Closing arguments haven’t been made yet, but after


Closing arguments haven’t been made yet, but after the close of Zimmerman’s defense, my prediction is a manslaughter conviction, by a slight margin, with acquittal the next most likely option, and Murder 2 trailing as the least likely result. Call it a 45/40/15 split.

As far as I am aware, Zimmerman’s defense didn’t present any testimony or evidence concerning how the fight started. Their entire story of the shooting starts about halfway through the fight — call it the “Zimmerman is a fat and slow Dudley Do-Right who was getting his butt kicked” defense. Which is kind of a double edged sword for Zimmerman, because it means his case didn’t introduce any evidence that Trayvon started the fight. It’s counting on the jury to focus on the fact that, at the moment of the shooting, Zimmerman may have genuinely been in fear for his life — while steering the jury away from closely examining his conflicting police statements. The defense’s story is that Zimmerman is bumbling and quixotic, but too inept to be culpable for any harm that resulted.

So if there’s a conviction, it’s more likely to be manslaughter. The state’s strongest case for Murder 2 was always being able to show that Zimmerman intentionally deceived investigators about how the fight started, and that he used his knowledge of self-defense law to deliberately craft a story about why he was justified in killing Trayvon. But since the defense opted to avoid all together Zimmerman’s statements about who threw the first punch, Zimmerman’s veracity didn’t really come into play. The jury could buy that Zimmerman is a reckless fool, who was oblivious of his own limitations and too in love with the idea of playing the hero, but the state wasn’t able to show Zimmerman as calculating and malicious.

In a nutshell: if the jury believes Rachel Jeantel testified truthfully about what she heard on the phone that night, Zimmerman will be convicted of manslaughter. If they’re unsure of what she heard, then the odds are much less likely.


Zimmerman’s Statements are the Defense’s Own Worst Enemy

As I discussed in my previous post, there are two plausible scenarios that fit the undisputed evidence in the Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman’s defense is now presenting their case in support of scenario 1: that Trayvon decided to commit murder and beat Zimmerman to death with his bare hands, as revenge for Zimmerman having “disrespected” Trayvon. In making their case, however, Zimmerman has two problems they face. The first is that there is very little they can do to directly disprove the prosecution’s case, as the prosecution’s evidence is largely circumstantial and based on known parts of the record. The second is that the evidence of their version of events all comes from a single witness, George Zimmerman himself — and there are so many points of question and confusion over his testimony that it is difficult, if not outright impossible, to accept his version as being wholly accurate. The prosecution’s job will therefore be to argue that even if Zimmerman’s story cannot be completely relied upon, it reliable enough to create doubt to prove one central point: that perhaps Zimmerman doesn’t know what happened that night, but the events were so confusing that no one else can know either.

I’ve provided below a run-down of the central points for both problems that the prosecution will face.

Continue reading

The Undisputed Facts in the Zimmerman Trial, and the Competing Scenarios of the Prosecution and the Defense

The prosecution is wrapping up its case against George Zimmerman today, after presenting nearly forty witnesses in total, and having provided the jury with a fairly comprehensive overview of the available evidence. The defense has not gotten a chance to make its own case yet. From the trial so far, we have a rough idea of the facts that are agreed to by both parties. And, based only on the agreed-upon facts, there appear to be two possible scenarios for what occurred on the night Trayvon died.

The first, the defense’s scenario, is that Trayvon, while walking home from the store, decided to kill Zimmerman in order to defend his honor, after Zimmerman offended Trayvon by following him. And the second, the prosecution’s scenario, is that, when Zimmerman followed Trayvon and encountered him in the grassy area between the houses, Zimmerman tried to detain Trayvon, and Trayvon resisted, resulting in the fight that lead to Trayvon’s death.

By my reckoning, these are the facts that both the prosecution and the defense would agree to:

  1. On the night of the shooting, Trayvon stated that he was going to walk to the store to get skittles and a drink. Trayvon did in fact get those items from the store, and he was walking directly home from the store at the time that Zimmerman first saw him. There is no evidence to indicate that, prior to the moment of the fight, Trayvon was engaged in any form of unlawful behavior. Zimmerman was correct in that he did not recognize Trayvon as being a resident of the community, as Trayvon had only been there one week at the time of his death.
  2. Zimmerman pursued Trayvon for a period of approximately four minutes, while Zimmerman was in his car and Trayvon was moving on foot. Trayvon and Zimmerman did not speak or attempt to speak to each other at any point during this time period.
  3. Based on the fact that Trayvon was walking in the rain, and that Zimmerman did not recognize him, Zimmerman believed that Trayvon was either on drugs or in the middle of committing a criminal act. Concerned that Trayvon was a criminal, Zimmerman called the non-emergency number to request that police be dispatched to investigate Trayvon.
  4. Trayvon was on the phone with a friend, Rachel Jeantel, for the duration of his walk home from the store. Call records show that the phone call began before Zimmerman first observed Trayvon. The records also show that, at approximately 7:12pm, the call’s connection was dropped unexpectedly, but that the call was resumed 20 seconds later.
  5. At some point during the four minute period that Zimmerman was following Trayvon by car, Trayvon became aware that he was being followed. After realizing he was being followed, Trayvon continued to walk in the direction of the house where he was staying.
  6. After Zimmerman had watched Trayvon walk for approximately four minutes, Trayvon’s pace changed. Trayvon had previously been walking, but at approximately 7:11:42, Trayvon began either to run, or to skip. Zimmerman, who was on the phone with the police dispatcher, stated “shit he’s running” while opening his car door. Zimmerman, now on foot, moved out into the “dog walk” area, moving in the same direction that Trayvon had ran or skipped away a few moments before.
  7. After Zimmerman exited his vehicle, he could not see Trayvon, who had started running before Zimmerman could get out of his car. There is no evidence that Trayvon saw that Zimmerman had left his vehicle. Both Zimmerman and Trayvon state in their respective phone calls, to dispatch and to Jeantel, that they have lost the other individual. Zimmerman ended his call with the police dispatcher two minutes after he got out of his car, and he remained on foot in the “dog walk” area. Trayvon remained on the phone with Jeantel while continuing to walk through the neighborhood, on an unknown path, and he did not return to his house.
  8. At approximately 7:15:40pm, Trayvon and Zimmerman came into close proximity with one another, while both were moving on foot in the “dog walk” area. Trayvon was still on the phone with Jeantel, but after an initial exchange of words between Trayvon and Zimmerman, the call was dropped.
  9. The fight between Trayvon and Zimmerman lasted between a minimum of 60 and a maximum of 100 seconds. For the last 45 seconds of the fight, there is a continual yelling of “help,” in a desperate and panicked manner, from one of the two individuals involved.
  10. All witnesses and parties agree that, at some point prior to the gunshot, the fight involved both participants on the ground, with one on top of the other.
  11. At 7:16:56pm, Zimmerman fired a single  round into Trayvon’s chest, immediately incapacitating him and leading to his death shortly thereafter.
  12. Approximately one* to three minutes later, the first law enforcement officers arrived at the scene. Trayvon was face down in the grass. Zimmerman was standing nearby, with his gun in his holster. Zimmerman identified himself as the shooter, and was taken into custody.

Based on the above facts, then, either of the following scenarios is plausible:

Scenario 1: Zimmerman sees Trayvon walking home from the store. Zimmerman is a concerned neighbor, and because he does not recognize Trayvon, he comes to the possibly mistaken — but understandable and well-intentioned — conclusion that Trayvon is “on drugs” and “up to no good.” Zimmerman follows Trayvon, and calls the police to come question Trayvon and investigate the situation. When Trayvon skips away and out of sight from Zimmerman, Zimmerman leaves his car. Zimmerman does not intend to follow Trayvon after he loses sight of him, but Zimmerman believes he can gather better information for the police if he is on foot.

After Trayvon observes that a man in a car is following him through the neighborhood, Trayvon decides to skip away from the car, and he heads into the “dog walk” area behind the house where he is staying. Approximately four minutes after having skipping away from Zimmerman, Trayvon makes a decision to go back and find the man in the car. Trayvon does not know who his pursuer is, but he feels “disrespected” that the man followed him. Trayvon decides that he will attack the man, in revenge for being followed. Trayvon either announces this intention to Jeantel, and Jeantel later lies about it, or else Trayvon decides to attack Zimmerman without informing Jeantel of this plan. Although Zimmerman is no longer where Trayvon last saw him, Trayvon eventually manages to find Zimmerman at the “T” junction. Trayvon goes in to attack Zimmerman, while angrily demanding “Do you have a problem?” Zimmerman tries to back away, because Zimmerman did not want to encounter Trayvon. As Zimmerman is trying to avoid confrontation, Zimmerman does not identify himself to Trayvon, and responds only that “I don’t have a problem.” Although Trayvon does not at first take any action against Zimmerman, Zimmerman believes that he is in danger, and immediately attempts to call 911 when he sees Trayvon.

Seeing that Zimmerman is trying to call the police, Trayvon punches Zimmerman in the face. After getting punched, Zimmerman stumbles 40 feet southwards until falling to the ground, and Trayvon straddles him. For at least 60 seconds, Trayvon punches Zimmerman between 20 and 30 times, attempts to bash Zimmerman’s skull in with the sidewalk, and uses his hands to suffocate Zimmerman, who is unable to breathe and about to black out. Zimmerman does not fight back, but does try to protect his head from the concrete by repeatedly squirming away. Zimmerman also yells continuously for “help.” Witnesses on the scene ask what’s going on, during the course of the fight. When Zimmerman begs for assistance, they tell Zimmerman they are calling for help, but refuse to intervene in the fight themselves. After a minute or so of punching Zimmerman in the face, and otherwise attempting to kill Zimmerman with his bare hands but being unsuccessful in the attempt, Trayvon notices that Zimmerman has a gun. Trayvon tries to grab the weapon, and he informs Zimmerman that he intends to kill him with it. Zimmerman manages to draw the gun first, and fires once into Trayvon’s chest, killing him. * * *

Scenario 2: Zimmerman sees Trayvon walking home from the store, and comes to the mistaken conclusion that Trayvon is “on drugs” and “up to no good.” Zimmerman pursues Trayvon, from his car, and calls for police to come investigate. Zimmerman frequently calls police when he observes strangers walking through his neighborhood; on the five prior occasions when he has done so, it has always been to report unknown black males who are walking through the gated community. Recently, a skinny black teenager is believed to have committed a crime in the neighborhood, and Trayvon matches that description. While following Trayvon, Zimmerman expresses his frustration  to the dispatcher that assholes like Trayvon always “get away.” When the “fucking punk” then decides to run from him, Zimmerman, who is armed, leaves his car to follow Trayvon on foot.

