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The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman took place on the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States. Martin was a 17-year-old African American high school student. George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic, was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily staying and where the shooting took place.[1][2][3] Following an earlier call from Zimmerman, police arrived within two minutes of a gunshot during a scuffle, in which Zimmerman had fatally shot Martin. Zimmerman was taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours. The police chief said that Zimmerman was released for lack of evidence and lack of legal grounds for arrest, and that Zimmerman had a right to defend himself with lethal force.[4] However, six weeks later, amid widespread, intense and contradictory media coverage and misleading reporting,[5][6] Zimmerman was charged with murder by a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott.[7][8]

Zimmerman's trial began on June 10, 2013, in Sanford. On July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges.[9]

Parties involved

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin
File:Trayvon Martin on the backseat of a car.png
Trayvon Martin in an undated photo
Born Trayvon Benjamin Martin
February 5, 1995(1995-02-05)
Miami Gardens, Florida, U.S.
Died February 26, 2012(2012-02-26) (aged 17)
Sanford, Florida, U.S.
Cause of death Single gunshot fired at intermediate range (1–18 inches)[10]
Ethnicity African American


[Note 1]
Weight Template:Convert/lb[Note 1]

Trayvon Benjamin Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) was the son of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who were divorced in 1999. He was a junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School and lived with his mother and older brother in Miami Gardens, Florida.[17][18][19]

On the day Martin was fatally shot, he and his father were visiting his father's fiancée and her son at her townhome in The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, a multi-ethnic gated community, where the shooting occurred.[20][21] Martin had been staying with his father after having been suspended from school a week earlier when found with a marijuana pipe and a plastic baggie containing traces of marijuana.[22][23][Note 2] He had previously visited his father's fiancée at Twin Lakes several times.[26][27]

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman
File:George Zimmerman leaves court with his family.jpg
George Zimmerman (right) leaving court after the not guilty verdict was read.
Born George Michael Zimmerman
October 5, 1983 (1983-10-05) (age 37)
Manassas, Virginia, U.S.
Ethnicity Hispanic
Height Template:Height
Weight Template:Convert/lb[Note 3]
Criminal charge Second-degree murder
Criminal status Not guilty

George Michael Zimmerman was born on October 5, 1983, in Manassas, Virginia,[29] and is the son of Gladys (née Mesa) Zimmerman, who was born in Peru,[30] and Robert Zimmerman, Sr., a retired Virginia magistrate.[31][32] He was raised as a Catholic,[30] in a family that his father has described as "multiracial"; his father is a White American of German descent[33] and his mother is Peruvian with some black ancestry through her Afro-Peruvian maternal grandfather.[30][Note 4] Zimmerman's voter registration record lists him as Hispanic and a registered Democrat.[34][35]

Zimmerman's height is reportedly 5′ 7″ (1.70 m); and his weight is recorded as being 185 lb (84 kg) on his Seminole County Sheriff's Office Inmate Booking Information dated April 11, 2012, the date of his arrest.[28] Zimmerman's height is shown as 5′8″ (1.73 m); and his weight at 200 lb (91 kg) on the Sanford Police Department Offense Report for February 26, 2012, the night of the shooting.[36]

At the time of the shooting, Zimmerman was employed as an insurance underwriter and was in his final semester at Seminole State College for an associate degree in Criminal Justice.[30][37] In one of his interviews with police he stated his goal was to become a judge.[38]

In early 2011, Zimmerman participated in a citizen forum at the Sanford City Hall, to protest the beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white Sanford police officer. During the meeting, Zimmerman called the behavior of officers on duty "disgusting" and detailed officers napping while on duty and refusing to take on difficult assignments.[39]

Zimmerman and his wife moved to The Retreat at Twin Lakes in 2009.[20][21]

Sanford Police Department

Bill Lee had been chief of the Sanford Police Department for ten months when the shooting occurred.[40] Prior to Lee becoming chief, the department had been accused of protecting relatives of police officers involved in violent incidents with blacks, and the Martin case increased distrust between the police and Sanford's black community.[41]

On March 22, Chief Lee temporarily stepped down from his position because of public criticism over his handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting.[40] In April, the Sanford City Commission refused to accept Lee's resignation and stated that "Lee's spotless record showed there needed to be further review to determine if he failed in his duties." Lee was fired on June 20, 2012 by Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte.[42] Lee responded by saying "I continue to stand by the work performed by the Sanford Police Department in this tragic shooting, which has been plagued by misrepresentations and false statements for interests other than justice."[43]

On June 26, 2012, the lead investigator of the case, Christopher Serino, was transferred out of the Sanford Police Department's investigative unit and reassigned to the patrol division at his own request.[44] Serino said he felt pressured by several of his fellow police officers to press charges on Zimmerman when he believed there was not enough evidence to do so, and that one of the officers pressuring him was a friend of Martin's father.[45]

In September 2012, Orlando TV station WFTV released a leaked memo in which interim police chief Richard Myers blamed the police department spokesperson, Sgt. David Morgenstern, for having mishandled the Travyon Martin case and removed him from his spokesperson position.[46]

Martin family attorneys

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer representing the interests of the Martin family, operates a law firm in Tallahassee, Florida, with his partner Daryl Parks.[47] The firm has eight lawyers who focus on wrongful death, malpractice, personal injury and civil rights.[48][49] In 2006, Crump sued to have the video released in the case of Martin Anderson, a teenager who died at a boot camp run by the Bay County, Florida, Sheriff's Office.[48][50][51] The Martin family is also represented by Natalie Jackson, an Orlando civil rights attorney.[52][53]

Background of the shooting

File:Retreat at Twin Lakes entrance.jpeg

The Retreat at Twin Lakes, north entrance

The Retreat at Twin Lakes is a 260-unit gated townhome community in Sanford, Florida.[54][55] The population in the development, at the time of the shooting, was about 49% non-Hispanic white, 23% Hispanic (of any race), 20% black, and 5% Asian, according to Census figures.[41] Both George Zimmerman and Tracy Martin's fiancée were renting homes in the development when the shooting occurred.[27] At the time of the shooting, Martin had been staying with his father's fiancee at The Retreat.[26]

From January 1, 2011 through February 26, 2012, police were called to The Retreat at Twin Lakes 402 times.[41] During the 6 months preceding the February 26 shooting, Zimmerman called the non-emergency police line seven times. On five of those calls, Zimmerman reported suspicious looking men in the area, but never offered the men's race without first being asked by the dispatcher.[56][57][58] Crimes committed at The Retreat in the year prior to Martin's death included eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting.[59] Twin Lakes residents said there were dozens of reports of attempted break-ins, which had created an atmosphere of fear in their neighborhood.[30]

In September 2011, the Twin Lakes residents held an organizational meeting to create a neighborhood watch program. Zimmerman was selected by neighbors as the program's coordinator, according to Wendy Dorival, Neighborhood Watch organizer for the Sanford Police Department.[3][3][60]

Three weeks prior to the shooting, on February 2, 2012, Zimmerman called police to report a young man peering into the windows of an empty Twin Lakes home. Zimmerman was told a police car was on the way and he waited for their arrival. By the time police arrived, the suspect had fled. On February 6, workers witnessed two young black men lingering in the yard of a Twin Lakes resident around the same time her home was burgled. A new laptop and some gold jewelry were stolen. The next day police discovered the stolen laptop in the backpack of a young black man, which led to his arrest. Zimmerman identified this young man as the same person he had spotted peering into windows on February 2.[30]

Zimmerman had been licensed to carry a firearm since November 2009. In response to Zimmerman's multiple reports regarding a loose pit bull in the Twin Lakes neighborhood, a Seminole County Animal Services officer advised Zimmerman to "get a gun", according to a friend, rather than rely on pepper spray to fend off the pit bull, which on one occasion had cornered his wife.[30] Although neighborhood watch volunteers are not encouraged to carry weapons, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee acknowledged that Zimmerman had a legal right to carry his firearm on the night of the shooting.[41]

Shooting and investigation

On the evening of February 26, 2012, Zimmerman observed Martin as he returned to the Twin Lakes housing community after having walked to a nearby convenience store.[61] At the time, Zimmerman was driving through the neighborhood on a personal errand.[62] Template:Listen

At approximately 7:09 PM,[Note 5] Zimmerman called the Sanford police non-emergency number to report what he considered a suspicious person in the Twin Lakes community.[64] Zimmerman stated, "We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy."[30] He described an unknown male "just walking around looking about" in the rain and said, "This guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something."[65] Zimmerman reported that the person had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes.[66] On the recording, Zimmerman is heard saying, "these assholes, they always get away."[67][68]

