Zimmerman: Importance of the Chain of Custody

One of the most overlooked, but nevertheless important, issues in any trial is whether the evidence presented by the prosecution to support its case is in the same condition as it was when the police seized it. The integrity of the evidence has been important to creating and sustaining legitimacy and confidence in the ability of a formal dispute resolution process ever since people began to settle in permanent communities along river banks and support themselves year-round by fishing the rivers and growing crops in the fertile soil along the river banks.

We are more aware today of the necessity to protect the integrity of the evidence because of the unique sensitivity and ability of DNA testing to identify the specific human source of trace amounts of blood evidence invisible to the human eye. Jurors and defendants have a right to expect that police and prosecutors will protect the integrity of the evidence at all times when it is within their possession, custody or control. Defense counsel have a duty to their clients to examine the evidence before trial and review all of the documentation regarding who handled it and where it has been since it was seized.

A reasonable doubt that a defendant committed the crime charged can arise from the evidence or lack of evidence. If the evidence in a case appears to have been tampered with or its papers are not in order, I would expect the defense attorney to argue that an acquittal is appropriate.

Chain of custody is the legal term that lawyers and judges use to describe the record-keeping trail from the crime scene and the Medical Examiner’s Office, where most evidence exhibits are collected, to the property room at the law enforcement agency’s offices to the Crime Lab, for testing and analysis, and back to the property room where it will be stored until needed for trial.

Every police department property room should be a secure facility accessible only by authorized personnel. Evidence log books are maintained in the property room, typically at the front desk. The logs record from whom evidence was received and when it was received as well as to whom it was released, when it was released, and why it was released.

Access to evidence stored in the property room is restricted to people with security clearances who work there. Only authorized officials, such as police officers and prosecutors are permitted to examine evidence. They are not permitted to enter the property room to retrieve it. Instead, they have to go to the front desk and request the item or items they want to see. The items are placed in a conference room for them to examine and replaced in storage after they are done. Appropriate entries in the log book are recorded to identify who examined what items of evidence and when they examined them.

The process of evidence collection in the Zimmerman case began shortly after 7:30 pm on February 26th in the Retreat View neighborhood and continued the next day at the Medical Examiner’s Office at the autopsy. Most of the items collected would have been placed in brown paper bags, which are the preferred method of storage because they allow sufficient air to circulate and keep the exhibit dry. The bag would have been sealed with tape, and marked with a preassigned exhibit number preceded by the first and last name initials of the person who collected exhibit. Exhibits collected at the Medical Examiner’s Office will be preceded by the initials ME. For example, Exhibit ME-12 is the number assigned to Trayvon Martin’s hooded sweatshirt.

After securing the bags so that they cannot be opened without leaving an easy to detect cut, the forensic officer would have placed his signature on the bag at a location where the writing spans an area of the bag partially overlapping the surface of the bag and the tape to secure it. This would prevent someone from escaping detection by removing the tape to get into the bag and replacing the tape.

Police property rooms also have rooms devoted to drying out evidence before it is stored. Bloody clothing, for example, must be dried out before it is stored or the blood will decompose and the DNA will break down potentially preventing a successful DNA analysis. Dried blood stains are the best way to preserve blood for subsequent DNA analysis since they will last indefinitely. Blood samples and other biological evidence are stored in refrigerators.

When defense counsel decide to look at one or more of the items in evidence in a case, the standard procedure is to call the prosecutor assigned to handle the case and schedule a mutually convenient time to meet at the front counter outside the Property Room.

The meeting would take place in a reserved conference room with all of the bags containing evidence in the case already present.The table would be covered with butcher paper to catch any trace evidence that might be dislodged when items are examined. Working off an inventory list, defense counsel would request by number the items that it wants to examine.

After everyone puts on vinyl gloves to avoid contaminating the evidence while handling it, a forensic or evidence collection officer from the investigative agency would cut an opening large enough to reach in and renove the object in order to examine and photograph the particular item of interest. Magnifying glasses and portable microscopes are used to detect and examine trace evidence, such as blood and fibers.

The forensic official would then replace the item inside the bag and reseal it with tape signing the bag so that a portion of the signature is present on the tape as well as the bag.

If I were representing George Zimmerman, I would have requested copies of the log books so that I could track the location of each item of evidence at any point in time since it was seized. I would want to know, for example, what items were sent to what section of the crime lab for testing. I would compare the forensic reports that have been released with the information in the log books to determine if anything is missing. I would specifically request any reports that appear to be missing.

If I were to find a gap or incomplete or confusing entries in the log books regarding any item of evidence, I would prepare a motion to exclude that item from being mentioned or admitted at trial into evidence on the ground that, given the information in the log books, the prosecution cannot lay a proper foundation.

In other words, the prosecution should not be permitted to mention any item of evidence or present any testimony about any test results obtained for that item, unless it can show an unbroken chain of custody that would assure the integrity of the item for the jury.

The general rule today is that trial courts have discretion to grant or deny these motions and may require actual evidence of tampering that casts doubt on the validity of the results. Every good lawyer always makes an objection on the record, however, to preserve the issue for appeal.

Even if the motion to exclude is denied, defense counsel should always argue that the break in the chain of custody supports a reasonable doubt.