After Trayvon observes that a man in a car is following him through the neighborhood, Trayvon is initially apprehensive. He is on a phone call with a friend, and he informs her that a “creepy ass cracker” is following him. The friend, either as a joke or as a warning, says to be careful, because the stranger might try and rape him. Trayvon tells her not to joke about that, and expresses nervousness. Trayvon’s friend then tells him to run when the man keeps watching him, and at first Trayvon says he is only going to “walk fast.” The man continues to pursue Trayvon in his car, however, and eventually Trayvon agrees with the suggestion to get away. He heads back through a cut-through, where the car cannot go, and Trayvon believes that he has lost the man in the car. Trayvon’s precise direction is unknown, but he does not  make it inside his home. Thinking that he lost Zimmerman back on the street, Trayvon remains outside in the “dog walk”, talking on the phone with his friend.

After Zimmerman loses sight of Trayvon, Zimmerman leaves his car, and continues to keep a lookout for Trayvon while walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman is searching for Trayvon, hoping to be able to find Trayvon’s location so that the police will be able to apprehend him when they arrive in the neighborhood. A couple minutes later, Trayvon and Zimmerman run into each other in the “dog walk” area. Trayvon says, “Why are you following me?” Zimmerman says, “What are you doing here?” Zimmerman moves to question Trayvon, hoping to keep him there until police show up. Trayvon doesn’t know Zimmerman, and in fact minutes earlier Trayvon had been discussing with a friend how creepy this guy was, and how he might be a rapist, or have other bad intentions. Trayvon freaks out and resists Zimmerman’s attempts to detain him. A fight then breaks out in earnest, initially with both parties upright and moving around through the grassy area, and then with both parties wrestling on the ground. Neither Trayvon or Zimmerman sustain significant injuries, but Trayvon, having seen Zimmerman’s gun during the struggle, screams in terror, trying to prevent Zimmerman from getting off a shot. The two are locked in place on the ground for nearly a minute, until Zimmerman finally overpowers Trayvon and draws the gun, firing once into Trayvon’s chest, killing him. * * *

In order to prove scenario 2, the prosecution’s job, in addition to familiarizing the jury with the known facts of the case, was to convince the jury of two basic facts: the only evidence that Trayvon tried to kill Zimmerman is Zimmerman’s own words, and that nothing Zimmerman says about that night can be believed. To bolster this case, the prosecution also tried to demonstrate Zimmerman’s vigilante, hero-wannabe tendencies, thus explaining both his skewed perception of events, and the likelihood that he would try to detain Trayvon.

If the prosecution succeeded, the defense has a big problem on its hands, as Zimmerman has few available options for rebutting the prosecution’s case — because there is no way that he can take the stand to present that evidence himself, and there is no one else who can present it for him. Meanwhile, the prosecution has already presented a witness that was, quite literally, in the middle of a conversation with Trayvon at the time the fight occurred. Rachel Jeantel was, indisputably, a witness to Trayvon’s descriptions of what he subjectively experienced in the moments leading up to the fight. Her testimony is consistent with all the available physical evidence, and she provides direct evidence that, at the time the fight occurred, Trayvon did not have the slightest intention of committing homicide.

The doesn’t leave much middle ground: either Rachel Jeantel is lying, or George Zimmerman is lying. They cannot both be telling the truth. But Zimmerman’s defense won’t focus on Jeantel, because there is nothing more to be covered there. Jeantel’s testimony is itself wholly consistent with the available physical evidence, and the defense won’t gain any ground by trying to contradict it that way. Jeantel may have been lying, but the defense has no way of disproving her words, other than by attacking her credibility in general. And for better or for worse, that part of the trial is done with.

Which means Zimmerman’s defense — assuming, that is, that it is not based on trying to destroy Trayvon’s character — a defense that would be unlikely, because it would open the door for the prosecution to try to do the same to him — has the job of trying to convince the jury that it is at least possible that Zimmerman isn’t lying about Trayvon attacking him.

This post is long enough for now, but in my next post I’ll give a run through of all the problems with Zimmerman’s testimony that the prosecution has tried to highlight. It will be interesting to see how the defense is going to try to rebut those attacks on Zimmerman’s credibility, without introducing either character evidence or Zimmerman’s own testimony.


Zimmerman’s Police Statements Are Not Consistent With Established Facts

George Zimmerman’s written police statement, taken on the night that he shot Trayvon Martin, has now been released by his defense counsel, along with several audio recordings of oral statements he gave. I have not been able to listen to the recorded statements yet, but my transcript of the handwritten statement is as follows:

In August of 2011 my neighbors house was broken into while she was with her infant son. The intruders attempted to attack her and her child; however, SPD reported to the scene of the crime and the robbers fled, my wife saw the intruders running from the home and became scared of the rising crime within our neighborhood. I, an my neighbors formed a “Neighborhood Watch Program.” We were instructed by the SPD to call the non-emergency line if we saw anything suspicious & 911 if we saw a crime in progress. Tonight, I was on my way to the grocery store when I saw a male approximately 5’11” to 6’2″ casually walking in the rain, looking into homes. I pulled my vehicle over and called SPD non-emergency phone number. I told the dispatcher what I had witnesses, the dispatcher took note of my location & the suspect fled to a [darkened?] area of the sidewalk, as the dispatch was asking me for an exact location the suspect emerged from the darkness and circled my vehicle. I could not hear if he said anything. The suspect once again disappeared between the back of some houses. The dispatch once again asked for my exact location. I could not remember the name of the street so I got out of my car to look for a street sign. The dispatch asked me for a description and the direction the suspect went. I told the dispatch I did not know but I was out of my vehicle looking for a street sign & the direction the suspect went. The dispatch told me not to follow the suspect & that an officer was in route. 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. I called “Help!” several times. The suspect told me “shut the fuck up” as I tried to sit up right. The suspect grabbed my head and slammed it into the concrete sidewalk several times. I continued to yell “Help!” each time I attempted to sit up, the suspect slammed my head into the side walk, my head felt like it was going to explode. I tried to slide out from under the suspect and continue to yell “Help”. As I slid the suspect covered my mouth and nose and stopped my breathing. At this point, I felt the suspect reach for my now exposed firearm and said “you gonna die tonight motha [fuckin’?].” I unholstered my firearm in fear for my life as he had assured he was going to kill me and fired one shot into his torso. The suspect got back allowing me to sit up and said “you got me.” At this point I slid out from underneath him and got on top of the suspect holding his hands away from his body. An onlooker appeared and asked me if I was ok, I said “no” he said “I am calling 911″ I said I don’t need you to call 911 I already called them I need you to help me restrain this guy.” At this point a SPD officer arrived and asked who shot him” & I said “I did” and I placed my hands ontop of my head and told the officer where my personal firearm was holstered. The officer handcuffed me and disarmed me. The officer then placed me into the back of his vehicle.

This statement is going to be a very big problem for Zimmerman’s defense team. It is more troubling than I expected — many of the more incongruous and bizarre claims that were in contained in the reports relayed by George Zimmerman’s brother and father are also present in Zimmerman’s own statement, and they are not adding up.

Even taking this statement in the most favorable light for the defense, it contains several factual inaccuracies and at least one gaping omission that Zimmerman’s counsel is going to have to explain. Some incorrect or distorted recollections are to be expected — witnesses are, in general, very bad at remembering a precise account of high stress events. That Zimmerman’s statement contains some odd inaccuracies is not notable in itself, or a sign that Zimmerman intentionally tried to misstate the truth. Zimmerman’s account, however, contains a number of troubling, self-serving statements that are inconsistent with the known facts of this case.

Here are excerpts of some of the more significant allegations in the statement, and a brief summary of the significance of those allegations.

 Tonight, I was on my way to the grocery store when I saw a male approximately 5’11” to 6’2″ casually walking in the rain, looking into homes.

Zimmerman lives in the far southwest corner of the neighborhood. Both entrances to the neighborhood complex are on the same road that Zimmerman lives on, and not on Twin Trees, where Zimmerman’s car was parked and where the first encounter between the two occurred. Why was Zimmerman on Twin Trees Ln., then? Zimmerman claims he just happened to notice Trayvon as he was driving to the grocery store, but it seems more likely Zimmerman pursued Trayvon in his car even before the call to police was made.

I have yet to see it confirmed precisely where Zimmerman’s truck was parked, or which way it was facing, but the consensus seems to be he was just east of the dog-leg of Twin Trees Ln., in the north side lane, facing towards the club house. In order to be in this location, Zimmerman would have had to have taken a very odd path out of the neighborhood complex.

[A]s the dispatch was asking me for an exact location the suspect emerged from the darkness and circled my vehicle. I could not hear if he said anything. The suspect once again disappeared between the back of some houses. The dispatch once again asked for my exact location.

Zimmerman’s call to the non-emergency line does not support this part of Zimmerman’s statement. In that call, Zimmerman does not narrate either (1) Trayvon “circling” his vehicle, or (2) Zimmerman losing sight of Trayvon on two separate occasions. In the phone call, we hear Zimmerman describing Trayvon “coming to check me out,” and then “running,” but Zimmerman never states that he lost sight of Trayvon before that. Nor does he mention any “circling” — only “approaching” and then passing by Zimmerman’s truck.

The suspect once again disappeared between the back of some houses. The dispatch once again asked for my exact location. I could not remember the name of the street so I got out of my car to look for a street sign.

First, there are exactly three streets in Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Three. It defies all reason that Zimmerman, the dedicated neighborhood watch leader, could not even name the three streets that make up his neighborhood. Additionally, the call logs from Zimmerman’s prior calls to the police seem to indicate that Zimmerman was repeatedly able to direct officers to precise crossroads in the neighborhood, reporting incidents at “nearest  Intersection:  TWIN TREES LN &  LONG OAK WAY”. A review of the transcripts of those calls would be necessary to be sure, but I suspect that will be easily confirmed.