About two minutes into the call, Zimmerman said, "he's running".[12] The dispatcher asked, "He's running? Which way is he running?"[69] Noises on the tape at this point have been interpreted by some media outlets as the sound of a car door chime, possibly indicating Zimmerman opened his car door.[70] Zimmerman followed Martin, eventually losing sight of him.[12] The dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following him. When Zimmerman answered, "yeah", the dispatcher said, "We don't need you to do that." Zimmerman responded, "Okay."[71] Zimmerman asked that police call him upon their arrival so he could provide his location.[12] Zimmerman ended the call at 7:15 p.m.[12]

After Zimmerman ended his call with police, a violent encounter took place between Martin and Zimmerman, which ended when Zimmerman fatally shot Martin Template:Convert/yd from the rear door of the townhouse where Martin was staying.[72][Note 6]

Template:Collapse top Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. ...
Zimmerman: Hey, we've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle. Um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: Okay, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He's [unintelligible], he was just staring...
Dispatcher: Okay, he's just walking around the area...
Zimmerman: ...looking at all the houses.
Dispatcher: Okay...
Zimmerman: Now he's just staring at me.
Dispatcher: Okay. You said it's 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?
Zimmerman: That's the clubhouse... [Note 3, 3rd picture]
Dispatcher: That's the clubhouse. Do you know what the – he's near the clubhouse right now?
Zimmerman: Yeah, now he's coming towards me.
Dispatcher: Okay.
Zimmerman: He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male.
Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks?
Zimmerman: He's got a button on his shirt. Late teens.
Dispatcher: Late teens. Okay.
Zimmerman: Something's wrong with him. Yup, he's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is.
Dispatcher: Just let me know if he does anything, okay?
Zimmerman: How long until you get an officer over here?
Dispatcher: Yeah, we've got someone on the way. Just let me know if this guy does anything else.
Zimmerman: Okay. These assholes, they always get away. When you come to the clubhouse, you come straight in and make a left. Actually, you would go past the clubhouse.[Note 3, 3rd picture]
Dispatcher: So it's on the lefthand side from the clubhouse?
Zimmerman: No, you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left...uh, you go straight in, don't turn, and make a left. Shit, he's running [background noises, possibly car door open warning chimes, heard].
Dispatcher: He's running? Which way is he running?
Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.
Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he's heading towards?
Zimmerman: The back entrance...fucking [disputed/unintelligible]
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Okay, we don't need you to do that.
Zimmerman: Okay.
Dispatcher: All right, sir, what is your name?
Zimmerman: George...He ran.
Dispatcher: All right, George, what's your last name?
Zimmerman: Zimmerman.
Dispatcher: And George, what's the phone number you're calling from?
Zimmerman: [redacted]
Dispatcher: All right, George, we do have them on the way. Do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Alright, where you going to meet with them at?
Zimmerman: If they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, [Note 3, 4th picture] that's my truck...[unintelligible]
Dispatcher: What address are you parked in front of?
Zimmerman: I don't know. It's a cut through so I don't know the address.[Note 3, 6th & 7th pictures]
Dispatcher: Okay. Do you live in the area?
Zimmerman: Yeah, I...[unintelligible]
Dispatcher: What's your apartment number?
Zimmerman: It's a home. It's 1950,[Note 3, 3rd picture] Oh, crap. I don't want to give it all out. I don't know where this kid is.
Dispatcher: Okay. Do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?
Zimmerman: Yeah, that's fine.
Dispatcher: All right, George. I'll let them know to meet you around there okay?
Zimmerman: Actually, could you have them call me and I'll tell them where I'm at?
Dispatcher: Okay, yeah. That's no problem.
Zimmerman: Should I give you my number or you got it?
Dispatcher: Yeah, I got it [redacted]
Zimmerman: Yeah, you got it.
Dispatcher: Okay. No problem. I'll let them know to call you when they're in the area.
Zimmerman: Thanks.
Dispatcher: You're welcome.[69]

Template:Collapse bottom

Sanford Police investigation

Police officer Timothy Smith arrived at the scene at approximately 7:17 PM. He reported finding Zimmerman standing near Martin, who was lying face down in the grass and unresponsive.[11][74] At that time, Zimmerman stated to Smith that he had shot Martin and was still armed. Smith handcuffed Zimmerman and removed his weapon from him. Smith observed that Zimmerman's back was wet and covered with grass and he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head.[11][75]

Ricardo Ayala, the second officer to arrive that night, noticed Officer Smith had Zimmerman in custody, then observed Martin lying face down in the grass and attempted to get a response from him. At this time, Sgt. Anthony Raimondo arrived and together with Ayala began CPR. Paramedics from Sanford Fire and Rescue arrived and continued CPR, finally declaring Martin dead at 7:30 PM.[11]

Other officers who had arrived by this time secured the area and made contact with neighbors in the area and obtained statements from witnesses at the scene. The officers, who believed Zimmerman proceeded solely on foot before the attack, did not seize Zimmerman's vehicle until after his wife had moved it.[76] Zimmerman was treated and released by paramedics while still at the scene of the incident.[11][75] After placing Zimmerman in his police vehicle, Officer Smith heard Zimmerman say, "I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me."[11][77] Zimmerman was then transported to the Sanford Police Department where he was questioned by investigators for approximately five hours.[11][78] The police determined that Zimmerman yelled for help at least 14 times in a 38 second span.[79] The question of who was calling for help has been disputed since then by others and remains inconclusive. (See Background sounds of yelling for help in 9-1-1 calls)

Martin's body was taken to the morgue, where he was tagged as a John Doe as he was not carrying any identification.[80] Martin's father, Tracy Martin, called to file a Missing Persons report early on February 27 and police officers arrived at his fiancée's condo with photographs of his dead son about 9:20 am.[80][81]

File:George Zimmerman front of head.jpg

George Zimmerman with a bloody, swollen nose in the back seat of a police car on the night of the shooting.[82][83]

File:George Zimmerman back of head.jpg

The back of Zimmerman's head at the police station.[84]

Zimmerman was handcuffed at the scene of the shooting and taken to the Sanford police station for questioning, arriving there at 7:52 p.m. according to a police video.[12] His gun, a black Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm semi-automatic pistol, taken from him by Officer Smith at the scene, was placed into evidence.[85][86]

Zimmerman was interviewed by Investigator D. Singleton and by Detective Chris Serino on the night of the shooting.[11][87] He also underwent voice stress analysis, a type of lie detector test, on the night of the shooting.[76] Crime Scene Tech D. Smith photographed his injuries and hands and collected gun shot residue. Zimmerman's clothes were taken as evidence after his wife arrived with a change of clothes.[88] The day after the shooting, Zimmerman performed a videotaped reenactment of the incident for police.[76]

Zimmerman was not given a drug or alcohol test.[74] Peter Bella, a retired Chicago Police forensic investigator, told The Washington Times, "Except for DUIs, police cannot test suspects for drugs or alcohol, unless the accused demands or consents to it, or they get a warrant".[89][90][91] The police did not suspect that Zimmerman was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and he was never asked to take such a test.

The Martin family alleged that Seminole County Attorney Wolfinger met personally with Sanford Chief Lee on the night of the shooting and instructed Lee not to make an arrest. Based on their accusation, the Martin family requested that the Justice Department investigate the State prosecutor's office. Wolfinger responded that the accusations were "outright lies" and denied that any such meeting or communication took place. Wolfinger's office reported that the Sanford police consulted with Kelly Jo Hines, the prosecutor on call the night of the shooting, but it has not been disclosed what was talked about.[92]

On March 12, 2012, Police Chief Lee turned the investigation over to the State Attorney's office for review.[93] Lee said there was not enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman. "In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense," Lee said. "Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him." In response to criticisms of the investigation, Lee responded that "We are taking a beating over this" and defended the investigation.[94] "This is all very unsettling. I'm sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, February 26, he'd probably do things differently. I'm sure Trayvon would, too."[41]

On March 13, 2012, Chris Serino sent a capias request to the state's attorney recommending charges of negligent manslaughter against Zimmerman, though Serino maintains he did not believe they had the evidence to support those charges and that manslaughter was only included in the capias in order for the prosecutor's office to continue with their own investigation.[26][95][96][97] The capias states, "the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and waited the arrival of law enforcement or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialog in an effort to dispel each party's concern". "There is no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter."[98] The State Attorney's office initially determined there was insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman and did not file charges based on the capias request.[97][99][100]