I also would specifically request the laboratory bench notes prepared by each forensic scientist for each analysis that he or she performed. Laboratory bench notes are handwritten notes generated at the bench by each scientist to record what they did and when they did it with each item of evidence that they examined. They also indicate when they obtained each item from storage at the crime lab and when they returned it.

Forensic scientists generate their reports from the information recorded in their bench notes. The only way to determine what tests they performed and whether they followed the proper protocol or procedure for each test is to look at the bench notes.

I also would request the vitae and results of proficiency tests taken by each forensic scientist.

Meanwhile, I would already have begun to assemble a team of forensic scientists who specialize in various areas relevant to this case. After I had assembled the team, I would schedule a meeting for all of us to get together to discuss the case and create punch lists of tasks that need to be done.

At some point in the relatively near future, I would want to view the evidence and I probably would want some of my experts to be there as well, particularly my blood stain and trace evidence analysis experts.

Finally, forensic fraud, which has been identified as one of the seven causes of wrongful convictions of innocent people, is a major problem in this country. Criminal defense attorneys, who truly are liberty’s last champion because they fight to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens when they fight to protect the constitutional rights of their clients, need to get over their fear science and be ever vigilant and aggressive in scrutinizing the work of forensic scientists.

They represent our best chance to clean-up forensic science.

120 Responses to Zimmerman: Importance of the Chain of Custody

  1. TM says:

    Zimmerman’s injuries? As far as I know were only examined by a physician’s assistant, not saying he was not qualified, but also he went to his own personal physician. That in itself, if one really thinks about it is enough reason for suspicion that Zimmerman is a man of lies. Who in their right mind? Yes, right mind, would not be desperate to get to an ER to be sure his brain was not dislodged after having it bounced down on cement or even ground. In such description of his “attack” he could have received permanent brain damage. Maybe he did! Well, his brain might be perfectly normal but like everything else George is prone to manipulate so maybe he manipulates his own brain to a different level of thinking. That of being warped. The broken nose? Don’t even mention the BS about that ridiculous claim. Like someone once said, the blood on his nose probably came from his minute scratches on his head to his fingers to touching his nose, leaving blood on his nose from his hands. Read that some time ago and thought, yep, that is quite possible

  2. Malisha says:

    Patricia, my only comments:

    February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida,
    Neighborhood Watch coordinator George Zimmerman

    [I would call him “Neighborhood Watch volunteer”]

    profiled, pursued, detained and grappled with

    [I would say “profiled, pursued and confronted]

    17-year old Trayvon Martin, who was walking home
    from the 7/11 with a can of Arizona tea and a bag of Skittles.

    George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin
    with a 9mm hollow-point bullet to the heart.
    Zimmerman admits this.

    Trayvon Martin was unarmed.

    [I would add, “and no aggressive wounds appear on his hands”]

    Zimmerman is now charged with Murder in the Second Degree.
    Zimmerman is fighting that charge.

    He is claiming “self defense.”
    What really happened that night?

    George Zimmerman got a bloody nose

    [I would add, “and two small ‘capillary lacerations’ to the back of his head”].

    Trayvon Martin got killed.

    • Patricia says:

      Working on the re-write now. Was hoping to keep “George got a bloody nose; Trayvon got killed” but I see the great merit in your recommendations.

      Still hope to keep it to under 100 words. Will do my best, and be back in touch. THANKS!

  3. Malisha says:

    About the photographs of George’s bloody head — that is exactly why there should have been complete and detailed records of George’s exact medical/physical condition THAT NIGHT from the emergency room of the hospital including photographs from all over his body. The single most compelling fact, in my opinion, leading to the conclusion that the police PRE-ARRANGED to let George “walk” for the crime is the fact that they did not take him to the E.R. immediately from the scene of the shooting.

    HERE: How did they know that George was not going to voluntarily confess to murder-I on the way to the station or at the station? How did they know, before an interview, that he was not going to confess to a crime or even to ten different crimes? They did not know that. So his physical condition (beaten up BEFORE THE POLICE QUESTIONED HIM) would have been essential information. They would have to protect themselves from charges of police brutality.

    George had no bandaids on him that night.
    He had bandaids on him the next day.
    George did not have valid, verifiable records of his physical condition that night.

    None of this proves that he did NOT murder Trayvon Martin; it proves only that his allegations about his victimization at the hands of Trayvon Martin are not provable.

    • Xena says:

      @Malisha. “None of this proves that he did NOT murder Trayvon Martin; it proves only that his allegations about his victimization at the hands of Trayvon Martin are not provable.”

      That is powerful.
      1. The day after he killed Trayvon, GZ walked on the sidewalk where he claims his head was bashed. He did not ask “Hey! Did you guys get my blood off the sidewalk?”

      2. He does not have medical imagining to verify the broken nose.

      With the lab report providing that the only blood and DNA on Trayvon’s hands was his own, GZ is going to have a hard time explaining how he acquired those injuries.

      • Patricia says:

        @Malisha, and concurring w/Xena:

        “None of this proves that he did NOT murder Trayvon Martin; it proves only that his allegations about his victimization at the hands of Trayvon Martin are not provable.”

        Yep, it’s just George against Science …

  4. whonoze says:

    Anything CAN be Photoshopped, which is why chain of custody matters on digital evidence, but actually falsifying an image in a way that a digital photography expert would not be able to detect would be extremely difficult, (if not impossible).