And second, there are no street signs anywhere near where Zimmerman’s car was parked, where the shooting took place, or anywhere in between. If Zimmerman was going to look for a street sign, he was going the wrong way. In fact, in the call to police, Zimmerman freely admits his purpose in exiting the vehicle was to follow Trayvon:

Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah

So Zimmerman’s written statement does not provide his prior admitted reason for getting out of his vehicle, and substitutes it with a nonsensical alternative explanation. Why would Zimmerman lie about his reason for getting out of the car, when the truth was not even particularly detrimental to his claims? It does show that Zimmerman was aware of a need to rewrite the events, starting even with basic details.

The dispatch told me not to follow the suspect & that an officer was in route. 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”.

Dispatch instructed Zimmerman not to follow the suspect at approximately 7:11:55 – 7:12:05pm. My best estimate of when the encounter between Zimmerman and Trayvon occurred is between 7:15:30 – 7:15:45pm, and it seems unlikely based on available testimony that it occurred any sooner. So that is, conservatively, an entire three minute period of events, which Zimmerman’s statement utterly omits, and which his statement glosses over as if it were a period of only a few seconds.

In the minimum 200 second time period that elapsed between Zimmerman being instructed to return to his vehicle and the time of the fight, what did Zimmerman do? We do not know, and his statement to police never explains it. The physical altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon occurred ~35 meters from the location of Zimmerman’s truck — he could have walked there and back to his truck again three times over, in the time that elapsed.

Zimmerman apparently believes that his actions during that time period are best left unstated. We can only speculate as to why.

[E]ach time I attempted to sit up, the suspect slammed my head into the side walk[.]

Trayvon’s body was found over a body length away from the sidewalk. The shell casing from Zimmerman’s gun was found ~4 ft from the sidewalk. Zimmerman’s back and the fronts of his boots and the front cuffs of his pants are damp, and either shown in photos or reported by witnesses to be covered in grass. Witnesses also reported the fight occuring in the grass between the houses.

It is definitely possible that the fight between the two occurred partially on the sidewalk, but this part of Zimmerman’s story has always felt wrong to me — it just does not add up. But, based on released evidence so far, it is impossible to get any better of a reconstruction of how the fight actually played out.

As I slid the suspect covered my mouth and nose and stopped my breathing. At this point, I felt the suspect reach for my now exposed firearm and said “you gonna die tonight motha [fuckin’?]”. I unholstered my firearm in fear for my life as he had assured he was going to kill me and fired on shot into his torso.

This statement reads like it was perfectly scripted to provide a self-defense claim. Zimmerman’s own stated reason for shooting Trayvon was not based on Trayvon’s unarmed physical assault, but rather on Trayvon’s “assur[ances]” that he would kill Zimmerman. If you’re going to claim self-defense, it can’t hurt to make the claim that your victim conveniently notified you of his murderous intent seconds before you shot him.

Apparently, Zimmerman did not consider using lethal force during the beating until Trayvon made a threat to take Zimmerman’s own gun away, and the “fear for [his] life” only came as a result of Zimmerman’s own firearm being introduced to the fight. But nothing about this description of the fight makes sense, no matter how I try to picture how it might have happened. (1) With a single hand, Trayvon was able to cover Zimmerman’s airway sufficiently to stop his breathing. (2) With his other hand, Trayvon was able to grab Zimmerman’s holstered weapon. (3) Despite not being able to breathe, Zimmerman does not use his (apparently unrestrained) hands to clear his airway. Instead while Trayvon was laying on top of him and while Trayvon was also grabbing at the gun, Zimmerman was able to unholster the gun at his side — presumably single-handedly, using only the hand on the same side as the gun, as Trayvon was on top of him — .raise the gun from his waist  to chest level, push Trayvon far enough off of him in order to place the gun between himself and Trayvon, and fire. (4) The first 911 call shows that the “help!” calls continue right up to, and are cut off by, the screams for help. Zimmerman was apparently still able to shout during this time period, despite having had his breathing “stopped” by Trayvon.

It doesn’t make sense. It is possible, however, that owing to the stress of the fight and the intensity of the moment, Zimmerman is remembering the details out of order, leading to the story’s incoherency.

An onlooker appeared and asked me if I was ok, I said “no” he said “I am calling 911”

I wonder if the “onlooker” referred to hear is witness “John,” who reported stating during the fight that he was calling 911? If so, then either Zimmerman is completely wrong about events, or John apparently only stated he was calling 911 after Trayvon was already dead.

At this point I slid out from underneath him and got on top of the suspect holding his hands away from his body.

This could explain why there is contradicting witness testimony regarding who was on top and who was on bottom of the fight. The witness who reported seeing someone in a “white shirt” on top may have seen Zimmerman pinning Trayvon after he was already dead.


The Statutory Basis of the Murder Charge Against George Zimmerman and His Available Defenses Under Florida Law

On April 11, 2012, over a month and a half after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder for the 17 year old’s death. Zimmerman has since turned himself in to authorities, and is in custody pending a bond hearing. As an update to my earlier post on the timeline of events preceding Trayvon’s death, this post is a quick-and-dirty run through of the relevant statutory provisions that apply to the charges against Zimmerman, and the possible implications they may have.

Second Degree Murder vs. Manslaughter

To the surprise of many commentators, Zimmerman was not charged with manslaughter, as was widely predicted, but instead charged with second degree murder. Second degree murder, unlike first degree murder, does not require “a premeditated design to effect the death” of another person, but it still sets a higher bar than manslaughter:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.04(2). Second degree murder.—

The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual, is murder in the second degree and constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life[.]

Florida’s manslaughter provision is a general catchall for killings that are criminal, but don’t involve either the premeditation or the depraved mind of a murder charge:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.07(1). Manslaughter.—

The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification according to the provisions of chapter 776 and in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder, according to the provisions of this chapter, is manslaughter[.]

The key distinction between the two is that the second degree murder charge requires a finding that Zimmerman killed Trayvon while engaging in an act “imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.” Take that element away, and you still have the lesser included offense of manslaughter, so both charges are still theoretically on the table.

Unlike Murder 1, for a Murder 2 charge you do not need to show a premeditated plan, or a plan to kill that came into existence prior to the moment of the shooting. Murder 2 just requires that the defendant deliberately, and with so little justification as to be reckless, engaged in conduct that puts others at obvious risk of death or great bodily harm. To give a rough example, imagine an individual who, on a random whim, decides to throw a boulder off a cliff, when that individual knows that there is a path at the bottom of the cliff that people walk on. The individual could not have known if the boulder would kill anyone, and did not actually intend to cause anyone’s death, but could still be subject to a murder 2 charge if in fact someone was struck and killed.

But murder 2 still requires showing a level of recklessness that is difficult to show when the only survivor of the incident is the defendant himself. The fact that Florida is charging Zimmerman with second degree murder, and not manslaughter, is a strong indication that the prosecutor thinks there is some pretty compelling evidence out there in the state’s favor. Even ignoring the self-defense aspect of this case, it is dubious whether there is enough evidence that has been publicly confirmed to support a finding of a “depraved mind with no regard for human life.” So what might the prosecutor have to make them confident enough to bring a murder charge? Some possibilities:

  1. The autopsy of Trayvon Martin contradicts Zimmerman’s version of events. It is possible that the autopsy revealed that Trayvon was shot at from a distance and angle that does not support Zimmerman’s story. This strikes me as a little bit unlikely, but it’s possible. We know that Trayvon was shot at “close distance,” but perhaps the coroner’s report was somehow able to confirm that Trayvon was shot from two feet away — it is hard to reconcile Zimmerman’s story with such a finding, if one was made. Or, less likely but still possible, the angle of the bullet wound is inconsistent with Zimmerman’s story. However, if the two were fighting when Zimmerman pulled a gun and fired, my entirely uneducated assumption is that the bullet trajectory could have plausibly been any number of angles, due to movements and jerking and uncertainty about how far Zimmerman was able to draw his gun before firing.
  2. The prosecution has evidence that thoroughly discredits Zimmerman. Perhaps either through a combination of small but significant inconsistencies — e.g., if Zimmerman has no evidence of any significant injury, if Zimmerman’s known locations doesn’t support his version of how the encounter occurred, if Zimmerman’s claims that Trayvon was going for his gun were not part of his initial story to police — or through a major, so far unreleased discrepancy — some piece of evidence that has been withheld so far, with blows Zimmerman’s story out of the water — the prosecution believes it has enough evidence to suggest that Zimmerman knows that the killing was not actually in self-defense, and Zimmerman has deliberately crafted a false, alternative version of events to support his self-defense claim. Zimmerman is the only person alive who saw how the fight started — if the only evidence he has to support a claim of self-defense is his own testimony, and if his own testimony is shown to be false and misleading, then he has no self-defense claim to proceed on.
  3. The prosecution is confident that it can prove that the voice yelling “help” was Trayvon; or, failing that, they can prove it was not Zimmerman. This point is similar to point 2 above, but, if shown, it would be vitally important for the prosecution for several reasons, all of which would go a long way to helping the state make its case. If it can be proven to be someone other than Zimmerman yelling for help, then (a) Zimmerman loses his best chance of objectively proving a subjective state of mind at the time of the killing that supports his defense; (b) Zimmerman is shown to have had the presence of mind to, within ten minutes of the killing, tell an untruthful cover story, suggesting a depraved state of mind; and (c) it strongly suggests that Zimmerman had full awareness at the time of the killing that Trayvon’s screams for help were the screams of someone who was scared for the life and wants to end an altercation, not the screams of someone who is trying to kill someone else; in other words, Zimmerman subjectively knew, even during the fight, that Trayvon’s yells were not the yells of an equal participant in the fight.
  4. The prosecution does not have any evidentiary aces up its sleeve; instead, the state believes from the circumstances surrounding Trayvon’s death they can prove Zimmerman was acting dangerously, unreasonably, and with no regard for human life. The affidavit of probable cause would help support this theory, in that every allegation that has been added in to meet the depraved mind element is based only on facts of the case that have been widely reported in the media, i.e., Zimmerman perceived a threat where the objectively was none, as it was just a kid walking home from the 7/11; Zimmerman’s state of mind was that he was enraged about “those assholes” and “those fucking [punks/coons/goons]”; Zimmerman then disobeyed police dispatch instructions not to pursue Trayvon, presumably due to his apparently deep-felt desire to make sure this particular asshole didn’t get away. So, it’s possible that the prosecution thinks that alone would be enough to convict Zimmerman for a depraved mind killing. However, I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions from what is revealed in such initial documents. The prosecution is only trying to release enough of their case to actually meet the probable cause standard in these types of affidavits, while holding back enough to put them in better position for the trial. As such, the prosecutor here may have simply decided to base a case for probable cause of a depraved mind base solely on the publicly available evidence.