On March 16, Serino told the Orlando Sentinel that his investigation had turned up no reliable evidence that cast doubt on Zimmerman's account, that he had acted in self-defense. "The best evidence we have is the testimony of George Zimmerman, and he says the decedent was the primary aggressor in the whole event, everything I have is adding up to what he says."[101]

Further investigation

On March 20, 2012, State attorney Norm Wolfinger announced that a Seminole County grand jury would be convened on April 10 to investigate the death of Martin.[102][103][104] However, after State Attorney Angela Corey was assigned to the case by Florida Governor Rick Scott on March 22, she decided that her office would decide whether to press charges. "I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this, I foresee us being able to make a decision, and move on it on our own."[8]

Governor Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate the shooting[105][106] and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi confirmed that the FDLE was involved and stated "no stone will be left unturned in this investigation."[103]

On March 20, 2012, the Justice Department announced that it was opening investigations into the incident.[107] The FBI opened a parallel investigation into whether Martin's civil rights were violated, interviewed witnesses, and looked into Zimmerman's background.[108]

On July 12, interviews conducted by the FBI were publicly released. The Sanford Police Department's lead investigator, Chris Serino, told FBI agents that he believed Zimmerman's actions were not based on Martin's race, but instead on Martin's attire, the circumstances of the encounter, and previous burglaries in the neighborhood. Zimmerman's neighbors and co-workers were interviewed as well. Neighbors who knew Zimmerman had nothing derogatory to say about him and his co-workers were complimentary of him.[109]

Serino also told the FBI that he had felt pressure from three officers within the department to charge Zimmerman although he "did not believe he had enough evidence at the time to file charges", and accused one of these officers of being friendly with Martin's father. He also expressed concern to the FBI about possible leaks of evidence to the media from within the department.[110]

Martin's autopsy report

The Volusia County medical examiner found that Martin was killed by an injury resulting from a single gunshot to the chest, fired at "intermediate range", between 1 and 18 inches according to a forensic expert.[10][Note 7] An FDLE analysis of Martin's body and clothes described the distance as "a contact shot".[111] The autopsy also found that Martin had one small abrasion on his left ring finger below the knuckle. No other injuries were found on Martin's body at the time of his death.[10] Physicians who reviewed the official autopsy report for the Orlando Sentinel, stated in their opinion that Martin lived from 20 seconds to several minutes after he was shot, and that Martin likely remained conscious "for a little time, anyway".[112]

The autopsy report stated that Martin had trace levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his blood and urine.[113][114] The toxicology report found the levels to be 1.5 nanograms/ml of THC and 7.3 nanograms/ml of THC-COOH, a metabolite of THC that can stay in the system for weeks after cannabis has been smoked.[113][114] Larry Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science, stated that the THC amount was so low that it may have been ingested days earlier and played no role in Martin's behavior.[115]

Witness accounts

Recordings of eight calls to the police made on the night of the shooting were released by the Sanford police on March 17, 2012.[66][117]

A witness to the confrontation just prior to the shooting stated that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and punching him, while Zimmerman was yelling for help. This witness, who identified himself as "John", stated that "the guy on the bottom, who had a red sweater on, was yelling to me, 'Help! Help!' and I told him to stop, and I was calling 911".[118] He went on to say that when he got upstairs and looked down, "the guy who was on the top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.".[118][119][120]

A 13-year-old boy walking his dog saw a man on the ground shortly before the shooting and identified him as wearing red.[121][122][123] His mother later disputed the testimony and claimed that the police pressured him into choosing the color that the man was wearing and that her son could not see any details in the dark. She also stated that the police waited five days before requesting to even question her son and said that the lead homicide investigator told her that he did not believe the shooting was self-defense.[124][125]

Mary Cutcher and her roommate, Selma Mora Lamilla, appeared on AC 360, and Cutcher stated that she believes that "there was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling" just prior to the shooting but admitted that she neither saw the shooting nor the preceding altercation.[126][127][128] Cutcher and her roommate heard the pair in their backyard and a "very young voice" whining, with no sounds of a fight. They heard a gunshot; the crying stopped immediately, and they saw Zimmerman on his knees straddling Martin on the ground.[126][128] Mary Cutcher phoned police after the fatal shooting and said the black man was standing over another man, although Trayvon Martin was already dead.[12] According to the Orlando Sentinel article, "Police spokesman Sgt. Dave Morgenstern [on March 15] issued a statement disputing Cutcher's version of events, calling her statements to WFTV "inconsistent with her sworn testimony to police."[129] However, Cutcher and her roommate maintain that their account of the incident to the police did not agree with Zimmerman's, and they demanded the police issue a retraction.[127]

On March 29, 2012, an eyewitness referred to as a male said that he saw two men on the ground scuffling, then heard the shooting, and saw Zimmerman walk away with no blood on him.[130][131] The witness later appeared on CNN AC360 referred to as a female, giving more details on her account. She pointed out that she heard an argument between a younger and an older voice. During the time that she witnessed the incident, the scuffling happened on the grass. She said that the larger man, who walked away after the gunshot, was on top and that it was too dark to see blood on his face.[132]

A witness who arrived shortly after the shooting revealed photos that he took that night that showed "blood trickling down the back of Zimmerman's head from two cuts. It also shows a possible contusion forming on the crown of his head". In revealing the photo to ABC News in mid-April, he noted that he had heard but had not seen the scuffle, had been the first to arrive, and had been the first to talk to Zimmerman after the shooting.[133]

One eye-witness statement given the night of the shooting describes "a black male, wearing a dark colored 'hoodie' on top of a white or Hispanic male who was yelling for help." The witness said that the black male was throwing punches "MMA [mixed martial arts] style." After hearing a "pop," he saw the black male "laid out on the grass."[134][135] When the witness was subsequently interviewed weeks later by a different agency, the witness said he thought that the black male was either punching or pinning the lighter skinned male underneath him. He was no longer certain who was calling for help, having not seen their mouths in the dark. He was still certain that the black male had been on top of the lighter-skinned male.[136]

Witness 8 (Rachel Jeantel)

On March 20, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump revealed that Martin had been on the phone with a friend moments before he was shot.[137][138][139] During an ABC News exclusive report, Crump allowed portions of his recorded interview with Martin's friend to be aired. She said that Martin told her that a man was watching him from his vehicle while talking on the phone before the man started following Martin. Martin told his friend at one point that he had lost the man but the man suddenly appeared again.[138][139][140] The friend, originally known only as "Witness 8", said that she told Martin to run to the townhouse where he was staying with his father and the father's girlfriend.[139] She then heard Martin say, "What are you following me for?" followed by a man's voice responding, "What are you doing around here?" She said that she heard the sound of pushing before the phone went dead. She immediately attempted to call him back, but was unable to reach him.[141] Crump stated that he would turn the information over to the Justice Department because "the family does not trust the Sanford Police Department to have anything to do with the investigation."[138] Martin's friend was subsequently interviewed by state prosecutors on April 2, 2012. During her interview with the prosecutor, Martin's friend recounted her last phone call with Martin and added that Martin had described the man as "crazy and creepy", watching him from a vehicle while the man was talking on the phone.[139] Martin's friend told prosecutors that she heard words like "get off, get off", right before she lost contact with Martin.[139] She also testified that Martin referred to Zimmerman as a "creepy ass cracker" during their telephone conversation.[142]

On March 6, 2013, prosecutors admitted that she had lied under oath, when she falsely testified that she had been in the hospital on the day of Martin's funeral. She later admitted being embarrassed about lying and that she felt guilty about Martin's death and not doing more to help.[143][144][145]

Crump had refused to disclose the identity of Witness 8, stating that she was only 16, a minor at the time of the shooting, and asked the media to respect her privacy.[146] It was subsequently revealed that she was actually 18 at the time when she said she was on the phone with Martin.[147] According to the defense, her actual age had been edited out of previously released disclosures.[148] Crump has denied intentionally giving any misleading statements about her age.[149]

Witness 8 was subsequently identified as Rachel Jeantel, a friend with whom Martin had attended elementary school and high school.[150]

George Zimmerman's account of events

On the advice of his legal counsel, Zimmerman did not speak to the media after the shooting.[151] The statements he gave to police investigators were publicly released on June 21, 2012, when Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, published his written and recorded statements on Zimmerman's legal defense web site.[152][153][154] Prior to the release of the statements, the only publicly available information about Zimmerman's version of the incident came from interviews with some of his family members and friends and from leaks to the news media by sources inside the investigation, and his recorded phone call to 9-1-1. Zimmerman maintained his public silence until he was interviewed by Sean Hannity of Fox News on July 18, 2012.[155][156] According to early news reports on the incident, on the night of the shooting, and afterwards, Zimmerman described in detail for investigators what took place.[157][158][159][160]