    I highly doubt the photo of GZ’s bloody head taken by JonW13 was edited in the way most people mean when they refer to ‘Photoshopping.” Apparent differences are probably accounted for by different angles, different lenses, different lighting.

    In any form of photography, especially the kind of digital cameras that are included in cell phones, there is no such thing as ‘authentic’ color or contrast. The camera is making a variety of guesses about hue, level and saturation of each pixel as it reads the image, compresses it, processes it… This could result in two different images, one in which GZ’s blood looks bloodier, his cuts more dramatic than the other, etc. — all without any intentional human manipulation whatsoever.

    The pic of GZ’s head from JonW13 that has been circulated on the web comes via ABC news. No doubt ABC tweaked the levels to make the picture ‘pop’ for TV, but also to keep it within the broadcast range of IRE levels, and then it was also compressed and down-rezed to be placed on the web, which can have its own effects on color and detail, depending on the method used. In a lot of ways photography isn’t a case of possible fakes that can be compared back to an authentic original. There is no authentic original, and different versions might each have their own claims to relative merit.

  5. TM says:

    I wish I was some kind of a psychologist because I see in George Zimmerman, one capable of drawing others into his confidence and self-image of being “special” in thinking he knows how everything and everybody works or should work. Fact that he can be mistaken does not enter or affect his way of thinking. He believes that his acting abilities in capturing the adoration he needs for himself will never be detected because as his wife Shellie and other members of his family no doubt have catered to his daily whims and behavior patterns, he finds them weak and submissive to be used and without hesitation thrown away when no longer valuable to him. This big charade goes on as long as “he” feels it is a benefit to him
    without regard of other people who are sincere in being available to him. Such is life, such is love, such is destruction of unsuspecting vulnerable victims and everyday “acts” of friendship and need.

    However, George Zimmerman is at a place now where he may have met his “maker” one that has His own Plan, and will initiate His plan according to His will over that of George.

    Trayvon as many are, was trusting enough in mankind, not to have run as far away from this devouring hunter as he could have, because like most all people he wanted to trust that everything was going to be good. Just some guy! Sad that life is filled with uncertainties that we have to really think about being near to anyone, when and how far we should run at first encounter. Sad indeed.

  6. Patricia says:

    This is not really “on topic” except in the larger sense of the tragedy – and its resolution, that concern us.

    We have recently been discussing the need for brevity in describing this case. I have been wondering how best to do this – under 100 words.

    Any comments on the following?

    On February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida,
    Neighborhood Watch coordinator George Zimmerman
    profiled, pursued, detained and grappled with
    17-year old Trayvon Martin, who was walking home
    from the 7/11 with a can of Arizona tea and a bag of Skittles.

    George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin
    with a 9mm hollow-point bullet to the heart.
    Zimmerman admits this.

    Trayvon Martin was unarmed.
    Zimmerman is now charged with Murder in the Second Degree.
    Zimmerman is fighting that charge.

    He is claiming “self defense.”
    What really happened that night?

    George Zimmerman got a bloody nose.

    Trayvon Martin got killed.

    • didy8369 says:

      @ Patricia:
      the only think I might add in that would be that it took 44 days for the SPD to make the arrest as I think that would open the door to all of the possible Flub ups made BY the SPD.

      • Patricia says:

        Didy, will do what I can – but the statement has now doubled! All good comments, although I think the investigation of SPD is entirely separate and I want to focus on the fact that Zimmerman is NOT the victim! Thanks for commenting – 44 days is a telling number!

  7. Patricia says:

    Malisha, agree. The chase was much more extensive than I realized. No question Zimmerman was IN PURSUIT.

    The statements DeeDee quotes by both TM and GZ are believable – much more than GZ’s stupid B-movie dialog. Anybody on the jury who found themselves in this position, would ask “Why are you following me?” They will believe her, not GZ.

    Also other witnesses that night describe the verbal altercation with one participant loud and demanding. DeeDee’s statement AUTHENTICATES that witness, and vice versa.

    Surely she will be counseled to take the time she needs to be comfortable in replying. It is not going to look good to the jury if O’Mara badgers this girl, who has such a soft voice and carries this guilt.

    Malisha, if you can piece together Zimmerman’s crazy quilt statement, that would be incredibly valuable. THANKS!

  8. Malisha says:

    I don’t think Dee Dee will have any problem with the deposition. She’ not hiding anything; she’s trying to reveal as much as possible. The problem for her is that she can’t piece together exactly what happened; but then again, she doesn’t HAVE to.

  9. Mark O’Mara has to depose all the witnesses. I wonder how DeeDee will hold up during her deposition. I wonder if she has engaged an attorney so he/she can be present when Mark deposes her. Maybe Ben Crump will offer his services pro bono or one of his staff.

  10. Malisha says:

    Diary-SL, I have an idea.
    If all George’s statements were put together as you stitched this quilt, it would end up showing something completely DIFFERENT from what this shows. This shows an honest person describing events from memory, and it is internally consistent and clear, in the final analysis. George’s “quilt” would be a “crazy-quilt.” If I have time I’m going to try to do it.

  11. Malisha says:

    Diary-SL, great job.
    It is not “evidence” but it is a very important piece of work, because it makes a clearly honest yet disjointed statement perfectly comprehensible.