Zimmerman’s Available Defenses

For either a murder charge or a manslaughter charge, Zimmerman still has a few possible justifications and excuses that he could raise in his defense. Florida law has a half-dozen or so provisions which provide either a complete defense to a homicide charge, or have the effect of downgrading a homicide charge, in cases where the defendant was either acting in self-defense or had suffered sufficient provocation. The most basic is the provision providing that use of deadly force is not unlawful when used to resist an attempt to murder or to commit a felony against the one who used deadly force:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.02. Justifiable use of deadly force.—

The use of deadly force is justifiable when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her[.]

Although Florida does have an excusable homicide statute as well, it is not available here, because it may not be invoked where “any dangerous weapon [is] used” in the killing — in applies more to situations where two parties tussle, and, by unlikely accident, a fatal injury that could not have been reasonably predicted occurs:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.03. Excusable homicide.—

Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent, or by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

There is also a provision providing for “unnecessary” killings done to stop an unlawful act. This section does not define any new substantive crime, but rather is an exculpatory provision that serves to reduce what would otherwise be a murder charge to one of manslaughter, for any homicide committed while resisting victim’s attempt to perpetrate unlawful act:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.11. Unnecessary killing to prevent unlawful act.—

Whoever shall unnecessarily kill another, either while resisting an attempt by such other person to commit any felony, or to do any other unlawful act, or after such attempt shall have failed, shall be deemed guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree[.]

It presumably would not apply here, as the State’s theory of the case is that Trayvon’s struggle with Zimmerman was done in self-defense — which is not itself an “unlawful act.”

Finally, we have the infamous “stand your ground” law, which provides that:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 776.012.—

A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if … [h]e or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.

The distinction between § 776.012 and § 782.02 is simply that the former does not incorporate an examination of whether or not the defendant had the ability to avoid the encounter with no danger to himself or others. As has been discussed elsewhere, the technical language of the Stand Your Ground law is not of such great relevance to the Zimmerman case — but the presumptions and assumptions created by the law seem to have effected the initial prosecutor’s decision not to bring a charge.

But the “stand your ground” law won’t protect Zimmerman if it can be shown he was simply fending off a few punches from an unarmed teenager. The provision specifically notes that deadly force is not permitted merely to stop another’s use of unlawful force; you can’t shoot someone simply because you’re getting punched and decide you don’t like the way the fight is going. And the use of deadly force only becomes justified when “[h]e or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” An unreasonable belief does not provide any right of self-defense, no matter how subjectively real the belief was. The fear of imminent death must be based on objective facts “such as would induce a reasonably prudent or cautious man to believe that the danger was actual and the necessity for taking life real.” Ammons v. State, 88 Fla. 444, 454, 102 So. 642, 645 (1924).

If Zimmerman was not actually getting his head deliberately bashed into concrete — which, from the lack of any genuine injuries and improbability of that scenario, would seem to be the case — then Zimmerman was not justified in using force against Trayvon, no matter what his actual beliefs were. Zimmerman may have had the adrenaline rushing through his blood, and may have perceived his opponent as a murderous thug gang-member rather than a skinny teenager because of the presence of a hoodie; it’s possible Zimmerman really did think that a wrestling match on the grass with a skinny teenager somehow put his life in mortal danger. But his hyperactive threat perception system does not excuse him.

An individual’s right to life is not contingent upon maintaining a constant impression of harmless frailty —  “men do not hold their lives at the mercy of excessive caution or unreasoning fear of others.” Ammons, 88 Fla. 444 (1924). Even if Zimmerman truly believed he was somehow in danger for his life, he was not thereby granted permission to kill Trayvon if his fears were the product of an unreasonable mind. And there is plenty to suggest Zimmerman was in fact acting out of excessive caution and unreasoning fear that night. His hyperactive vigilance, his willingness to see a boy returning home from a candy run to the store as a grave threat to his neighborhood, his professed fear for his life due to a tussle with an unarmed boy that he outweighed — if the jury finds from Zimmerman’s behavior that his fears were unreasonable, and that his fear for his life due to a couple bumps on the grass was not prudent, then the killing is not justifiable as self-defense.

Moreover, even the “stand your ground” law imposes a duty to retreat in cases where the defendant has caused the fight, even if he later finds himself on the losing end of it:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 776.041. Use of force by aggressor.—

The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who… [i]nitially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless [s]uch force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant[.] (emphasis added)

If Zimmerman instigated the encounter, then, even assuming he could somehow conclusively prove that Trayvon was in fact trying to wrestle Zimmerman’s gun away from him, that still won’t necessarily provide an absolute defense to the killing. Zimmerman was the one who chose to arm himself while pursuing a teenager who was rightfully in the neighborhood and doing nothing wrong; Zimmerman was the one who chose to stand outside of his vehicle looking for the kid, even when he was told not to do so by police dispatch; Zimmerman was the one who created a situation where, if a shoving match occurred between him and Trayvon, he could then argue that the fact he was armed made an unarmed boy a potentially lethal threat that put Zimmerman in fear of his life, because Zimmerman knew he had a gun that the boy could theoretically steal. Because “[a] killing is not justifiable or excusable if the defendant brought about the necessity therefor through his own wrongful act or without being reasonably free from fault in provoking the difficulty in which the killing occurred.” Lovett v. State, 30 Fla. 142, 11 So. 550, 17 L. R. A. 705; Ballard v. State, 31 Fla. 266, 12 So. 865; Padgett v. State, 40 Fla. 451, 24 So. 145.

It is arguable that regardless of who threw the first punch, Zimmerman provoked the confrontation by, while armed with a gun, recklessly hunting down an innocent neighbor. Zimmerman could have easily avoided any confrontation with Trayvon — Zimmerman himself admits that the kid ran away from him when he first saw Zimmerman, trying to escape. If Zimmerman had not pursued Trayvon, and if Zimmerman had not brought a gun, thereby inserting the possibility of deadly force into the equation where previously there had been none, then Trayvon would be alive today, regardless of who shoved who first:

“A defendant may, as a reasonable man, have believed that he was in danger of losing his life, or of incurring great bodily harm, and yet the killing may not, under some circumstances, be justifiable or excusable.  One instance is where he has brought about the necessity without being reasonably free from fault.  Again, the circumstances of a case may at least make it a question for the jury whether a killing was not in pursuance of a previously formed design to kill, instead of having been the result of a mere purpose of self-defense, although at the time of the altercation the first overt act may have come from the person slain.”  Ballard v. State.

Will Zimmerman Have to Take the Witness Stand to Claim Self-Defense?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Zimmerman’s possible claim of self-defense is that, in order to raise it, Zimmerman may very well be forced to take the stand in his own defense. If the prosecution, in its case, declines to introduce Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, he may have to do so himself. As previous Florida case law has held, “in order to be entitled to instruction on self-defense, there must be some evidence that the defendant acted out of self-defense. … In the present case, there is no evidence in the record that defendant shot her husband in self-defense. The defendant and her husband were the only witnesses to the shooting and the defendant did not testify.” Smiley v. State, 395 So. 2d 235, 236-37 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1981). Getting Zimmerman on the stand would blow open up a huge new angle of this case, and would give the State an invaluable opportunity to meet its burden of proof. If the State gets to cross-examine Zimmerman, it will have the opportunity to discredit his story beyond any reasonable doubt — something the state is unlikely to be able to do based on an abstract and vague encounter in the dark between two individuals.

I am not a criminal attorney by any means, so this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt. But, from a quick read of Florida law, it seems like Zimmerman’s only route of guaranteeing that a self-defense instruction is made available to the jury is by providing his testimony on why self-defense was necessary. Zimmerman will likely not be able to raise a defense to the murder charge based solely his statements to police that it was so — for one thing, much of the second-hand reporting of what Zimmerman said will likely be inadmissible hearsay, leaving Zimmerman with few alternative routes for presenting evidence of his self-defense claim. And the hearsay exceptions that are likely to apply in this situation are stacked in favor of admitting statements tending to show his guilt, not exculpate him. When a defendant seeks to introduce his own out-of-court exculpatory statement for the truth of the matter stated, it is inadmissible hearsay. See, e.g., Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence § 801.3 (1998); Lott v. State, 695 So.2d 1239 (Fla.1997); Logan v. State, 511 So.2d 442 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987); Fagan v. State, 425 So.2d 214 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983). The prosecution is free to introduce these statements if it wishes to, but Zimmerman does not have the same ability. So although Zimmerman has, apparently, given some details of the encounter to the police, without his supporting testimony on the stand, that alone probably will not be sufficient to get him a jury instruction on the self-defense claim:

“[W]e conclude that the trial court correctly refused to instruct the jury on self-defense because, simply stated, there was insufficient evidence adduced below to support such an instruction. The sole evidence at trial on the issue was the testimony of a police detective who stated that the defendant made an oral statement to the police that, “ ‘I stabbed the victim in self-defense.’ That he was assaulted by group of males.” Plainly, this evidence was nothing more than an assertion of self-defense by the defendant and in no way explained the exact circumstances upon which the assertion was based. This being so, the trial court was not required to instruct the jury on self-defense based solely on the defendant’s bald assertion of self-defense.” Gaffney v. State, 742 So. 2d 358, 362 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999).

At the same time, if Zimmerman does testify, it means that the State will have to either produce a contradicting witness, or diminish any credibility in Zimmerman’s own claims, in order to prevent a successful claim of self-defense:

“The defendant’s direct testimony concerning the victim’s threats and his menacing approach together with the defendant’s assertion that he was in fear of his life made out a prima facie case of self defense[]. The state presented no evidence to rebut the defendant’s direct testimony that he acted in self defense nor was it able to diminish his testimony on cross-examination.” Diaz v. State, 387 So. 2d 978, 980 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1980).