Zimmerman said he was driving to the grocery store when he spotted Trayvon Martin walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman's father said that, while his son was not on duty that night as Neighborhood Watch captain, there had been many break-ins and he thought it suspicious that someone he didn't recognize was walking behind the town homes instead of on the street or the sidewalk. Zimmerman therefore called a non-emergency police line to report Martin's behavior and summon police.[161][162] During the call, Zimmerman told the dispatcher that Martin was "coming to check me out."[69] A source to the Orlando Sentinel said in May that Zimmerman told investigators that at one point Martin circled his vehicle,[Note 8] and he rolled up his window to avoid a confrontation.[158][163]

After telling the police dispatcher that Martin "ran",[164] Zimmerman left his vehicle to determine his location and ascertain in which direction Martin had fled.[158][165] The dispatcher asked if Zimmerman was following Martin, and Zimmerman replied "Yeah." Then the dispatcher said, "OK, we don't need you to do that." Zimmerman replied with "OK" and stated that Martin got away.[164] After a discussion about where Zimmerman would meet police, the call ended, and Zimmerman told investigators he was returning to his vehicle when Martin approached him from his left rear and confronted him.[158][159] According to Zimmerman, Martin then punched him in the face, knocking him down, and began beating his head against the sidewalk.[158][159] Zimmerman said he called out for help while being beaten, and at one point Martin covered his mouth to muffle the screams.[158][159] According to Zimmerman's father, during the struggle while Martin was on top of Zimmerman, Martin saw the gun his son was carrying and said something to the effect of "You're gonna die now" or "You're gonna die tonight" and continued to beat Zimmerman.[157] Zimmerman and Martin struggled over the gun, and Zimmerman shot Martin once in the chest at close range. Zimmerman told police he shot Martin in self-defense.[158][159][160][Note 9]

On June 21, 2012, Zimmerman's attorneys released audiotapes of several interviews he had with police shortly after the shooting. Also included were Zimmerman's written statement of February 26, 2012, and video recordings of his reenactment of the incident and a voice stress test that he passed.[152][154][166][167][168]

In the interviews, Zimmerman says he took note of Martin because he was near a home that he had previously called police about. He also said "he was just walking casually, not like he was trying to get out of the rain," and he felt "something was off" about Martin.[163]

Zimmerman said he left his truck to find a street sign so he would be able to tell the police dispatcher where he was. He told investigators that he was not following Martin but was "just going in the same direction he was" to find an address, but admitted that he had also left his truck to try to see in which direction Martin had gone.[165] The altercation began, he said, when Martin suddenly appeared while Zimmerman was walking back to his vehicle. He described Martin at different points in the interviews as appearing "out of nowhere", "from the darkness", and as "jump[ing] out of the bushes".[165][166] Zimmerman said that Martin asked, "You got a fucking problem, homie?" Zimmerman replied no, then Martin said "You got a problem now" and punched Zimmerman.[169] As they struggled on the ground, Zimmerman on his back with Martin on top of him, Zimmerman yelled for help "probably 50 times". (See Background sounds of yelling for help in 9-1-1 calls) Martin told him to "Shut the fuck up," as he hit him in the face and pounded his head on a concrete sidewalk.[166] When Zimmerman tried to move off the concrete, Martin saw his gun and said "You're going to die tonight motherfucker!" Martin grabbed for the gun, but Zimmerman grabbed it first. He said after firing his weapon at Martin, he was not sure at first that he had hit him, so he got on top of him in order to subdue him.[165][165][166] Bystanders and police arrived shortly after Martin was shot.[170][171]

Police reports state Zimmerman "appeared to have a broken and a bloody nose and swelling of his face." Zimmerman was offered three chances to be taken to the hospital, but Zimmerman declined each time, according to police reports released by the prosecution.[170] ABC News reported that a medical report compiled by the family physician of George Zimmerman showed that, following the altercation with Martin, Zimmerman was diagnosed with a closed fracture of his nose, two black eyes, lacerations to the back of his head, a minor back injury, and bruising in his upper lip and cheek.[172]

In the course of Zimmerman's recorded interviews, Detective Chris Serino questioned aspects of Zimmerman's account, such as Zimmerman's statement that he didn't know the name of a street in the Twin Lakes community where he had lived for three years. Zimmerman said in response that he had a bad memory and takes medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.[163] Investigators also questioned the extent of his injuries and why he didn't identify himself to Martin as a Neighborhood Watch coordinator. Zimmerman said he didn't want to confront Martin.[163][166]

On June 26, 2012, the prosecution released the results of a voice stress test performed on George Zimmerman the day after the shooting.[173][174] A voice stress test is a type of test used to measure deceptive or psychological stress in the human voice in response to questions.[175] Zimmerman was asked, "Did you confront the guy you shot?", to which Zimmerman answered, "No." Zimmerman was asked, "Were you in fear for your life, when you shot the guy?", to which Zimmerman answered, "Yes."[173] The examiner concluded that Zimmerman "told substantially the complete truth" in the examination, and Zimmerman was classified as "No Deception Indicated (NDI)" according to the report.[173]

During a bond hearing on April 20, 2012, Investigator Dale Gilbreath testified under oath that he did not know whether Zimmerman or Martin started the fight and that there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claim that he was walking back to his vehicle when Martin confronted him. Gilbreath, however, questioned Zimmerman's statement that Martin was slamming his head against the sidewalk just before he shot the teenager, saying it was "not consistent with the evidence we found."[176][177][178] Gilbreath was one of two investigators who attested to the facts stated in the probable cause affidavit.[179]

Zimmerman's first media interview

On July 18, 2012, Zimmerman, accompanied by his attorney Mark O'Mara, gave his first long media interview to Sean Hannity. Part of the interview appeared on Hannity that evening. During the interview he said that he did not regret his actions on the night of the shooting, but he also said, "I do wish there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn't have put me in the position where I had to take his life. I want to tell everyone, my wife, my family, my parents, grandmother, the Martins, the city of Sanford and America: I'm sorry that this happened. I'm truly sorry."[155][156][180]

When Hannity asked Zimmerman why his suspicions were aroused when he noticed Martin, Zimmerman replied in part:

I felt he was suspicious because it was raining. He was in-between houses, cutting in-between houses, and he was walking very leisurely for the weather. ... It didn't look like he was a resident that went to check their mail and got caught in the rain and was hurrying back home. He didn't look like a fitness fanatic that would train in the rain.[181][182]

Following the interview with Hannity, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey filed formal notice that she intended to use the interview as evidence against Zimmerman.[183] According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman's story differed in at least two details[clarification needed] from previous versions of what he said happened the night he shot Martin.[183] Florida defense lawyers said it was a mistake for Zimmerman to do a TV interview and discuss what happened that night. One of them said, "It's really baffling what he thought he'd gain from it. I question who's in charge of the defense strategy, Zimmerman or O'Mara".[183]

Martin's parents said they don't accept Zimmerman's apology for killing their son.[184] Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, said she doubted that Zimmerman's apology was sincere. "I have a hard time accepting it because he also said that he doesn't regret anything that he did that night..." Fulton stated.[185]

Prosecution's account of events

The prosecution's account was largely contained in the affidavit of probable cause filed on April 11, 2012, in support of second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman. A conviction of second-degree murder could have resulted in Zimmerman receiving a prison term of 25 years to life.[186] The affidavit stated that it did not contain a complete recitation of facts, but presented only the facts to support probable cause for second-degree murder charges. Judge Mark Herr ruled that the affidavit was legally sufficient to establish probable cause.[187] The affidavit described what investigators alleged took place between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the shooting.[179][188][189][190]

The affidavit stated that Martin was walking back from a nearby 7-Eleven store to the townhouse where he was temporarily living when Zimmerman profiled Martin, who was unarmed and not committing a crime.[179][188] Prosecutors stated that Zimmerman was driving in his vehicle when he observed Martin and assumed he was a criminal.[188] Feeling that Martin did not belong in the gated community where Zimmerman lived, he called the police to request an officer to respond, because he perceived that Martin was acting suspiciously.[179][188] Investigators said the dispatcher told Zimmerman an officer was on the way and to wait for him.[179][188] In the call, Zimmerman made reference to people he felt had gotten away with break-ins in the neighborhood, and while talking about Martin, stated "these assholes, they always get away" and also said "these fucking punks".[179][188][190]