  12. TruthBTold says:

    Informative as always.

    • Rachael says:


    • Patricia says:

      Diary –
      Very moving. Thank you. Kept a permanent copy.
      I had heard the tape, but it was very faint.
      This has everything. Again, thanks!

    • Two sides to a story says:

      Very good!

    • GrannyStandingforTruth says:

      Thanks diaryofasuccessfulloser for that link. It really shed light on the fact that Zimmerman was lying when he told the 911 dispatcher that Trayvon was walking towards him and had his hands in his waist. He was lying as he has done all throughout because it was the other way around. The more I read and hear I can’t help but what wonder what type of drugs was Zimmerman really on because he was hallucinating regarding the events that took place that night and it’s obvious.

      • Patricia says:

        Granny, don’t give Zimmerman any excuses.

        It was not the drugs.

        It was Zimmerman’s overwhelming desire
        for fame and career advancement, by
        “apprehending” his self-profiled “suspect,”
        that caused him to confront Trayvon that night.

        Add in stupidity (he EARNED those D grades)
        and the total lack of empathy for any other
        living being, and the results are one fine young teen
        dead, with a family and a nation grieving for their loss.

        No, it was not the drugs.

  13. Screamin Jay on Bcclist posted a rather interesting compilation of Dee Dee’s words. He pieced them together from both interviews and categorized them according to what was happening in Sanford. There is actually a smooth progression of ideas from this young girl. I’m sure something like this could not be used as evidence, but it is great for promoting better understanding of what the young girl reported.

  14. Fred~~the seagull should all said, “with all due respect, you are being paged.” Sorry about that. The gull is just a smart butt Canadian bird.

  15. rayvenwolf says:

    Quick question for anyone who can answer this : Can MO’M file a motion to exclude based on a typographical error in the paperwork? Say in a report exhibit numbers are switched around?

    • rayvenwolf~~O’Mara certainly could file a motion to exclude evidence based on a typographical error. Correct exhibit numbers are vital when it comes to forensic evidence. The judge would made the decision to grant or deny the motion but I would guess it would be granted. I always stand to be corrected.

      • rayvenwolf says:

        asking because on pg 24 of the first evidence dump Trayvon’s hoodie is labeled ME-8 and the sweatshirt ME-12. On page 104 which is the lab report the numbers are switch. the hoodie is now ME-12 and the sweatshirt ME-8.

        As we know GZ’s blood was on the sweatshirt, but not the hoodie.

      • Don’t get too used to those numbers because the exhibits will be renumbered by the in-court clerk when the case goes to trial.

      • CommonSenseForChange says:

        @Ravenwolf –

        Also, I would think the descriptions of the items were sufficient enough to properly identify/distinguish/differentiate them. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a way for us to realize that they had been misnumbered.

    • Xena says:

      Typographical errors can be corrected with leave to amend or an order to clarify — if I’m not mistaken.

  16. Fred~~yoohooooo lol You are being paged by a seagull…

    Can I post a video of the body farm?

    • bettykath says:

      Patricia Cornwell did a book that had the body farm as a key element. It was pretty graphic and gruesome. Great descriptions for those who are into it.

      • bettykath~~those little blowflies and maggots can tell a story. It is gruesome but the information garnered from the stages of decomposition is awesome. They can determine the time of death almost down to a few days. Nature has a way of taking care of it’s own. I have smelled gangrene and I understand it is close to the smell of decomposition. An odor that you never forget.

      • bettykath says:

        I read her book. Skimmed some parts rather quickly. Appreciated the knowledge gained but I’m not “into” it. I’m grateful for those who are though. I took biology in hs summer school so I wouldn’t have to dissect stuff.

      • bettykath says:

        Isn’t gangrene decomposition?

      • aussie says:

        I once saw a fairly long documentary about the actual farm, with gruesome photos and all. Actually not too gruesome, most were too far gone to be recognisable. The reporter trying to screw his nose shut was funny to watch.

        Smell of decomposition? Dead meat is dead meat. Get a nice big steak and leave it out on the porch for a few weeks. Covered, so the dog/cat don’t help themselves while it’s still edible (which will be a day or two later than YOU’d want to touch it).

        Yes gangrene is rotting flesh, minus the bugs and maggots. Maggots have been successfully used as TREATMENT for the removal of such dead flesh. They can work much more precisely than any surgery.

  17. Didn’t the cops arrive before Osterman? Anyone?

    • rayvenwolf says:

      Shellie called Mark so assuming he wasn’t lingering about before hand he would have gotten to the actual scene after at Smith and possibly before Alya.

      • SearchingMind says:

        @ rayvenwolf
        If I am not mistaken, the police arrived at the crime-scene in less than a minute after the shot was fired. It’s, I think, very improbable that within that less-than-one-minute someone called Shllie and Shellie called Osterman and Osterman dropped everything he was doing and rocketed himself to the crime-scene. If Osterman arrived at the crime-scene before the police, he must have been in the immediate vicinity of the crime-scene at the moment the shot was fired, IMO.

      • Patricia says:

        Anyone know where Osterman came FROM to the crime scene? The Zimmerman townhome? From his car that was driving somewhere? From his own home (how far away is that?) – or someplace else?