So maybe that’s what the prosecution is banking on. If Zimmerman does not claim self-defense, then the State has already met all the elements necessary to convict him of manslaughter, and has a good shot at proving second degree murder to boot. But if Zimmerman does want to claim self-defense, he may have to take the witness stand to do so — and perhaps the prosecution is confident that, if it comes to that, they can impeach his testimony into oblivion.


Minute-by-Minute Timeline of Trayvon Martin’s Death

[Update, 7/5/13: For updated material concerning the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman, please see more recent posts concerning the undisputed facts at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the significance of Selene Bahadoor’s testimony, and Zimmerman’s inability to explain how he fell backwards but ended up 40 feet forward.]

[Update, 4/15/12: For an analysis of the criminal laws implicated by this case, please see my follow-up post on the specific criminal charges brought against George Zimmerman, and his available statutory defenses.]

[Update, 4/29/12: Having finally looked at a longer copy of the phone records for Trayvon Martin’s phone, I’ve revised portions of the timeline to reflect the new information contained there. However, I now believe that the T-Mobile call logs are hopelessly unreliable for giving call times with any accuracy more than + 59 seconds. I did some rough experiments with my own phone, since my cell plan is also through T-Mobile, and it appears to me that the recorded times on T-Mobile statements are not at all exact, and can be as much as 59 seconds off from the actual time at which a call was made. Calls were wrongly recorded both as occurring later and sooner than from when they were actually made, so the error isn’t due to T-Mobile’s clock being fast or slow — the times are just off.]

[Update, 5/28/12: Lot of new information has been released while I was out of town. Working now on going through it all and updating the timeline with the information obtained from the new docs.]

[Update, 7/20/12: This timeline of events has been superseded by the release of a great deal of discovery that was unavailable at the time that it was constructed. The time stamps on the various phone calls still stand, obviously, but some of the interpretations of that data have to be changed in light of the additional evidence.]

I wanted to write a more in depth post the death of Trayvon Martin and the possible criminal charges arising from it, but when trying to figure out how strong Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense might be, I got frustrated by the lack of any in-depth, detailed time lines of the events leading up to and immediately following Trayvon’s death. In order to get a better idea of what exactly happened, I’ve laid out here a chronology of the shooting based on (1) call logs of the calls to 911 and the police made that night; (2) recordings of the calls themselves; and (3) the police report and surveillance video that have been made available to the public.

The records show that less than ten minutes passed from Zimmerman’s first sighting of Trayvon, to Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon as they wrestled in a neighborhood walkway between houses. Where possible, I’ve included the times of events down to the second, but some events and phone calls were only recorded by the minute, making some guess work necessary.

To start with, I’ve put together a quick diagram of some of the relevant locations that are referenced in the post. (Thanks for the image, Xie!)

Relevant Documents

Timeline of Events

6:22:08pm: Surveillance footage of the 7-Eleven near the Retreat View neighborhood shows Trayvon entering the store.

6:24:33pm: Trayvon buys a canned drink and a bag of candy, and departs the store. The clerk puts it in a brown plastic bag. That bag will later be found strewn near where Trayvon is shot.

6:54pm: Trayvon makes a call to “DeeDee,” a minor female that has been reported as his girlfriend. He is using a headset, walking home on his way back from the store after grabbing a snack and a drink, and he has been on the phone with DeeDee since he left there. According to DeeDee, it begins to rain, and he takes shelter at one of the buildings in the townhouse complex, while the two continue to chat. The referenced building is possibly the awning marked in purple on the above image.

7:04pm: An unknown individual makes a call to Trayvon while Trayvon is still talking to DeeDee. Unlike both Trayvon and DeeDee, this individual is not using a phone on a T-Mobile phone plan. Trayvon apparently puts DeeDee on hold, and then answers the new call in order to speak briefly to the new caller. This conversation lasts anywhere between 1 second and 59 seconds. After, Trayvon switches his call back to DeeDee. This phone call between DeeDee and Trayvon is recorded as having a duration of 18 minutes — which means from connection to termination, it was somewhere between 17 min, 0 seconds and 17 min, 59 seconds. Although the T-Mobile call times are imprecise, it would appear the call is disconnected at around 7:12pm.

7:09:34 pm: Zimmerman, in his truck, spots Trayvon. He calls the non-emergency dispatch number for the police, and the call log records his call as connecting with dispatch at 7:09:34pm. [Note: Relevant log begins on page 46.] He reports a suspicious black male in neighborhood. An recording of Zimmerman’s police call can be found here. Zimmerman states “The best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle.” Zimmerman meant to say 1111 Retreat View Circle. It appears that Trayvon is around the clubhouse when Zimmerman’s call to police begins, at the intersection of Retreat View and Twin Trees. This is consistent with DeeDee’s claims that Trayvon was hanging out under a complex building to take shelter from the rain.

7:10:16pm: Forty-five seconds after the phone call begins, Zimmerman reports that Trayvon is “here now,” indicating possibly that Trayvon was moving while Zimmerman was not. It’s possible Zimmerman’s car was parked at all times during his phone call to the police.

  • Zimmerman: “He’s here now … he’s just staring.”

7:10:20pm: Zimmerman’s phone call to police indicates that at this time, Trayvon becomes aware of the fact that Zimmerman is watching him. The two stare at one another, and Trayvon keeps walking.

  • Zimmerman: “Now he’s staring at me.”

7:10:22 – 7:10:35 pm:

  • Dispatch: “OK, you said that’s 1111 Retreat View or 111?”
  • Zimmerman: “That’s the clubhouse.”
  • Dispatch: “He’s near the clubhouse now?”
  • Zimmerman: “Yeah, now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hands in his waist band.”

It seems almost certain that Zimmerman was on Twin Trees Ln. at this point, since Trayvon’s path started at the clubhouse at the intersection of Retreat View and Twin Trees, and was heading towards the cut-through (circled in blue, above). It seems plausible that Zimmerman has been sitting in his parked truck, somewhere at the area marked in green in the image below, for the entire first half of his call to police. While watching from his truck, he sees Trayvon leaving the awning (marked in purple) and walking towards the cut-through, which means Trayvon’s path would’ve gone right past the car. Trayvon apparently noticed Zimmerman as he approaches, and keeps on walking.

This possible scenario, however, doesn’t completely fit with the timing from the call with DeeDee, which seems to indicate that Trayvon felt that he was being followed by someone at a time that would seem to be before Zimmerman exits the car — implying that Zimmerman may have been slowly following Trayvon while driving. My guess, though, is that the time stamps for T-Mobile’s call records and for the 911 logs are slightly off from one another, which explains any discrepancy between the two time lines.

7:11:14 pm: At this point, Trayvon appears to have walked past Zimmerman truck, possibly heading towards the cut through, where he would shortly be out of sight of Zimmerman.

  • Zimmerman: “These assholes. They always get away. … When you come to the clubhouse, you come straight in and you go left. Actually, you would go past the clubhouse.”
  • Dispatcher: “OK, so it’s on the left hand side of the clubhouse?”
  • Zimmerman: “Yeah. You go in straight through the entrance and then you would go left. You go straight in, don’t turn and make a left.

7:11:42 – 7:11:48pm: There is the sound of a car door opening at this point, immediately after Zimmerman says “he’s running,” and Zimmerman starts huffing; wind noises can be heard, and Zimmerman sounds slightly breathless. Zimmerman is able to see Trayvon plainly enough at this point to determine his direction, and believes he is going for the back entrance:

  • Zimmerman: “Shit, he’s running.”
  • Dispatcher: “He’s running? Which way is he running?”
  • Zimmerman: “Down toward the other [back] entrance of the neighborhood.”

The house where Trayvon is staying is directly between Trayvon’s approximate location at this time and the back entrance to the complex; Trayvon is probably actually running for his house. However, because both the house and the back entrance are to the southeast corner, there are two possible routes that Zimmerman could have seen Trayvon take off towards: (1) Trayvon stays on Twin Trees Ln., bolting south down the road; or (2) Trayvon runs for the cut-through, heading east, so that he can then turn and head south either on Retreat View or through the sidewalk between the rows of houses. Because Zimmerman’s reaction to Trayvon running is to get out of his car, it seems that scenario 2 is more likely — Zimmerman can’t follow in his car, he has to go on foot.

Approx. 7:12pm [+ or – 59 seconds off of 7:12pm, from the time as recorded by Zimmerman’s call to police. Exact time unknown]: The original phone call that Trayvon made to Dee, which lasted 18 minutes, is disconnected. Almost immediately after that phone call ends, DeeDee calls Trayvon  back. He answers, and DeeDee reports that he says to her, “I think this dude is following me.” She says that she tells him “Run!” and that Trayvon responded that he’s not going to run, he’s just going to walk fast.

The timing is close enough to suggest, but not perfect enough to say for sure, that when Zimmerman reports that “[Trayvon’s] running,” it’s at the same time as when DeeDee advised him to do just that. If so, it’s possible Trayvon was not telling the complete truth when he told her was just going to “walk fast,” perhaps to seem braver, but in reality had started running. Alternatively, Trayvon really did only start to “walk fast,” but Zimmerman, clearly worried about yet another asshole getting away, interprets this as “running” in his call to dispatch.

7:12:08 pm: After conversation about Zimmerman’s contact details, Zimmerman states to the dispatcher, “he ran.” From the general context, it seems that Zimmerman has now lost sight of Trayvon. The running/wind noises on the recording also cease abruptly at this point, and Zimmerman’s voice evens out. If this is the case, then Zimmerman has stopped his on-foot, running pursuit of Trayvon approximately 20 seconds after he began.


  • Dispatcher: “Alright, where are you going to meet with [police] at?”
  • Zimmerman: “Um, if they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the clubhouse and, uh, straight past the clubhouse and make a left and then go past the mailboxes you’ll see my truck.”

I’m unclear where the mailboxes Zimmerman refers to are, but it appears from Google street view that they could be in the awning that Trayvon’s girlfriend says he took shelter in from the rain. If so, however, it’s hard to understand why police would “make a left and then go past the mailboxes.” But it makes more sense than anything else I can find, so it’s possible Zimmerman just misspoke again.