According to investigators, while Zimmerman was speaking with police, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening. She said that Martin was scared because he was being followed by an unknown male and didn't know why.[188][190] Investigators said that Martin attempted to run home, but Zimmerman followed him, because he didn't want Martin whom he falsely assumed was going to commit a crime, to get away before the police arrived.[188][189] When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he told Zimmerman that was unnecessary and that an officer would meet him.[179] Prosecutors stated that Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher's instruction and continued pursuing Martin on foot.[187] Investigators said Zimmerman then confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.[179][188]

The affidavit described witness accounts of hearing people arguing, what sounded like a struggle, and yells for help that were recorded in the 9-1-1 calls to police.[188] According to prosecutors, Martin's mother reviewed the 9-1-1 calls to police and identified the voice crying for help as her son.[179][191] (See Background sounds of yelling for help in 9-1-1 calls) When police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman admitted to shooting Martin in the chest.[179][188] An assistant medical examiner conducted an autopsy and determined that Martin had died from the gunshot.[179][188]

Legal analysts have criticized the prosecution for over-charging Zimmerman, claiming that the probable cause affidavit does not support a charge of second-degree murder.[192][193] Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz claims that the probable cause affidavit may be perjurious if Special Prosecutor Angela Corey knowingly omitted facts favorable to Zimmerman's self-defense claims.[192]

Richard Kuritz, a former prosecutor who worked with Angela Corey, said the state attorney had no obligation to include exculpatory evidence in the affidavit. He stated that Dershowitz could face civil action for making accusations that Corey committed a crime. "To suggest that she's committing any crime, Dershowitz is way off on that", Kuritz said.[194]

Background sounds of yelling for help in 9-1-1 calls

In recordings of the 9-1-1 calls, yells for help are audible in the background. Zimmerman's family says it was Zimmerman yelling for help, Martin's family says it was Martin yelling for help, and independent audio analysts offer differing opinions as to who was yelling for help. During the trial, friends and family members of both Zimmerman and Martin testified as to who they thought the voice was, but expert testimony regarding voice identification was not allowed.

In an interview with prosecutors on March 19, Zimmerman's father identified the yells as George Zimmerman's, stating, "There is no doubt who is yelling for help. It is absolutely my son." Other relatives of Zimmerman, including his brother, concur and are equally adamant.[195] During a bond hearing on June 29, the 9-1-1 recording was played in court, and Zimmerman's father testified that "it was definitely George's" voice heard yelling for help in the recorded 9-1-1 call.[196]

According to police reports, after listening to audio recordings of the 9-1-1 calls, Martin's father, Tracy Martin, told police investigators that it was not Trayvon Martin's voice yelling for help.[170] Martin has since told reporters he was uncertain at that time, but that when he heard an enhanced recording on March 16 he was convinced it was his son yelling for help. Investigators interviewed Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, who reviewed the 9-1-1 calls to police and identified the voice crying for help as her son.[191] Investigators also interviewed Martin's cousin who stated that without a doubt "on a stack of bibles" it was Martin yelling for help on the 9-1-1 tape.[197][198]

Zimmerman's attorneys requested a Frye hearing regarding the admissibility of the testimony of the audio analysts, to determine if the methods used by them are generally accepted by the scientific community.[199][200] The judge said in her ruling that, "There is no evidence to establish that their scientific techniques have been tested and found reliable." Her ruling didn't prevent the 9-1-1 calls from being played at trial.[201][202]

Shooting aftermath

Martin family response

File:Trayvon Martin shooting protest 2012 Shankbone 25.JPG

Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a "Million Hoodie March" in Manhattan on March 21. Martin's parents addressed the crowd.[203]

Tracy Martin was skeptical of the account of his son's death told to him by Sanford police investigators and believed Zimmerman didn't act in self-defense.[80] Two days after the shooting, he was referred to civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump,[80] who was retained to pursue legal action and to persuade the news media to cover the case.[204] Attorney Natalie Jackson and publicist Ryan Julison, both of Orlando, also joined the Martin team.[80] Due to their efforts, the case started to receive national attention on March 7.[80][205] On March 9, Crump announced he was suing to have 911 calls from the night of the shooting made public.[206] They were released by the Sanford mayor on March 16.[80] As attention to the case grew, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton gave media interviews and appeared at some of the protests being held which called for Zimmerman's arrest.[80][203][207] On April 5, 2013, it was announced that the Martin family had settled a wrongful death claim with the Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowners Association, for a sum thought to be more than $1 million.[208] On June 28, Alicia Stanley, Trayvon Martin's step-mother (Trayvon's father's former wife), stated that she believed Zimmerman had profiled Trayvon as a criminal, although she was not convinced that the profiling was based on race.[209][210] She said that she had no doubt that Zimmerman had started the fight and that Martin had reacted only in self-defense.[209][210]

Zimmerman and family

While the shooting was being investigated, Zimmerman, his wife, and his parents went into hiding due to threats they were receiving as the case gained more attention.[151][211] Zimmerman left his job and his school expelled him, citing safety concerns.[30][212] Due to security concerns, Zimmerman's first lawyers had not been able to meet with him in person.[213]

On April 9, Zimmerman placed a self-created web site on the internet, which included some brief statements, but no information about the shooting, since he had been advised by legal counsel not to discuss it. He also solicited donations for living expenses and legal defense costs.[214]

After taking over as Zimmerman's defense counsel on April 11, Mark O'Mara took down Zimmerman's self-created web site and replaced it with a professional information site. He arranged for a second web site to be set up to collect donations overseen by an independent third party.[215] Following Zimmerman's April 20 bond hearing, he and his wife were accused by prosecutors of not disclosing the funds raised through the original web site; as a result of these allegations, Zimmerman's original bail was revoked. He was subsequently released again with a higher bail amount.[216] Zimmerman's wife, Shellie Zimmerman, was charged with perjury in June 2012; the charge still stands.[217]

George Zimmerman's defense team had set up a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a website with a defense fund registered with the Florida Division of Consumer Services.[215][218][219] After three months, the Facebook page was shut down by O'Mara, because he said it was leading to unhelpful discussions.[220]

In July 2012, Zimmerman returned his original web site to the internet, and his parents also created their own web site. Both sites discuss how the case has changed the Zimmermans' lives and seek donations for living expenses.[221]

On January 30, 2013, Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, asked on Zimmerman's defense fund website for the public to donate more money. O'Mara stated that Zimmerman's legal defense could cost up to $1 million.[222]

Public response


An undated personal photo of Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie was displayed by protesters and sold by merchants on hoodies, T-shirts and keychains, prompting the family to trademark slogans using his name.[223]

After the shooting, Zimmerman was criticized by the Martin family and in the media for following Martin and for carrying a weapon.[224][225][226] Sanford police chief Bill Lee stated that neighborhood watch volunteers are not encouraged to carry a gun but have a Constitutional right to do so.[41] Lee further stated, "Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred."[225] Sanford Police volunteer program coordinator Wendy Dorival, told The Miami Herald that she met Zimmerman in September 2011, at a community neighborhood watch presentation. "I said, 'If it's someone you don't recognize, call us. We'll figure it out,' 'Observe from a safe location.' Dorival said."[41]

Protests were staged around the U.S. prior to Zimmerman's April 11 indictment on murder charges.[227] Over 2.2 million signatures were collected on a petition, created by Martin's mother, calling for Zimmerman's arrest.[224] It was the website's largest petition ever.[228]

Since Martin was killed while wearing a hoodie, hoodies were used as a sign of protest, and many cities staged "million hoodie marches" or "hundred hoodie marches". Additionally, some professional athletes, including Carmelo Anthony and the entire Miami Heat roster, tweeted photos of themselves wearing hoodies.[citation needed]

Bags of Skittles candy and cans of Arizona Iced Tea were also used as protest symbols. Martin was reported to be returning from a 7-Eleven convenience store with these items when he was shot,[229][230] although the beverage he purchased was actually an Arizona brand fruit drink.[231]

Walkouts were staged by students at over a dozen Florida high schools,[232] and thousands of people attended rallies around the country to demand Zimmerman's arrest.[233] Members of the Occupy movement marched in solidarity during the "Million Hoodie March".[234][235]

A number of high-profile citizens made public comments or released statements calling for a full investigation, including Reverend Al Sharpton,[236][237] Reverend Jesse Jackson,[238] and President Barack Obama.[236]

Speaking on the day of Zimmerman's arrest, Al Sharpton said, "Forty-five days ago, Trayvon Martin was murdered. No arrest was made. The Chief of Police in Sanford announced after his review of the evidence there would be no arrest. An outcry from all over this country came because his parents refused to leave it there."[239][240] Jesse Jackson also referred to Martin as "murdered and martyred".[241] And U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (Dem.), who represents Martin's hometown of Miami, used the word "murdered" when she referred to Martin's fatal shooting.[242]

