’m calling 911. And I said, Help me, help me, he’s killing me. And, he puts his hand on my nose and on my mouth and he says, You’re gonna die tonight. And, I don’t remember much after that. I just remem..I couldn’t breathe, and then he still kept trying to hit my head against the pavement, or, I don’t know if there was a sign or what it was…so I just, oh when I slid, my jacket and my shirt came up. And when he said, You’re gonna die tonight, I felt his hand go down on my side, and I thought he was going for my firearm. So I grabbed it immediately, and as he banged my head again, I just pulled out my firearm and shot him.
Singleton: OK. So at what point, and where from what bushes does he jump out?
Zimmerman: It was somewhere around here.
Singleton: Did you know if the…is there bushes along this walkway or…where are the bushes?
Zimmerman: There all…there hedges around the sides and the back of the buildings.
Singleton: OK, so you think it’s up here somewhere where the “T” is, where he jumps out?
Zimmerman: Yes, ma’am.
Singleton: OK, do you remember, um, you were walking this way, did he jump out in front of you from somewhere? Or did he come up behind you? Or do you remember?
Zimmerman: I don’t recall.
Singleton: OK, but he was…from what you guess, he’s somewhere hiding at this “T” with the bushes?
Zimmerman: Yes, ma’am.
Singleton: In the bushes when he jumps out. OK. And then where, where, where does, where do you end up when you, when he, when you guys are on the ground and after this has all happened…where, where…do you even know?
Zimmerman: He punched me in the face and I fell backwards, and I don’t even know where…
Singleton: You just know you were somewhere in this area…
Zimmerman: It ended up. Yes ma’am.
Zimmerman: When he came up to me, he said, “You got a problem?” and I said no. And then I went to reach for my phone to find my phone to call 911 instead of non-emergency.
Zimmerman: And then is when he punched me. He said, “You have a problem now.” And then he punched me in the face.
Serino: Oh, so he said, OK, you have a problem now. OK, he punched and you fell?
Zimmerman: Yes, sir.
Serino: OK, and you got injuries…where’d he punch you, in your face or your chest or where?
Zimmerman: In my face.
Zimmerman: My head, I mean all over my head.
Serino: … Um, how did he manage to bang your head, and, OK, correct me if I misunderstood what you said here as far as slamming the head into the concrete. Into the cement thing. How’d he do that?
Zimmerman: I was on my back.
Zimmerman: When he first punched me. I don’t know if I immediately fell down, he threw me down. I was stumbling, I ended up on my back.
Serino: Um hum.
Zimmerman: And he was on top of me, mounted.
Zimmerman: And he kept punching me, and then, when I started yelling for help, that’s when he grabbed my head and started to slam it.
Serino: Grabbed your head by your ears, by…hard to say?
Zimmerman: I don’t remember.
Zimmerman: Every time he punched my nose, it just…
Serino: How many times, OK, how many times you get punched in the nose? A couple, few?
Zimmerman: I don’t know, I don’t remember.