      • aussie says:

        Osterman lives in Lake Mary, about 10 minutes’ drive south of RTAL. He was possibly at GZ’s place or had only just left so wasn’t home yet (I believe the former).

        The police were already at the scene when the neighbour called Shellie, and she called MO, so they can’t have gotten there before the police did.

        According to alleged excerpts from the alleged book he wrote, the crime scene tape was already up when he got there. He also says (allegedly) that he and SZ arrived together.

        Anyrate they’d have not been there sooner than about 3 minutes after the call to SZ, so 7.23 say.

      • didy8369 says:

        @ Searchingmind:
        In the video of the VSA where G is talking to Singleton, he says something to the effect of one of the witnesses being kind enough to call Shellie, then he says something about Mark being there.. I’m wondering what he meant by that? Was Mark at Shellie’s? Was Mark at the scene? Points to ponder, if you listen real closely to George’s words, he slips up an awful lot. I think he was in the mind frame of “My dad’s going to get me out of this, so I have nothing to worry about” Why else would he be so forthcoming from the get-go? I really think he thought he was un-touchable.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        Osterman does live in Sanford, rather close to GZ. He talks in his soon-to-be-published book about how GZ “hid in plain sight” in Sanford for a month after the shooting. See Conservative Tree House to read excerpts.

      • PYorck says:

        Osterman does live in Sanford, rather close to GZ.

        That’s what Osterman writes according to the mystery reviewer. The press seems to place him in Lake Mary.

  18. cielo62 says:

    Thank you for the detailed account. MUCH more informative than on CSI. :). My question is about the evidence before the cops arrive. Could GZ or Osterman perhaps be charged with tampering?

  19. Can anyone tell me who is in this picture? TIA

  20. crazy1946 says:

    My opinion is that this is the part of the case that will allow Zimmerman walk free! If the SPD was as inept as they seem to have been, the collection of and chain of custody of the evidence will have been handled in a poor manner. I only hope that my gut feeling on this is wrong! When this case is done and over with, I can only hope that they clean house with that police dept. and I actually mean clean house, not a one of them left standing! That is the only way they will restore public confidence in the dept!

    • Malisha says:

      He won’t walk free because of that problem, IMO, because the chain of custody of the following evidence was intact:

      1 – the hollowpoint bullet inside Trayvon Martin’s chest which
      2 – entered straight, not at an angle, from intermediate range
      3 – and that passed through Trayvon Martin’s clothing at point-blank range at an angle and that
      4 – was transported to the morgue with Trayvon Martin’s body.

      • CommonSenseForChange says:

        Indeed! And DeeDee’s and Trayvon Martin’s cell phone records were both out of SPD’s reach — therefore, not tampered with neither due deliberate attempts by George Zimmerman to alter the crime scene nor by ineptness of SPD trainees.

  21. aussie~~thank you for letting us know that the gun was in a plastic bag. That makes me feel better. I am not too good at trying to decipher the evidence info that came out in the doc files so I appreciate you all explaining it for me.

  22. aussie says:

    The gun: EMTs stated they saw a gun in a plastic bag on the front seat of the police car in which they treated GZ. I can see paper bags being more suitable for the preservation of organic materials, but plastic seems ok for metal things. Plastic also has the advantage of the contents being visible, so no nasty surprises months down the track when a bag is opened and found to be empty. (They could use paper bags with a plastic window, like they package bakery breads here in Oz).

    The hands: GSR would be needed as evidence someone fired a shot. Useful if he’s denying it. Not much need for it if he’s openly admitting shooting. Unfortunately this means they didn’t think the blood on hands/arms was important either, though it clearly is now, as if it was Trayvon’s blood that paints a different picture than if it was GZ’s own. The GSR is unimportant. The blood is very important but the ship has sailed.

    The phone: TM’s phone was handled by the police at the scene and at the station, quite probably without gloves. Again, they didn’t need to prove who owned it, and didn’t think it might have been a weapon.

    Other items: the headset was not marked with an evidence marker, so we are assuming it was actually found in a pocket. Other items are listed as pocket contents. The photo button is listed among them, WITHOUT specifying whether it was found on the hoodie or in a pocket.

    The photo: there is a time stamp on it, and possibly other hidden details embedded into it. The chain of custody is establishable by the witness stating he took it, he did not alter it, and he handed an electronic copy over to the police. The same applies to the other 2 pictures he took, as long as he gives evidence about copying them to his computer. A search of the computer would reveal temporary files if they’d been photoshopped.

    • rayvenwolf says:

      The headphones were listed as personal effects along with the skittles, lighter, and photo button. According to the evidence dump everything was supposedly found in the pockets.

      • CommonSenseForChange says:

        … And *that* is the problem, imo. Just like the Arizona juice can being found in the pocket makes me wonder how it got there. I have no problem understanding how it got out of the pocket (one of the officers said she removed it), but how did it get in the pocket?

        Pro-zimmerman camp say Trayvon Martin stuffed all his items inside a pocket in order to prepare for his “attack”. Not truly knowing where the personal effects were originally located and blanketedly listing them as found in a pocket is very sloppy and could lead to the wrong conclusion.