President Obama, speaking to reporters on March 23 after federal investigators were deployed to Sanford, said, "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this... If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."[236]

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain objected to what he called "swirling rhetoric" and "a war of words",[243] and former Garland, Texas NAACP president C.L. Bryant singled out Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for being "race hustlers" who were exploiting Martin's death "to inflame racial passions". Bryant also criticized President Barack Obama for his "nebulous" comment, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."[244][245] Former education secretary William Bennett criticized what he called a "mob mentality", saying that "...the tendency in the first days by some, including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and an angry chorus of followers, was to rush to judgment with little regard for fairness, due process, or respect for the terrible death of a young man."[246]

Senior Fellow Shelby Steele at Stanford University's Hoover Institution said that the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death was being exploited by a generation of "ambulance-chasing" black leaders who have promoted "our historical victimization as the central theme of our group identity".[247]

According to Zimmerman's father, George Zimmerman received death threats after the shooting and was forced to move out of his home.[248] The New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 reward for the "capture" of George Zimmerman;[249][250] this was condemned by the city of Sanford.[249]

In parts of the U.S., various acts of vandalism, assaults and crimes were connected in part to alleged revenge for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.[251][252][253][254]

Film director Spike Lee retweeted to his 200,000 Twitter followers an erroneous Sanford, Florida, address, purported to be Zimmerman's, which forced a family out of their home to avoid harassment after they received hate mail and unwanted visits from reporters.[255][256][257] Lee was criticized for his retweet[258] and he later issued an apology for having tweeted the wrong address.

Professor Alan Dershowitz criticized the probable cause affidavit against Zimmerman as "so thin that it won't make it past the judge", calling it "irresponsible and unethical", and opined that the charges were motivated by prosecutor Corey's desire to be re-elected.[259][260] The deadline for qualifying to run against Corey was 9 days after she filed charges, and no one stepped forward to challenge her, so she won re-election.[261] In June, Dershowitz said that Corey had contacted the dean of Harvard Law School about his remarks, threatening to sue Dershowitz for libel and slander, and the school too, and saying she wanted him to be disciplined by the American Bar Association. Dershowitz said the dean defended his remarks under academic freedom, and he commented that "[e]ven if Angela Corey's actions were debatable, which I believe they were not, I certainly have the right, as a professor who has taught and practiced criminal law nearly 50 years, to express a contrary view."[262][263] CNN legal analyst Mark NeJame expressed concern over Corey's threats and questioned if the prosecution of Zimmerman was for political reasons.[264]

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote "...what's often overlooked in all the heated conversations about this tragedy is the actual timeline based on police documents." and "[The timeline] indicates that the victim as well as the accused made some terrible choices that night...and it tells us to keep our minds open and our tempers in check, at least until some of [the] gaps get filled at Zimmerman's trial."[265]

Fox News Channel host Geraldo Rivera claimed that Martin's "gangsta style clothing" was "as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was".[266][267] Rivera was quoted saying, "I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies." [266] Faced with outrage over his statements, Rivera apologized, saying that he had "obscured the main point that someone shot and killed an unarmed teenager".[268] When a 7-Eleven surveillance video showing Martin making a purchase on the night of the shooting was released two months later, however, Rivera referred to the clothes he had been wearing as "thug wear". His comments were criticized by the Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, who compared them to people blaming rape victims for wearing short skirts.[267]

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News called for restraint and urged other pundits to stop trying the case in the media. He said that the case is a "tragedy" but should not be tried in the media.[269]

After Zimmerman's bond was revoked for misrepresenting how much money he had when his bond was set,[270] Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said he expected the prosecution to bring Zimmerman's credibility "front and center in this entire case".[271] Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara stated that it was a "mistake" that had "undermined his credibility, which he will have to work to repair".[272]

Alleged race issues

Allegations against Zimmerman

File:Occupy Chicago protestors (11).jpg

Chicago protestors on March 28.

Zimmerman was accused of being motivated by racism[1][141] and of having racially profiled Martin.[1][99][248][273] During early media coverage of the incident, Zimmerman's call to the police dispatcher was misleadingly edited by NBC, shortened such that it appeared that Zimmerman had volunteered Martin's race. The unedited audio recording proved that the police dispatcher specifically asked about Martin's race, and only then did Zimmerman reveal that Martin was black. NBC apologized for the misleading edit and disciplined those involved.[274]

Defense of Zimmerman's character

In an open letter on March 15, 2012, Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, defended his son against allegations that his actions were racially motivated, stating that Zimmerman was Hispanic, was raised in a multiracial family, and "would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever," saying that the portrayal of his son as a racist "could not be further from the truth." According to his family, some of Zimmerman's relatives are black.[31] Zimmerman's former lawyer Craig Sonner stated that Zimmerman is not a racist, and that he had mentored black youths in the past.[275] Joe Oliver, a former television news reporter who is acquainted with Zimmerman,[276] noted "I'm a black male and all that I know is that George has never given me any reason whatsoever to believe he has anything against people of color."[277]

In early April, an anonymous letter to the NAACP, which was signed "A Concerned Zimmerman Family Member," said Zimmerman had been one of the few to take any action to protest the 2010 beating of Sherman Ware, a black homeless man, by the son of a Sanford police officer. Zimmerman reportedly distributed fliers in the black community trying to get others involved too, and helped organize a January 8, 2011, Sanford City Hall community forum to protest the incident.[278] Zimmerman's father confirmed his son's efforts on Ware's behalf.[279]

In May, the Miami Herald secured an audiotape of the January 8, 2011, Sanford City Hall community forum. On the audiotape, Zimmerman was heard criticizing the conduct of the Sanford Police Department in the Ware case. Zimmerman criticized former chief, Brian Tooley, and said Tooley had engaged in a "cover-up" and that he should lose his pension. He also said he'd been on ride-alongs with Sanford police where he found them to be lazy. The Herald also reported that it had contacted five out of six black churches where Zimmerman was reported to have distributed fliers on the Ware beating, however no one recalled receiving them.[52]

On July 12, interviews conducted by the FBI were publicly released. The Sanford Police Department's lead investigator, Chris Serino, told FBI agents that he believed Zimmerman's actions were not based on Martin's race, but instead on Martin's attire, the circumstances of the encounter, and previous burglaries in the neighborhood. Zimmerman's neighbors and co-workers were interviewed as well. Neighbors who knew Zimmerman had nothing derogatory to say about him, and his co-workers were complimentary of him.[109]

Allegations against Martin

During the trial, defense attorney Don West implied that the language Martin had allegedly used was evidence that Martin had introduced race into the confrontation.[280] State's witness #8, Rachel Jeantel, testified that Martin, during his telephone conversation with her just prior to the shooting, had referred to Zimmerman as a "creepy-ass cracker" and a "nigga."[281][282] On cross-examination, West asked Jeantel, "So it was racial, but it was because Trayvon Martin put race in this?" and "You don't think that creepy ass cracker is a racial comment?"[283] Jeantel replied that she believed race was involved because Martin was being followed by a white man, not because Martin had called Zimmerman a "creepy-ass cracker."[284][285] She said that people in her community call white people "cracker" and she didn't find the term offensive.[282][286][287]

Allegations against the Sanford police

For not arresting Zimmerman, the Sanford police faced heavy criticism, protests, and allegations of racial bias.[1] The NAACP wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressing "no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation" and requesting that personnel be detailed to Sanford to review the case without bias.[99][141] Lee repeatedly defended the investigation, stating that the Sanford police did not feel they had conducted a racially biased investigation and welcomed a review of their efforts.[273][288]

Allegations were also made that the Sanford police were protecting Zimmerman.[159] Lee told reporters that they could not arrest Zimmerman because no evidence contradicted his story, and that to do so would leave the police open to litigation.[273] In regards to the 9-1-1 dispatcher telling Zimmerman that "We don't need you to [follow him],"[289] Lee said "That is a call taker making a recommendation to him. He's not under a legal obligation to do that, so that is not something we can charge him with."[99]

On March 21, 2012, three out of the five members of the Sanford City Commission, including the mayor, passed a motion of no confidence in regards to the Police Chief Bill Lee, and his handling of the case; however, the vote was advisory only.[290] The following day, Lee announced that he had temporarily stepped down from his position as chief of police, stating "my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process." Lee further stated, "I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks."[40] On April 23, 2012, the city of Sanford announced that Police Chief Bill Lee would resign but city commissioners voted to reject the resignation. Some commissioners had concerns about the fairness of Lee losing his job and the mayor stated he preferred to wait for the results of an investigation. Lee was to remain on paid leave.[291]