7:12:59: Zimmerman states that his truck is parked at “a cut-through” so he doesn’t know the address. The cut-through is the blue-circled area in the image, so Zimmerman’s truck is presumably in the vicinity of the green circled area. It may have been parked here from the very beginning of his call to police.

7:13:14pm: Zimmerman has lost Trayvon. He doesn’t want to say his address out loud because “I don’t know where this kid is.” Nine seconds later, Zimmerman tells dispatcher to have police call him when they arrive rather than meet at specific place, indicating that Zimmerman plans to keep moving, and doesn’t know where exactly he’ll be when police arrive.

7:13:41pm: Zimmerman’s phone call with dispatch ends.

7:14pm: There is approximately a one minute, thirty second period for which we have very little information about what occurred, from around 17:14:00 until 17:15:30. Zimmerman apparently keeps searching for Trayvon during this time period, and phone records show that Trayvon is still on the phone with DeeDee. Also during this period of time, neither party moves particularly far from their estimated locations at 7:13:00pm; it appears that they were either (1) walking extremely slowly, (2) had stopped somewhere before resuming movement, or (3) were taking non-direct paths. It’s possible that Trayvon, like Zimmerman when he refused to give his house number out, was worried about the stalker following him home and figuring out where he lived, so Trayvon did not run straight back, instead feinting one way before looping back around. Another possibility is that Trayvon, thinking he’d lost Zimmerman, was dawdling on his walk back home in order to finish his phone call with DeeDee — possibly because Trayvon, like most 17 year olds, generally prefers to have his phone calls with his significant other out of ear shot of his parents. The other two possibilities are that (1) Trayvon bolted on a pathway in the wrong direction from his house, in order to escape Zimmerman, after Trayvon initially started running/walked fast; he was then making his way back to his correct route when he encountered Zimmerman again; or (2) Trayvon, still on the phone with DeeDee, had in fact managed to start running on a direct path towards home, but decides to loop back to find Zimmerman again, in order to start a fight with the guy who dared to follow him.

Some small, extremely circumstantial evidence to suggest why Zimmerman may have been expecting Trayvon to run out the back entrance, and why Zimmerman may have tried to cut Trayvon off from going in that direction, comes from the police call logs. We know from Zimmerman’s previous calls to police that he had on at least two prior occasions called in to report that suspicious black males were hanging around the “back entrance” of the housing complex. (See pgs. 39-40 of the police dispatch logs.) On both those occasions, as with the call he made about Trayvon, Zimmerman stated that he believed the person he was watching had committed recent break ins in the neighborhood. On the two prior occasions, Zimmerman reported that the suspicious persons were at or headings towards the back entrance, and on one occasion, Zimmerman advised dispatch that the “subjects will run into the subdivision next to this complex,” and advised that law enforcement enter through the back entrance to meet him. It seems possible that if Zimmerman was going to follow Trayvon and lost him, his assumption would be Trayvon would be heading in that direction.

Approx. 7:15:30 – 7:15:45pm: Zimmerman and Trayvon encounter each other for the final time, in the area circled in red in the diagram above. At this point, all evidence from eye witnesses and police reports indicates that a fight between the two began and ended there, and that the parties did not substantially change position during the course of the struggle. Reports on the exact location of Trayvon’s body have varied, but it has been established it was somewhere in the grass in the row between the houses, closer to the north side than the south..

There are a half dozen different versions of how the altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon occurred and what happened during the course of it.

7:15 – 7:16pm, DeeDee’s version of events: Trayvon tells DeeDee that he thinks he has lost the dude that was following him. DeeDee then hears voices, as if Trayvon and his pursuer have run into each other again. She says something like the following exchanged occurred between the two individuals:

  • Trayvon: “Why are you following me?”
  • Zimmerman: “What are you doing here?”

At that point, it sounds to DeeDee as if one party shoves the other. DeeDee thinks she hears Trayvon’s headset fall off, and the phone call cuts out at approximately 7:16pm, four minutes after it starts. It is my suspicion that the T-Mobile records are about 30 seconds slower than the time kept by the police dispatch’s clock– which would mean that the phone call started at 7:11:30, and ended at 7:15:30, a timeline that would mean that DeeDee’s description of events pretty much precisely matches up with the times as recorded by various 911 and police calls, down to the second. If her phone call with Trayvon instead ended at 7:16 on the police department’s clock, then the first 911 call from a neighbor came in 11 seconds or less after the fight initially started — that doesn’t seems plausible.

7:15 – 7:16pm, Zimmerman’s version of events: Zimmerman has not given an “official” version of his story, and the versions that have been reported by other sources are somewhat inconsistent, with some of the versions being extremely implausible. One initial report alleges that the confrontation began while Zimmerman was still in his truck, and that Trayvon approached the parked truck to ask Zimmerman why he was following him. Zimmerman “rolled down his window” to say he wasn’t, and Trayvon left, only for the fight to later occur on the cut through. This story has not been repeated since, and if Zimmerman really did initially give this version of events, he’s not sticking with it any longer.

The most consistent report that is alleged to be Zimmerman’s version of the encounter provides roughly the following: Zimmerman had gotten out of his car to check on an address, to tell police where to go. [This itself makes little sense — Zimmerman’s car was in front of the houses, where house addresses are visible and displayed, whereas behind the houses there are only porches and no visible addresses.] Zimmerman was then “returning to his truck,” [although still 150 ft. away, if his truck is in fact parked in the green circled area] but Trayvon approached Zimmerman from behind and confronted him. Either Trayvon (somehow) reaches around from behind to sucker punch Zimmerman in the nose, or else the two have a verbal confrontation and turn to face each other before the first punch is thrown. Zimmerman falls to the ground, and Trayvon jumps on him, punching Zimmerman and slamming his head into concrete. Zimmerman eventually is able to pull his handgun free from its holster and fires once at Trayvon, who is pinning him down. Trayvon is hit in the chest and dies.

7:15 – 7:16pm, Trayvon’s father’s recounting of how police described Zimmerman’s initial report to them:

  • Trayvon: appears from behind a building, approaches Zimmerman, and says, “What’s your problem, homie?”
  • Zimmerman: “I don’t have a problem.”
  • Trayvon: “You do now.” He then punches Zimmerman, knocking him to the ground, pinning him down.
  • Trayvon: tells Zimmerman, “Shut the fuck up.”
  • Zimmerman: while being beaten by Trayvon, pulls his gun and fires one shot at close range into Trayvon’s chest.
  • Trayvon: “You got me.” Falls over, dead.

7:15 – 7:16pm, Zimmerman’s father’s version of events: Zimmerman is walking along the sidewalk (area circled in red?) in order to “find an address.”

  • Trayvon: walks up to Zimmerman, says, “Do you have a fucking problem?”
  • Zimmerman: “No, I don’t have a problem.” Zimmerman starts to reach for his cell phone to call police, but Trayvon punches him in the nose. Zimmerman’s nose is broken and he is knocked to the concrete.
  • Trayvon: gets on top of Zimmerman and punches him repeatedly. While punching Zimmerman on the ground below him, Trayvon sees Zimmerman’s gun.
  • Trayvon: “You’re going to die tonight.”
  • Zimmerman: draws his pistol while on the ground, and shoots Trayvon once in the chest.

7:15 – 7:16pm, Zimmerman’s brother’s version of events: Zimmerman’s brother states that Zimmerman was not patrolling the neighborhood; rather, he was driving to Target when he noticed a suspicious looking person in his gated community, and called the police to report it. Zimmerman’s brother alleges that Zimmerman stopped following Trayvon when the police dispatcher told him to. Zimmerman then then lost sight of Trayvon, and about a minute later, the following occurs:

  • Trayvon: sneaks up on Zimmerman.
  • Zimmerman: tries to grab his phone to call 911 and intends to say to police “Well, this person who I lost sight of and was not pursuing has now confronted me.” Zimmerman is unable to complete this call because Trayvon broke his nose with a punch, and began slamming Zimmerman’s head into the sidewalk.
  • Trayvon: sees Zimmerman’s gun and tries to grab it.
  • Trayvon: says to Zimmerman either (1) “You die tonight,” or possibly (2) “You have a piece, you die tonight.”
  • Zimmerman: screams for help, but then grabs gun and shoots Trayvon when Trayvon tries to muscle it away.

Zimmerman’s brother adds in that there is a witness that saw what happened, “from the first blow.” The brother does not explain why this witness did not help Zimmerman, who he is, or why he was around to see the fight in the first place.

7:15 – 7:16pm, version of events attributed to “Zimmerman’s parents”: An unidentified female neighbor and friend reports that Zimmerman’s parents are strongly maintaining that the shooting was in self-defense: “What [Zimmerman’s parents] told us is that he was reaching for his cell phone and Trayvon Martin saw his gun and reached for the gun and there was a struggle.” This story is somewhat reminiscent of Zimmerman’s brother’s story, regarding Zimmerman going for a phone, which ignited the physical struggle.

7:15 – 7:16pm, unidentified law enforcement official’s version of events: The Daily Beast quotes an unidentified individual with the Sanford Police Department who is not involved in the case but apparently had some exposure to the investigation. According to him, Zimmerman’s statement to police was that after losing track of Trayvon, Zimmerman “went around a townhouse to see where he was.” This supports two things: first, that Zimmerman was actively hunting for Trayvon at the time of the altercation, and second, that Zimmerman was not following the sidewalk routes, but ducking through gaps in houses. This is possible support for the theory that Zimmerman unexpectedly cut off Trayvon, who was on the sidewalk routes. It also puts the “Trayvon was in hiding waiting to attack Zimmerman” theory in doubt, because it’s not clear how Trayvon’s could have anticipated Zimmerman’s unusual path.

The law enforcement official also reports that Zimmerman’s story is that Martin confronted him, and then knocked him to the ground with a punch. Zimmerman then said that “when he was on the ground, Martin straddled him, striking him, and then tried to smother him.” This ‘smothering’ claim is a new detail that has not been repeated before, and it’s somewhat confusing. If Trayvon was in fact on top of Zimmerman, perhaps Zimmerman interpreted the weight on his chest as an attempt to “smother” him, but the idea that any attacker in Trayvon’s situation would try and use “smothering” as an attack does not make much sense. The law enforcement official’s report goes on to state that:

Zimmerman claimed that he yelled for help, and that various neighbors who peered out to see the fight from their backyards didn’t get involved. Zimmerman…  told officers he was so paralyzed by fear that he initially forgot he had a gun, but he said that after Martin noticed his 9mm pistol, Zimmerman pulled it out of his belt holder and fired one round, a hollow-point—the round that killed Martin.