      • didy8369 says:

        @common sense:
        I hadn’t heard the photo button was found in a pocket. G told the NEN operator that Trayvon had the pin on, when he was giving Trayvon’s description. It makes sense that he would have the tea and skittles in his pockets, but I also thought he had his head set on while talking with DeeDee. She indicated she heard grass noises and then the line went dead. I would think the ear bud was found on the ground as well, with Trayvon’s phone.
        There are SO many discrepancies and it’s clear SPD botched this from the start.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        If I recall correctly, the first officer on the scene reported that the button was on the hoody and removed to give CPR.

    • bettykath says:

      I’m surprised that you think the GSR is unimportant, also the apparently casual handling of the cell phone.

      There was also careless handling/recording of some of TMs personal items as you point out. I don’t remember how they recorded the drink can but it was originally in TM’s front pocket and removed by a female EMT. She set it on the ground b/c it was in her way. How did the officer record where it was found? The button was pinned on his hoodie, not in his pocket. I can see the button possibly being dislodged during the scuffle, depending on the type of closure, but not in his pocket.

      And leaving the gun on the front seat of the car w/in reach of GZ or someone else?

      • The tin of Arizona tea was placed on top of the tarp covering Trayvon’s body and photographed.

      • aussie says:

        The gun was in a sealed bag in front, GZ was handcuffed in the back, and there’s some kind of security screen between the 2 sets of seats. Safe enough most of the time. And will get a cop killed that one time he misjudges someone. Certainly locking it in the glove compartment would be safer.

    • Patricia says:


      Re the discussion that GSR would be found on Zimmerman’s front if he shot “up” at Trayvon (over GZ), especially in the close confines described:

      I am assuming (but don’t know) that Zimmerman’s jacket was unzipped during the altercation. If there was GSR on Zimmerman’s front, that would be a vertical band on his shirt down the front, (where his jacket was open) then GSR on both jacket front sides, next to the zipper.

      But my understanding is that the only GSR on Zimmerman’s clothing was on one jacket sleeve.

      Any ideas about this?

      Also witnesses described “the man on top” as having a white T-shirt. Zimmerman’s was light gray (but lot’s closer to “white” than Trayvon’s dark rain-soaked hoodie.) I understand Zimmerman’s shirt to have long sleeves. I can’t imagine that he had it off at any time during the struggle but possibly the jacket was so wide open a wide swath of white was visible?

      Do we know if Trayvon’s hoodie was zipped up at time of death?

      If anyone has info or observations, would like feedback on this. Thanks!

      • aussie says:

        This is the problem, Patricia. The whereabouts of GSR or blood or anything only becomes an issue once a prosecution is needed. While they’re all blithely assuming it’s an open and shut finished by midnight self defence case, they just didn’t bother. And THAT is what was wrong with this case from the start (well, apart from the murder bit).

        As for the questions about how GZ got cleaned up/treated while cuffed behind and who tucked in his shirt etc…. same thing.

        Firstly they only give statements about what they regard as officially relevant ( “I wiped blood off his arms” = good, “I removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to wipe blood… ” = bad).

        Also clearly if someone’s hands need medical attention they’d uncuff him, one hand at a time even for someone dangerous. (Here in OZ they don’t bother handcuffing most non-violent suspects and none of them ever run away. It’s just a big show of force thing n the USA to cuff even a minor for a suspicion of something small etc ). The probably said “sorry George you know how it is, we have to cuff you up again for the drive to look good”.

      • MedicineBear says:


        Trayvon’s hoodie was a pullover with a central pocket — it has no zipper.

        • Patricia says:

          Thank you, Medicine Bear. I wish all my wonderings could be resolved so succinctly! This means no possibility of Trayvon ever being the wearer of white clothing in the chest area. Thanks!

      • Two sides to a story says:

        There’s a photo of TMs hoody in a discovery document drop. I don’t think it had a zipper, just a front pocket.

  23. Tzar says:

    good article
    thank you

  24. * on the front seat of the car.. sry

  25. Fred~~excellent article! I viewed a lot of evidence being opened and examined in the courtroom during the Anthony trial but I never realized how much was involved behind the scenes to preserve that evidence. I did learn about the drying room so the blood would not decompose. When the defense’s experts get to examine the evidence, it has to be on video and a member of the state present?

    In the case of Zimmerman… when the gun was confiscated from him out at the crime scene I don’t believe it was brown bagged. Someone mentioned a gun lying on the front seat of, I believe it was Timothy Smith. Maybe this was a rumor.
    I am not sure that Sanford PDept protected a lot of evidence. Zimmerman was allowed to use the washroom at the PDept, was his hands dusted for gunpowder residue prior to that?

    I hope one day, even tho it does not apply to this case, to learn about the stages of decompostion, blow flies, pupae, maggots and that good old body farm. It is a little stomach churning but very interesting. Oh and the death band on a strand of hair is also of interest.

    When I think of evidence getting lost, it reminds me of Dr Henry Lee and that missing fingernail.

    Thank you for this informative article.

    • Xena says:

      @mainstreamfair. You asked about GZ’s gun being taken from him at the crime scene. I’ve thought about that too, in the sense that, IF there was blood on GZ’s hand, I thought it was normal procedure for LE to place plastic bags over the hands to preserve evidence. Here, if I read the sequence correctly, Smith handcuffed GZ (who had blood on his hands), and the paramedics then cleaned GZ’s hands. As you point out, GZ had another opportunity to wash his hands at the police station.

      • bettykath says:

        And when they took the pictures of his hands they were clean.