In an interview with CNN, following his testimony at Zimmerman's trial, Bill Lee said that he felt pressure from city officials to arrest Zimmerman to placate the public rather than as a matter of justice.[292] Lee said, "It was relayed to me that they just wanted an arrest. They didn't care if it got dismissed later." Lee further stated in the interview that the Sanford Police conducted a "sound" investigation, and the evidence provided no probable cause to arrest Zimmerman at the scene.[292] Lee said that the police needed to do a job, and there was some outside, and inside influence, that "forced a change in the course of the normal criminal justice process." The former police chief said the investigation was taken away from us and "we weren't able to complete it." Lee also said that his lead investigator made a recommendation that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter, as a matter of protocol. The Sanford police presented a "capias request" to the state's attorney, asking that they determine whether it was a "justifiable homicide."[292]

"Stand your ground" laws

The "stand your ground law" was not used by the Zimmerman defense team during the trial, although it was considered at an earlier time; however, it was mentioned in the jury instructions.[293]

Self-defense laws in the United States, particularly regarding justifiable homicide, vary by state. Florida law, as of 2005, includes a "stand your ground" provision, under which a person, who reasonably fears death or great bodily harm (the ordinary deadly self-defense requirement) is relieved of the common-law requirement that one first attempt to retreat, if one can safely do so, before using deadly force.[294][295] In almost all states, such laws exempt people in their own homes; Florida's version extends the no-retreat doctrine to vehicles and public places. In at least 17 states, including Florida, there is no duty to retreat before using force.[296][297]

The "Stand Your Ground" law granted Zimmerman the right to a pretrial hearing where a judge could have found Zimmerman immune from prosecution and dismissed the charges without going to trial.[298] The defense would have needed to show through a preponderance of the evidence, i.e. show with more than 50% certainty, that Zimmerman thought he would be killed or seriously injured.[299] Zimmerman initially requested a "Stand Your Ground" hearing, but in March 2013, his defense elected to bypass the hearing so that his case would be tried before a jury.[300] Though this bewildered the prosecution, some legal experts who followed the case were not surprised, with some arguing that Zimmerman's defense of being pinned underneath Martin and unable to retreat did not fall under the "stand your ground" law. Another reason given was that the defense did not want to subject Zimmerman to a mini-trial and possibly tip off the prosecution about its strategy should the "stand your ground" plea fail and a full trial be required.[301]

Three weeks after the shooting, Florida authorities announced they had picked 19 people to head up a task force to review the Florida statute that deals with justifiable use of force, including the stand your ground provision.[302] After six months of work, the result was that the task force did not recommend significant changes to the law.[303][304][305]

In January, 2013, Martin's mother joined two Democratic lawmakers in Florida and called for the repeal of the state's "stand your ground" law.[306]

Media coverage

File:Trayvon Martin shooting protest 2012 Shankbone 11.JPG

Trayvon's father Tracy Martin, family attorney Benjamin Crump and mother Sybrina Fulton, at the 'Million Hoodies' protest in Union Square, New York

For the first 10 days after Martin's death, the story was covered by only the Florida media.[204] In order to bring more attention to the case, Martin family attorney Natalie Jackson sought the assistance of publicist Ryan Julison on March 5.[80]

On March 7, 2012, Reuters covered the story,[80][205] and the following day, CBS News, acting on a tip it received from the network's local bureau in Atlanta, Georgia, obtained an exclusive interview with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton that was broadcast on CBS This Morning.[204][307]

Also on March 8, The Huffington Post, The Young Turks, and, which is affiliated with NBC News, started to cover the case.[204][308][309][310] On March 9, 2012, ABC World News featured the story on their nightly broadcast.[311] CNN first reported on the case on March 12, 2012, and by the end of that week, radio hosts and bloggers were also reporting on the story.[204][312] National coverage started to increase the week of March 12 and intensified after March 16, when tapes of 9-1-1 calls were released to the public.[204][313] Having the 9-1-1 calls, which the police had previously declined to release, gave radio and TV reporters more material on which to report.[204][313]

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case became the first story in 2012 to be featured more than the presidential race. According to the Project, the varying types of media have focused on the case in different ways. An article in the Tampa Bay Times wrote that, "on Twitter, people are outraged at Zimmerman and want justice, while on cable news and talk radio people are discussing the state's laws for self-defense and gun control and on blogs the focus has been on race."[314]

Fox News newsmagazine host Geraldo Rivera, a former NBC employee, asserted that MSNBC "made an ideological decision that... they would argue strenuously for the prosecution of George Zimmerman and the ultimate conviction of George Zimmerman... [T]hey are cheerleading for the conviction of George Zimmerman."[315]

Media portrayal of Martin and Zimmerman

The Associated Press noted that initially the most widely used media photo of Martin was several years old and showed him as a "baby-faced boy," rather than as a 17-year-old young man. To represent Zimmerman, the media chose a shot of a beefy 21-year-old Zimmerman taken seven years prior to the shooting, whereas recent photos show him as slim-faced and more mature. The two outdated photos chosen by the media may have helped shape the initial public perception of the shooting. The AP quoted academic Kenny Irby on the expected effect, "When you have such a lopsided visual comparison, it just stands to reason that people would rush to judgment," and another academic, Betsi Grabe, as saying that journalists will present stories as a struggle between good and evil "[i]f the ingredients are there."[316]

With the release of witness testimony and the details of the altercation prior to Martin's death, various media had advanced the primary source testimony with speculation surrounding the events which further drove public outcry. Martin's and Zimmerman's height and weight were the subject of contention in the media and blogs and used to inform speculation.[317] Some of these speculations fueled outrage and controversy on both sides; combining scant or misleading information with speculation.[318][319] Contributing to the controversy was an image of a different person also named Trayvon Martin in a "gangsta" pose; the error discovered much later.[320][321]

CNN and "white hispanic"

CNN's usage of the label "white hispanic" to describe Zimmerman has been derided by critics (including Zimmerman's father) as erroneous and "injecting a hostile racial narrative" into news coverage.[322][323][324]

Reporting on Zimmerman's call to police

Economist and commentator Thomas Sowell criticized the national media for implying that Zimmerman had continued to follow Martin after the police dispatcher said, "We don't need you to do that." He said that they mostly left out Zimmerman's answer, "O.K." because "too many people in the media see their role as filtering and slanting the news."[325]

After the audio of the call was released, reports by CNN[326] and other news outlets alleged that Zimmerman had said "fucking coons" two minutes and twenty-one seconds (2:21) into the call. Two weeks later on April 4, 2012, CNN claimed that enhanced audio revealed that Zimmerman had said "fucking cold" (alluding to ongoing rain in February).[327] The following day, April 5, 2012, CNN's Martin Savidge reported that forensic audio expert Tom Owen claimed it was "fucking punks."[328] It is said to be "fucking punks" in the affidavit of probable cause, dated April 11, 2012.[179] Other reviewers of the call have offered alternate interpretations of what was said, some labeling it "unintelligible." According to the Associated Press, the alleged racial slur "fed growing outrage over the police department's initial decision not to arrest Zimmerman."[329][330][331][332]

Deceptive audio editing by NBC

Between March 19 and 27, 2012, the NBC Nightly News, NBC's Today show, and NBC's network-owned Miami affiliate WTVJ NBC6[333] ran segments which misleadingly merged parts of Zimmerman's call. On one version of the recording played by NBC, Zimmerman was heard saying, "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something... He's got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male."[334] In another what was played was, "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." In the original 9-1-1 recording, Zimmerman said: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about." The 9-1-1 operator then asked: "OK, and this guy, is he black, white or Hispanic?", and Zimmerman answered, "He looks black."[274] The phrase, "He's got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male" came several exchanges after that point in the conversation.[335][336]

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post wrote that NBC's alterations "would more readily paint Zimmerman as a racial profiler. In reality... Zimmerman simply answered a question... Nothing prejudicial at all in responding to such an inquiry... To portray that exchange in a way that wrongs Zimmerman is high editorial malpractice..."[274]

NBC issued an apology for "an error made in the production process that we deeply regret,"[337] but never apologized on the air.[338] The network said that the Today show and Miami edits took place in two separate incidents involving different people. A Miami-based NBC News producer lost her job, WTVJ reporter Jeff Burnside was fired,[339] and two other employees were disciplined.[340][341] Lilia Luciano, who was the reporter on broadcasts containing both edited versions of the audio,[334][342] was also fired, and her aired reports on the Trayvon Martin story, along with the misleading audio, were removed from the Today website.[343][344]