Zimmerman also told police that, after being shot, Trayvon’s last words were “Okay, you got it, okay, you got it,” and then Trayvon turned and fell face-down on the ground. Although these words sounds similar to what Trayvon’s dad were told his last words were — i.e., “you got me” — even assuming Zimmerman is telling the truth as he knows it, my assumption is that he misheard Trayvon. Someone seconds from death from a hollow point bullet wound to the chest is not going to be enunciating clearly or making dramatic statements. The more likely scenario is that Trayvon said something like “you shot me… you shot me,” in disbelief and shock.

Finally, the last new information from the Daily Beast’s source is that “Zimmerman told police he didn’t realize that Martin was seriously injured, and that he lunged to get on top of him after the teenager fell to the ground.” This would seem to match one of the 911 caller’s statements to the 911 dispatcher which, although confused, reported seeing Zimmerman on top of Trayvon after the shooting. Although it should have been obvious that a point blank shot to the chest with a hollow point bullet is going to be a serious wound all of the time and a fatal wound most of the time, it is believable that, with the adrenaline pumping, Zimmerman wasn’t thinking clearly. However, this is also another indication that Zimmerman’s subjective interpretation of events should be treated with cautious skepticism — Zimmerman was plainly not thinking completely logically or coherently, if he thought the bullet to the chest was not a “serious injury.” The fact Zimmerman thought it necessary to try and restrain Trayvon and “lunge to get on top of him” after shooting the kid in the chest shows Zimmerman’s threat detection systems were on overload,.

7:16:11 pm: The first of six 911 calls is made by a neighbor whose house is immediately adjacent to where the shooting occurred. A high pitched, desperate male voice can be heard yelling “help” repeatedly, from the very beginning of the phone call, and continues on for some time — there are occasional pauses, and occasional nonsensical yells, but for the most part the voice is consistently yelling “help” “help” “help” over and over again.

7:16:56 pm: Forty-five seconds into the first 911 call, a gunshot is heard. The last cry of “hel-” seems to be cut off simultaneously with the shot. Assuming that the first 911 caller took at least 15 seconds to hear sounds of fighting, recognize what it was, and pull out a phone to make a 911 call, this means that the physical struggle between Zimmerman and Trayvon went on for a minimum of one minute. The first 911 caller was still quick on the draw, however, and is unlikely to have taken more than 30 seconds to make the call. This gives a maximum fight duration of perhaps a minute and a half. Estimate time of the fight’s beginning is therefore 7:15:35 – 7:15:55pm.

7:17:55 pm (estimated): By around 17:17:55 – 17:18:07pm, several 911 callers report seeing a “man with a flashlight” outside, followed by a second flash light approximately one minute, fifteen seconds later. These are almost certainly Officers Smith and Ayala, who were first on the scene.

Officer Smith, the first officer to arrive, parks his car at 2821 Retreat View Circle. Officer Smith has been dispatched to respond to police calls made by Zimmerman twice before in recent weeks, once on January 29, 2012, and once again on February 6, 2012. He likely has encountered and spoken to Zimmerman before, although this has not been officially confirmed. Per the police report of the incident, when he arrives on scene on the night of February 26, a few seconds before 7:18pm, he cuts through the houses on the Retreat View side of the walkway, and into the area circled in red. He sees Zimmerman walking around and Trayvon lying “face down in the grass.” Zimmerman states to Smith that he shot the individual on the ground, and that he was still armed. Smith immediately moves to remove the gun, and observes that Zimmerman has a wet back and appears to be covered in grass, “as if he had been laying on his back on the ground.” He observes blood on the back of Zimmerman’s head, and on his nose. He removes from Zimmerman’s “waist band” the handgun and holster — it is not clear if the handgun is in the holster, or if both the holster and handgun are tucked into the waistband. He puts Zimmerman in the back of his squad car.

Officer Ayala arrives about a minute after Officer Smith, and observes Trayvon laying face down. His police report indicates that he observed that Trayvon “had his hands underneath his body.” Ayala begins emergency response treatment, but Trayvon never becomes responsive. He will be pronounced dead 11 minutes later.

The later-released police reports state that when Officers Raimondo and Ayala approached Trayvon’s body to attempt first aid, Trayvon “was lying on his stomach with his head oriented in the general direction of north.” In contrast, Officer Santiago, who arrives later on the scene, reports that Trayvon’s head “to the west.” It’s unclear if Trayvon’s head was actually oriented northwest, and both officers are right, or if Trayvon was rotated during the course of CPR.

Photos of the crime scene seem to show Trayvon’s body laying in the grass approx. 5-6 feet from the sidewalk. Trayvon was rolled over by police when they attempted to give first aid, so it’s possible he was originally laid out approx. 4-5 feet from the sidewalk. Either way, it does bring Zimmerman’s “head being bashed into concrete” story into doubt.

At autopsy, Trayvon’s cause of death is determined to be a single gunshot to the chest, which struck Tayvon’s heart and a lung, “1/2 inch below the nipple.” The direction of the gunshot is reported as “directly from front to back,” and was shot from “an intermediate distance.” The only other injury reported to Trayvon is 1/4″ by 1/8″ inch small abrasion to the left fourth finger.

The ME report also states that “Witnesses observed the two fighting in the yard and then the resident fired a handgun at the male striking him In the chest. The male fell to the ground.” It would appear the ME was given incomplete or inaccurate information regarding how the shooting took place, which was then incorporated into the report.

7:19pm: An unidentified civilian described only as “the photographer” takes a picture of the back of Zimmerman’s head. ABC News reports that file details show it was taken on location “three minutes after the shooting[,]” although the exact time is not specified. The photograph clearly shows the blood that was reported by Officer Smith, and it appears that the blood is coming from a wound on Zimmerman’s head, and did not originate from another source. This photo is useful in that it eliminates all outlier possibilities regarding Zimmerman’s head wound — that is, we can rule out the possibilities that either no wound existed, or that the wound was so great that, as Zimmerman’s brother reported, his head was a bloody pulp — but it is impossible to tell from this picture alone the exact extent of the wound. There isn’t enough blood for there to have been a serious gash, but for head injuries, a gash is going to be a far less serious problem than are non-visible internal injuries. On the other hand, the SFD’s actions,  in treating Zimmerman’s injuries, do not indicate that they any apparent concern for a brain injury of any type.

The wound is also very high up on Zimmerman’s head. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that — I think the wound pretty much has to have originated from Zimmerman’s head contacting the ground, but it’s not where I would expect it if it came from either a fall or from a deliberate attempt to smack someone’s head into the ground.

The ABC News “photographer” also states that gunpowder marks were clearly visible on Martin’s hooded sweatshirt. Using my CSI training, a.k.a., by doing some quick google research, gunpowder residue will be somewhat apparent on a target that was shot from a range of around three feet or less, but heavy concentrations show up at shooting ranges of under 12 inches. If the gunpowder marks were clearly visible on gray fabric, in night time viewing conditions, then I think it is a fair assumption that Zimmerman shot Trayvon from a distance of 12 inches or less.

7:22pm, onwards: Zimmerman is taken into custody and cuffed by Officer Smith shortly before Officer Ayala arrives. As Ayala is giving CPR to Trayvon, Smith puts Zimmerman in the back of the police cruiser. Zimmerman receives first aid from the Sanford Fire Department while sitting in the back of Officer Smith’s car. At some point, Zimmerman announces, unasked, “I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me.” No questioning is performed at this time, and he is transported to the police station.

Police appear to have immediately accepted Zimmerman’s version of events. When one witness/911 caller gave a statement to police about an hour later, she started crying and stated she wished she could have helped. The officer responds, “If it makes you feel any better, the cries for help were not the person that died.” It’s clear that the police poisoned the witness statements by instructing the witnesses as to details they had not witnessed or did not know themselves, which likely contributed to the recent witness reversals and contradictions in testimony.

While performing first aid on Trayvon, Officer Raimondo finds a “large, cold can” of Arizona drink in Trayvon’s hoodie pocket. Officer Santiago reported that a cell phone was found “near the area of Martin”, but does not give precise details. The packet of skittles are also located in the hoodie pocket, and have traces of blood on them.

Investigators at the scene also find a key chain with a Honda remote key on it, which reportedly belongs to Zimmerman, near the “T” junction of the pathway between the houses. The key chain has a small silver flashlight-key chain attached to it, and the flashlight has been reported as still being on when police located it, suggesting Zimmerman was using it at the time of the altercation.

There is also a black flashlight found ~30 feet from the Honda key chain, closer to Trayvon’s body; this black flashlight had blood residue on it. I’ve seen the 6″ black flashlight described as belonging to Zimmerman, but I have seen no confirming reports for this. The black flashlight is also described as a “tactical” flashlight that could be used as a weapon; this may suggest it came from a responding police officer rather than Zimmerman, but the proximity to the keys could suggest it was Zimmerman’s, and dropped along with the keys when the confrontation started.

If the flashlight belongs to the police, the blood evidence found on it is insignificant and easily explainable. If it belongs to Zimmerman, however, it is a somewhat incongruous finding, as the flashlight if several feet away from where the “main” physical altercation is reported to have taken place, and is at least 10 feet away from where Trayvon was shot. If Zimmerman simply dropped the flashlight and keys before the fight started, there would not be blood on the flashlight — this possibly suggests that Zimmerman was still holding the tactical flashlight when he received the injury to his nose. But if so, why did Zimmerman not use it to defend himself against Trayvon? The tactical flashlight was Zimmerman’s, and during Zimmerman’s non-emergency call, you can hear him banging it to try and turn it on. Zimmerman seems to have had it in his hands during the altercation, but Zimmerman’s recounting of the fight is unclear about how he managed to carry it with him throughout the fight.