      • Xena~~I can’t see them putting plastic over Z’s hands. They knew he was the shooter because he confessed. The gun should have been handled by a cop wearing a gloved hand. I don’t know if they removed the magazine of the gun out at the scene. The gun should have been brown bagged to preserve any fingerprints of Z as well as Trayvon. This was a homicide and should have been treated as such. I hope an officer accompanied Z to the washroom back at the PDept but somehow I doubt that.

    • didy8369 says:

      @mainstream. It is my understanding that G was allowed to wash his hands and did so in private prior to any GSR testing or any testing at all for that matter. There are SO many things the SFD did that would lead anyone to believe they’ve completely botched the chain of command regarding evidence.
      Did anyone notice that G was on the phone in that picture taken of the back of his head at the scene? I sure hope phone records come in to play because he had another witness call his wife for him and if you listen closely, when G is telling Singleton that someone was ‘kind enough’ to call his wife, he makes a weird comment about someone else being there, not here i.e.the police station with his wife.
      This weekend I started from the beginning and listened to all audio and watched a lot of the videos that are available regarding G’s ‘interviews’ with Singleton and Serino. In doing that, I picked up on a few things that I had missed before.

  26. bettykath says:

    I have learned a lot about procedures on this blog. Thanks for providing it. I also appreciate you looking in and providing comments. It keeps us from going too far afield.

  27. Xena says:

    Professor, you approached the chain of custody for the prosecution. Does the same apply to the defense? For instance, (I believe it was at the bond hearing), O’Mara entered photos of GZ’s head that were taken by a resident before the police arrived. When it comes to the immunity hearing and/or trial, does the prosecution have standing now to object to those photos on the basis of chain of custody?

    • whonoze says:

      I think that’s why the State subpoenaed JonW13’s phone, so they can get the ‘original’ digital files of the pictures he took that evening. Otherwise, ANYTHING can be Photoshopped.

      • Xena says:

        @Whonoze. Ahhh. Thanks. I didn’t know the State had subpoenaed W13’s phone. There is speculation that the photos were Photoshopped. I noticed that the cuts on those phone pics do not line up with the cuts on the photos taken at the police station.

    • The defense also has to lay a proper foundation that includes a chain of custody before the Court will admit defense evidence.

      I recall seeing a youtube video linked to from this site, IIRC, that demonstrated that W13’s phone photo had been photo-shopped.

      I mention this as an example of a potential problem with admitting any digital photograph. I think testimony by the person who took the photo that it has not been manipulated or enhanced and accurately depicts what is shown in the photo probably will be sufficient to admit it into evidence. Additional objections are likely to go toward weight rather than admissibility.

    • SearchingMind says:

      @ Xena

      “I noticed that the cuts on those phone pics do not line up with the cuts on the photos taken at the police station.”

      This hair triggering. Would you pls. expound on that. If what you say is true, it must then be concluded that O’Mara provided the court with forged/false “evidence” and that will be very damaging for Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. Besides, if O’Mara has any (prior) knowledge of the falsity of the said “evidence”, he (O’Mara) might actually become a defendant in ethics/disciplinary- and /or criminal proceedings.

      • Xena says:

        It’s rather hard to describe without showing the photos side by side. I’m not talking about the flow of the blood but the actual location of the cuts. I’m really bad in estimating distance so can’t say if the cuts are 2 inches or 3 inches apart from each other to compare to space between them in each photo. My focus point of detecting the difference in location and distance is by looking at the top of GZ’s ear.

        The best I can offer (because I can’t embed the photos here), is to recommend the following for up close photos taken by the SPD.

        There’s a cut on the back, center and another lower in the center, to the right of the other cut. The lower cut, (if you look from the top of the ear going right), is just slightly angled above the ear.

        Compare to the photo taken with the cell phone.

        The higher cut is not in the center of the head as in the photo taken by the SPD. It’s more to the right of center and much higher than in the cell phone photo. The lower cut also appears to be of further distance from the upper cut than the one shown in the photo taken by the SPD.

    • Patricia says:

      Xena, is there a photo exhibit side-by-side of the photos of GZ’s head taken by the resident (Jon W#13) next to Sanford PD photos taken at the station? Did O’Mara enter multiple photos at the bond hearing?

      [your comment: “There is speculation that the photos were Photoshopped. I noticed that the cuts on those phone pics do not line up with the cuts on the photos taken at the police station.”]


      • Xena says:

        @Patricia. My reply came up top for where the photos can be found and the differences that I see. I am currently looking to see if there are side-by-side photos. If I remember correctly, O’Mara entered the cell phone photo at the first bond hearing — the State had not released any discovery, so I’m unsure if the State was provided with that photo beforehand.

      • Xena says:

        @Patricia. I see that my comment is awaiting moderation. It contains 2 long links. Maybe I will need to break it down so that it posts.

  28. bettykath says:

    The things I learn here. Paper bags are used, items put into the controlled evidence locker and available only under strict rules.

    All this time I’ve believed the TV guys who all use plastic bags and sometimes show various bits of evidence in the plastic bags to the suspects. Even in the TV courtrooms, stuff is in plastic bags. How they mislead us.

  29. Rachael says:

    What about the scene and making sure nothing is tampered with before being collected, where does that fit into the chain? That wasn’t mentioned, or is it just a given, because I have some real questions about the crime scene.