On December 6, 2012, Zimmerman filed a defamation lawsuit against NBC alleging that they intentionally edited the phone call so that Zimmerman would sound racist. The lawsuit said, "NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain."[345][346] A NBC spokeswoman said the network strongly disagreed with the accusations that Zimmerman made in the complaint, stating; "There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly and we intend to vigorously defend our position in court."[347]

In an interview after the trial verdict, Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl predicted NBC would lose millions settling a defamation lawsuit.[348]

Surveillance video mistake

File:George Zimmerman head welts (ABC, Daily Caller, Forensic Protection).png

Image enhancement of a single frame of the police surveillance video (left) by The Daily Caller (middle) and by Forensic Protection, Inc. working with ABC News (right) shows two welts or abrasions. ABC originally said the video showed no blood or bruises.[349]

ABC News obtained a surveillance video of Zimmerman walking unassisted into the Sanford police station after the shooting. An officer is seen pausing to look at the back of Zimmerman's head, but ABC originally said that no abrasions or blood can be seen in the video.[349] The Daily Caller disputed this claim, and posted a still from the ABC video which showed the injury on the back of Zimmerman's head.[350] ABC later reported that it had "re-digitized" the video, and said that this version showed "what appear to be a pair of gashes or welts on George Zimmerman's head," but the story's main focus was on a doctor who claimed it was unlikely that Zimmerman's nose had been broken.[351][352]

Court proceedings and verdict

On April 11, 2012, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in Martin's death. The trial began on June 24, 2013, and was presented to the jury for deliberations on July 12. The defendant was found not guilty the following day.[353]

Verdict aftermath and implications

Most[citation needed] legal scholars were generally not surprised by the verdict, criticizing State Attorney Angela Corey in particular for potentially over-charging Zimmerman with second degree murder and then trying for compromised lesser charges at the final hour, which made it almost impossible for the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt with the evidence they had at their disposal.[354][355][356] Some attorneys commenting on the case said that the prosecution had failed to adequately prepare their witnesses for trial and had been out-maneuvered by the defense attorneys.[357][358] Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz remained extremely critical of State Attorney Angela Corey's actions in the case, charging that "her conduct bordered on criminal conduct" and "in 50 years of litigating cases ... rarely have I seen [a prosecutor] as bad as this prosecutor".[359]

George Zimmerman remained in hiding after the verdict, although it was reported that on July 17, four days after the verdict, Zimmerman helped rescue several people from an overturned vehicle in Sanford, Florida.[360] Due to the coincidence, some members of the public felt the rescue was staged to portray Zimmerman in a positive light, a claim dismissed by Zimmerman's attorney.[361] The family rescued by Zimmerman had planned a press conference but later dropped the plan, saying they did not want to be accused of supporting Zimmerman.[362]

Zimmerman's parents said that they too had received a large number of death threats and were still too afraid to return to their home after the verdict.[363] A Winter Park, Florida woman whose phone number was posted online by a website that mistakenly identified the number as George Zimmerman's said she also was receiving a barrage of death threats.[364] The woman said that when she reported the calls to the Seminole County Sheriff's Department, she was told that the sheriff's office was receiving 400 death threats per minute on social media websites.[365]

The day after the verdict was delivered, the NAACP posted a petition formally requesting the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman.[366] Within hours, 130,000 people had signed the petition.[367]

During a speech at to the NAACP, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department of Justice was continuing to investigate Zimmerman for civil rights violations after the verdict, and also criticized existing "stand-your-ground" laws. Holder's speech was denounced by the NRA and Florida Governor Rick Scott.[368]

Although there were scattered incidents of disturbances and vandalism following the not-guilty ruling, fears of widespread civil unrest (as per the Rodney King verdict in 1992) were unrealized.[369][Note 10] A Hispanic man in Baltimore was reportedly beaten by a group of youths, one of whom was armed with a handgun, while the group chanted "This is for Trayvon!"[375] A white man in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin said he was beaten by a group of African-American youth who were yelling "this is for Trayvon Martin!"[376][377] The man said he was saved from the assailants by a young African-American couple who came to his rescue.[376][377]

Just days after the Zimmerman trial verdict had been announced, several dozen activists known as the Dream Defenders began to camp outside Governor Rick Scott's office in the Capitol, demanding that the governor call the legislature into special session to pass what the activists called The Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act, which would repeal the Stand Your Ground law, outlaw racial profiling, and discourage the use of zero tolerance policies in schools.[378] As the occupation entered its second week, Governor Scott maintained that he would not order a special session of the legislature.[379]

Democratic leaders in the Florida legislature, Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith and House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, also called on the governor to convene a special session of the legislature, in order to overhaul or possibly repeal the Stand Your Ground provisions of Florida's self-defense laws.[380] Senator Smith said that the verdict in the Zimmerman trial showed the adverse effect of the Stand Your Ground law.[380]

On July 19, six days after the verdict, President Barack Obama gave an impromptu 20-minute speech in the White House Press Room, in which he spoke about the trial and about race relations in the United States.[381] Obama said that he identified with Trayvon, that "Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago." He also said that black men in the United States (himself included, before he had become a senator) commonly suffer racial profiling.[382]

A week after the verdict, peaceful rallies and vigils were held in more than 100 cities nationwide to protest racial profiling, demand the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, and call for a federal trial of Zimmerman for violations of civil rights laws.[383][384]

A nationwide poll conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News found sharp divisions along racial and political lines over the shooting and over the jury's verdict.[385] Nearly 90% of African Americans called the shooting unjustified, compared to 33% of whites; and some 62% of Democrats disapproved of the verdict, compared to 20% of Republicans.[386]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The initial police report from the night of the shooting lists Martin's height as 6'0" (1.83 m) and weight as 160 lb (73 kg).[11][12] Zimmerman estimated Martin's height at 5'11" to 6'2" on the night of the shooting.[13] The morning after the shooting, an autopsy found that Martin's body was 5'11" (1.80 m) long and weighed 158 lb (72 kg).[14][15] Other values for Martin's height of 6'2" (1.88 m) and 6'3" (1.91 m), and weight of no more than 150 lb (68 kg), were reported as being given by Martin's family.[12][16]
  2. He had been suspended twice before, once for tardiness and truancy and once, four months prior to the shooting, for graffiti. At the time of the suspension for graffiti, Martin was searched by a Miami-Dade School Police Department officer looking for the graffiti marker. The officer described finding a dozen pieces of women's jewelry, including silver wedding bands and diamond earrings, that the officer suspected had been stolen, along with a screwdriver, which the officer described as a potential burglary tool. Martin said that a friend had given the jewelry to him, and Martin was never charged with any crime related to these incidents.[22][24] At the trial of George Zimmerman, the judge ruled that the defense could have access to Martin's school records, including details of the suspensions, as well as access to Martin's social media site activity, but that none of the information would be admissible as evidence during the trial unless it could be shown to be relevant.[25]
  3. Zimmerman's weight was shown as Template:Convert/lb on his Seminole County Sheriff's Office Inmate Booking Information on April 11, 2012, the date of his arrest.[28]
  4. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is a Hispanic from Peru. Zimmerman's ancestry includes an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather.[30]
  5. Some reports in the media incorrectly gave the time as 7:11.[63]
  6. Template:AnchorSee The New York Times article The Events Leading to the Shooting of Trayvon Martin for seven aerial views which include depictions of The Retreat at Twin Lakes; the home where Trayvon was staying; the site of the shooting; Zimmerman's home; the site of the 7-11; and other sites of interest.[73]
  7. The autopsy report can be found at "Trayvon Martin Autopsy Report: Killed By Bullet Fired At Intermediate Range". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  8. An Orlando Sentinel source reported in May 2012 that Zimmerman told investigators that Martin "was circling" his vehicle at one point, but news stories after Zimmerman's statements to police were released reported that he said Martin "circled" his vehicle.
  9. Some referenced information is from the embedded video of Robert Zimmerman's interview.[157]
  10. The day after the verdict, there was unrest in Oakland, California; protesters burned U.S. and California flags, broke windows, started small fires in the streets, and vandalized a police squad car.[370] On July 15, at least 12 people were arrested for disorderly behavior at protests in New York City,[371] and thirteen people were arrested in Los Angeles after multiple incidents of public assaults and vandalism.[372] On July 17, seventeen people were arrested after unruly behavior at protests in Victorville, California, and on July 18, eleven people were arrested in San Bernardino, California, where several bystanders and a police horse were injured after disorderly behavior.[373][374]


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