Although the keychain flashlight/Honda keys were found closer to the sidewalk on the “T” than was the tactical flashlight and the body, the shell casing from the shot that killed Trayvon is found ~40 feet from the “T”, and several feet away from the sidewalk. It appears to be located close to where Trayvon’s body ultimately ended up, but this is difficult to confirm from the released photos. above his head and slightly to the left.

The shell casing is marked by the yellow arrow, just left to the #6 marker. The #7 marker is Trayvon’s phone, while the #5 marker is the black tactical flashlight.

7:52pm: Time stamp on start of surveillance video of Sanford police department showing Zimmerman’s arrival in squad car. Zimmerman’s shirt is neatly tucked in, and he is moving without any apparent impediment beyond the handcuffs. Police allow him to move freely, aside from the cuffs. There is no visible blood, and police officers use no protective equipment; they can be observed inspecting Zimmerman, as well as manually handling him as they look him over. One policeman touches Zimmerman, and then wipes his hand off on his trousers. A small head wound on the upper back portion of Zimmerman’s head may be visible.

Photos taken before the blood was cleaned up from Zimmerman’s scalp show blood draining in small rivulets down his skull, rather than gushing. It may be significant that the rivulets uniformly tend to drain towards Zimmerman’s face, which means whenever Zimmerman was bleeding, his head was facing towards the ground. It is unclear when this bleeding occurred, however.

Back at the station, Zimmerman gave his story to police at least three times before being released. Police say his story remained consistent throughout, although we have not been provided with the precise contours of what that story consisted of. Zimmerman also made at least one of those statements while being video recorded.

Notes and Observations about the Timeline

In no particular order, here are some assorted observations about what implications the above timeline has on Trayvon Martin’s death.

The eye witness reports should not be relied upon. It was dark, there was bad weather, it was a brief and frantic fight, and no one knows what they saw. Eye witnesses get things wrong even under the best of viewing conditions, and the conditions at the time of Trayvon’s death were anything but that, in terms of expected reliability of witness recall. The 911 calls are themselves full of real-time descriptions from witnesses to the immediate aftermath of the shooting — and even when describing what they were seeing at the exact same time as they were seeing it, their descriptions do not match reality. One witness, for instance, describes that “there is a black male standing over” the deceased victim after the shooting had occurred, which is obviously an incorrect description of the scene. Another witness describing the fight states that “the guy on top has a white t-shirt” — an article of clothing which neither Zimmerman nor Trayvon were wearing at the time. (Zimmerman’s t-shirt was gray, but it was under a red (orange) jacket. Trayvon’s hoodie was gray as well, but it was long sleeved and not a t-shirt.)

In short, the witnesses can prove next to nothing about what happened here. The recordings of the 911 calls that they made, on the other hand, are far more useful in piecing together what happened.

[Update, 5/28/12: By now, at least five witnesses have been reported as changing their stories. This is unsurprising, particularly as it has become clear that the police who took the witness statements improperly coached and/or unintentionally tampered with the witness’s recollections, by telling them facts and events they could not know in order to “correct” or “clarify” their testimony. In short, it has become even more clear that no definitive conclusions should be drawn about any of the events in this cases on the basis of eyewitness testimony alone.]

Zimmerman’s testimony is not being publicly disclosed, but will be an important source of impeachment evidence at trial. The State’s 5/24/12 Motion for Protective Order revealed a key element of the State’s case: Zimmerman’s statements to the police have been inconsistent, and are not fully supported by the available physical and eye witness evidence: “Defendant (Zimmerman) has provided law enforcement with numerous statements, some of which are contradictory, and are inconsistent with the physical evidence and statements of witnesses”. At this point we don’t know what Zimmerman’s version of the story is, but it looks like there’s at least more than one version he has been telling police, and it has some holes in it.

The crime scene does not support Zimmerman’s claim that Trayvon was pounding his head into the sidewalk. Trayvon was unarmed. Perhaps to make up for this fact, Zimmerman’s claim for why he was in imminent fear of death or grave bodily harm — and therefore why Zimmerman was allowed to kill Trayvon in self-defense — is that Trayvon was pounding his head into the concrete sidewalk. Although there is a sidewalk running through the middle of where the shooting occurred, the claim that Zimmerman’s head was being bashed into it does not make sense, because: (1) Zimmerman’s back had grass on it. Assuming that Zimmerman and Trayvon encountered each other while on the sidewalk, how could Zimmerman have fallen so that his legs and back were off the sidewalk, while his head was still on it? (2) Zimmerman was a bouncer for illegal house parties; during the course of a 1 minute long fight with a kid thirty pounds lighter than him, there is no possible explanation for how Zimmerman was able to move enough to get his back and legs onto grass, but not his head. In order to pound someone’s head into the ground while they are pinned down, you would literally have to pull their head up with one hand and before shoving it down again — and a one-armed pin is far easier to break. If you are pinning someone down with both arms, there is no way for you to repeatedly slam their head down, short of physically picking them up by the shoulders (while you’re sitting on their waist).  (3) Trayvon’s body was found face down in the grass, with his arms underneath him. According to his father, Trayvon’s legs were on the sidewalk, while his head and torso were perpendicular to the sidewalk, on the grass. If Trayvon was shot in the chest while pinning/punching Zimmerman on the ground, his body would presumably have crumpled down to where it was found — which was in the grass, and not on the sidewalk. If Trayvon had Zimmerman pinned, face to face, how did his head ultimately come to be far away from the sidewalk, if just before he was shot he was pounding Zimmerman’s head into the sidewalk?

How Zimmerman got out from underneath Trayvon after shooting him, without rolling Trayvon onto his back, is another mystery. It also contradicts at least one report of what Zimmerman said happened, which is that Trayvon “fell back” saying “you got me” after the shooting. The best explanation for how Trayvon’s body was found that I can think of is that Trayvon, after being shot, fell on his back, or was pushed off of Zimmerman onto his back/side. Zimmerman, who witnesses have described as “standing over” the victim immediately after the shooting, then turns Trayvon onto his stomach, perhaps to check for an exit wound or in a clumsy attempt to see if he was still alive. This would plausibly cause at least one of Trayvon’s arms to be pinned under his body, and possibly the second. Or perhaps only one arm was pinned under Trayvon’s body, and Officer Ayala did not correctly see the positioning of the second arm.

Voice analysis of the first 911 call will be the single most important factor in this case. Listening to the first 911 call, it is painfully clear that whoever can be heard shouting for help is in imminent fear for their life. This isn’t the scream of someone in a wrestling match — it’s the wild, animal panic of someone who believes that they are about to die. If the voice shouting “help” is in fact Zimmerman’s, then, whether or not such a fear was objectively reasonable, his subjective fear that Trayvon was about to kill him would appear to be entirely genuine.

However, if the voice is in fact Zimmerman’s, then it also shows that Zimmerman was in control enough of the fight to have the breath to scream and plead for help, and that his shouts for “help” were not cut off by Trayvon “slamming” his head into the sidewalk. It is not the scream of someone “nearly unconscious,” as Zimmerman’s brother and father have alleged. And, whether it was Trayvon or Zimmerman screaming, the mere existence of the screams is inconsistent with the verbal exchange between the two as recounted by Zimmerman. No one is yelling “time to die” or “you got me” — they are yelling “help,” and nothing else.

This brings into question Zimmerman’s statement, while being given first aid in the back of the squad car, that “I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me.”  First, this slightly contradicts the claims given by both Zimmerman’s father and brother, which is that a more coherent conversation was going on. Second, Zimmerman would have every motivation to make this claim. If it was Trayvon yelling for help, Zimmerman would have known that neighbors in the nearby houses were likely to have heard it. He would have known he would need to explain the existence of the calls for help, and that, if it were known it was Trayvon screaming, it would look very bad for him.

But Zimmerman probably would not have considered the possibility his fight with Trayvon had been recorded in the background of a 911 call — the odds were against someone being that fast on the draw with their phone. So Zimmerman would not have had any reason to think it likely that his claims that it was him yelling for help, and not Trayvon, could be credibly challenged. It seemed like a completely safe — and completely necessary — claim at the time that he made it, but, if proven to be false, that statement could ultimately damn him by showing he was aware that what he had done was wrong and that he needed to lie to protect himself.

Zimmerman was in handcuffs less than 1.5 minutes after he killed Trayvon. In the police surveillance footage of Zimmerman arriving at the police station a half hour after Trayvon was killed, Zimmerman is shown being frisked and lead to an interview room. There is no sign of blood on him, although a possible wound on the upper back portion of his head may exist. Perhaps the oddest part of the surveillance video, however, is that Zimmerman’s shirt is tucked in, there are no visible scuff marks on his clothes, and nothing appears out of place. Zimmerman received cursory medical treatment while sitting in a squad car, hands cuffed behind him. The SFD likely dabbed up some blood, but they certainly didn’t tuck Zimmerman’s shirt in for him.

So, in the 90 seconds between shooting Trayvon and Officer Smith’s arrival on the scene, at which point Zimmerman was immediately handcuffed, did Zimmerman actually bother to nicely tuck his shirt in again? Or did Zimmerman’s shirt manage to stay perfectly tucked in for a one minute period while Zimmerman was punched to the ground and pinned down by someone who was on top of him in a fight?

Neither option is particularly plausible, especially combined with the absence of any blood or plain wounds. Zimmerman’s story is severely lacking in corroborating physical evidence — and if there were still photos taken of Zimmerman to support his claim that he was beaten up, why hasn’t someone leaked them by now? Or the medical records for the ‘broken nose’? The photo of Zimmerman showing blood on his face is not blood from a broken nose, but rather blood from two tiny cuts on the very point of Zimmerman’s nose — likely a result of kickback from Zimmerman firing the weapon, as no blood (or other DNA from Zimmerman) was found anywhere on Trayvon.

It’s likely that Zimmerman did in fact suffer a bump to his head, and maybe his nose, during the initial struggle with Trayvon. Zimmerman did hit the ground at some point, and Trayvon and Zimmerman were wrestling with one another for at least a minute. It’d be surprising if Zimmerman hadn’t picked up a bump or two from the tussle. But nothing about this indicates the injuries were anything but minor. My guess is that Zimmerman, in trying to explain his actions, took whatever reasons he could to claim he was in danger — and thus the bloody nose becomes a broken one in his re-telling, and a grazing would on his head that he got when he fell down becomes someone bashing his head into the sidewalk.