    • Rachael, it’s in one of the officers reports. He had a trainee with him and they put up the tape and secured the scene. Even the trainee wrote about it.

      From following the Anthony case, EVERYTHING that looks suspicious is supposed to be collected,bagged, & tagged. In the Anthony crime scene they bagged all the trash from the site she dumped Caylee’s body in…..which was basically part of an area people chose to dump all kinds of trash. Doesn’t mean it will be discovered to be evidence…just they have it in case it is evidence.

      Same with the dump documents/things……they have to release to the defense EVERYTHING that comes in to them about the case. They do not have to say what it is or put it in any order.

      Tired, so not making sense. Night 🙂

  30. Two sides to a story says:

    Professor, do you foresee any problems with the chain of custody of forensice evidence in the GZ case?

    • I am not sure. I was under the impression until recently that the cops set up a yellow crime scene tape perimeter quickly with a monitored entry/exit that excluded all unauthorized personnel. Now I am not sure.

      • aussie says:

        But that didn’t stop Witness 13 strolling around inside (there are actual news footage pix of him) and having to be told to leave. And a lot of people technically lived inside the tape area. Certainly they were standing around in little groups talking when the police arrived, and for a good few minutes after, as the first 3 at the scene were busy arresting GZ or giving first aid to TM. For example I am sure the first aid kit was not used from the position it was found in (near the porch of W13 who it most likely belongs to, and possible he was starting to take it home when told to leave it).

      • looneydoone says:

        Crime Scene Contamination Area Log (pages 47-49 of 284)
        3 persons we know where inside the CSCA are not listed
        Officer Timothy Smith
        Mark Osterman
        “Asian male”

        Former SPD Chief Bill Lee WAS logged in at 8:40PM

        • didy8369 says:

          Hey Looney.. Bill suggested I look to you for help regaring past information about F.T. Lady2Soothe is also looking for these answers and I will share them with her:
          FT’s other son, circumstances of death and incident firing gun at neighbor’s house. Also, what FT said to daughter going into the military.
          Can you point me in the right direction as to where to begin looking for this info please?

        • Patricia says:

          Looneydoone and all –

          Who was the early witness who had the discussion with Zimmerman about the calibre of hollow-point used?

      • Two sides to a story says:

        Thank you. I’m not sure either. Some things seem to have been done by the book, but there also seem to have been some mistakes or bad choices made.

      • looneydoone says:

        page 71 of 284; the resident ho took the photos, loaded them into his computer, and “forgot” them. This is W13, the “Asian male” ?

        page 73 of 284; Consent form for FDLE to search his cell phone

        • Patricia says:

          Looneydoone, that is the OM (oriental male); listening to the taped interviews I could detect the slight “accent” of someone who was born/lived in Hawaii. I worked in Hawaii a lot. Very subtle accent, but that’s the guy.

          Did he make a WRITTEN statement? I can’t find one.

          I am looking for a document by this witness (written or audiotape) that would inform us of any discussion he had w/GZ re calibre of bullet, etc.

          I am startled by the police interviews. Nobody asked, “Did he give you his wife’s phone number?” I don’t know if they would be allowed to ask, “What did she say in response?” – I think they could ask him, but perhaps not use it in testimony. Nevertheless, it helps round out the scene,

          Makes you wonder what Sanford PD would do with Cold Cases.

          Maybe at Sanford PD, they ALL end up as Cold Cases …

    • looneydoone says:

      Didn’t gz discuss using ”
      hollow points” with W13, the same person who took photos oz gz’s head seconds after the shooting, loaded them into his computer, and “forgot” about them ?

      I find it mighty suspicious that these 3 persons are ommisioed on the Crime Scene Contamination Area Log (pags 47-49 of 284)
      Officer Timothy Smith…
      Mark Osterman ….interacted w/ civilians and SPD on scene
      “Asian male” W13…interacted w/SPD, took photos

      Former SPD Chief Lee arrived, and was logged in at 8:40PM
      What *was* Chief Lee doing to preserve the integrity of the crime scene? Why such bungling with the Chief on scene ??

      • looneydoone says:

        What ???
        meant to say ommitted, absent, even unaccounted for on the Crime Scene Contamination Area Log
        (poor typist, worse editor)

      • Patricia says:

        @Looneydoone – yes, just listened to the two intrviews w/W13, no tape on AxiomAmnesia for the 3rd interview. Need to locate W13’s written statement (please clue me in).

        Always wondered who GZ’s first cellphone call was made to.
        Didn’t have the guts to call Shellie!

        I’m wondering now … was GZ’s first call to Chief Bill Lee?

        GZ had been currying Lee’s favor. GZ might have been storing Lee’s phone# as a status item on his phone. Always thought GZ would have called his Dad or Shellie or Osterman. Osterman was to bring over a loan to GZ that night – would not be surprised if he was still at GZ residence when the crime went down, so a call to Shellie would = a call to Osterman. IF GZ called his Dad, Dad would likely immediately contact whatever friends he had in high places … resulting in Lee beiing contacted by GZ’s Dad, or someone GZ’s Dad contacted.

        How come Chief Bill Lee has not been interviewed?

        Sure do need those phone logs!

  31. Brown says:

    Follow new thread!!

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