WASHINGTON (NNPA) – George Zimmerman’s claim that he killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense during a scuffle in Sanford, Fla. has continued to unravel, even as the shooter’s relatives have gone on TV to justify the killing and the city’s police department has leaked information aimed at discrediting the Black high school junior.
Martin was visiting the central Florida city near Orlando on Feb. 26 when he was killed by Zimmerman, who police described as White. Martin, who was returning to a gated townhouse community after walking to a nearby 7-Eleven to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea, was unarmed.
Thanks to social networking – Trayvon’s name has been mentioned more than 1 million times on Twitter – and Martin’s parents’ willingness to provide emotional accounts of their young son’s life, the case has sparked international attention and protests. Rap artists, many of them barely older than Trayvon, have posted tributes to Trayvon on YouTube, adding pressure on Florida officials to charge Zimmerman with Martin’s death. Even President Obama has spoken out, saying all of the facts about the case need to be known.
A key element of Zimmerman’s story – that he was screaming for help shortly before killing Martin with his 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun – has been discredited by two forensic experts consulted by the Orlando Sentinel. In one of the early calls to 911, a voice screaming for help and a single gunshot can be heard in the background.
Using a computerized process that compares voice attributes, the two experts were able to rule out Zimmerman’s assertion that he was the one yelling for help.
“I took all of the screams and put those together, and cut out everything else,” said Tom Owen, chairman emeritus of the American Board of Recorded Evidence. “…You can say with reasonable scientific certainty that it’s not Zimmerman.”
A second expert, Ed Primeau, agreed.
“I believe that’s Trayvon Martin in the background,” he said. “That’s a young man screaming.”
George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, has gone into hiding since the incident. But his father and brother have assumed a more public role, providing what they say is his account that rainy night in Sanford.
Robert Zimmerman Jr. told Piers Morgan on CNN that his brother was on his way to Target when he spotted someone he viewed as suspicious. He said George Zimmerman was reaching for his cell phone when he and Martin came to blows. “He never got to make that phone call because he was attacked by Mr. Martin,” the shooter’s brother said.
ABC News enhanced a video of Zimmerman taken the night of his arrest showing a possible gash or injury to the back of his head. However, no blood is evident on Zimmerman or his clothing. Zimmerman’s version of events is that he was attacked by Martin when he got out of his SUV.
Because he is dead, Trayvon Martin is not around to tell his side of the story. Still, that has not prevented police from trying to sully his reputation.
Through a series of department leaks, it was revealed that Trayvon had been suspended from school three times: for tardiness and truancy; for marking a school wall with graffiti and after school officials discovered traces of marijuana in his book bag. He was serving the 10-day suspension for the latter when he was visiting Sanford with his father.
“It’s completely irrelevant to what happened Feb. 26,” said Benjamin Crump, the family lawyer.
If everything police leaked about Trayvon’s school record were true, that information was not known to Zimmerman the night he killed the Black youth. And it certainly did not give Zimmerman the authority to act as the judge, jury and executioner.
For more than a month, Bill Lee, the Sanford police chief who has temporarily stepped aside, maintained that his department could not file charges against Zimmerman’s because of the state’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” which provides broad protection for a person claiming to be acting in self-defense.
“Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony,” Lee wrote in a memo posted on the city’s Website. “By Florida State law, enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and the circumstances they had at the time.”
It has since been learned that while Chief Lee was sounding like Zimmerman’s defense attorney in public, his department had originally requested an arrest warrant from the Seminole County State Attorney’s office. The case was originally categorized as “homicide/negligent manslaughter.”
Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed to handle the case, told the Miami Herald: “I can tell you that the police went to the state attorney with a capias request [a request for charges to be filed], meaning: ‘We’re through with our investigation and here it is for you.’”
Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger did not grant the request but later impaneled a grand jury to determine if charges should be brought against Zimmerman. Gov. Rick Scott selected Corey to serve as special prosecutor in the case, replacing Wolfinger. The grand jury is scheduled to convene April 10.
In secret proceedings, the grand jury is expected to weigh whether Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter or murder. Experts say manslaughter is the more likely charge. It is a crime that is usually committed in the heat of passion and requires proof that Zimmerman’s actions were wanton and reckless. If convicted, Zimmerman could be sentenced up to 30 years in prison. The normal sentence is 15 years but Florida law provides extra time for the deaths of children the elderly, the disabled and caregivers.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed the “Stand Your Ground” bill into law, says it is not applicable in this case.
“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,” Bush said after an education panel discussion at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”