Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog.
I apologize for the length of this article, but there is a lot of information to cover. Includes lots of new information that came out this week.
Many lawyers, including myself, have focused the discussion in the George Zimmerman case on who initiated aggressive physical contact, because there is no law that prohibits a person from approaching another person and asking them what they are doing.
Nevertheless, as I also have pointed out, Zimmerman’s intent when approaching Martin is relevant regarding who threw the first punch.
Keep in mind that it is after dark and raining.
What Was Zimmerman’s Intent?
As Zimmerman sat in his vehicle talking to the dispatcher, we know he was suspicious about Martin’s presence and intentions.
When he called the non-emergency number for the Sanford Police Department seven minutes before he shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin, he said,
7:09:00: 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.
7:09:25: Dispatcher: OK, 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…
7:09:42: Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area…
Zimmerman: …looking at all the houses.
Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.
He also was concerned about Martin approaching him and possibly being armed.
Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.
Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.
7:10:03: Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks?
Zimmerman: He’s got button on his shirt, late teens.
Dispatcher: Late teens ok.
Zimmerman: Somethings 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.
7:10:20: Dispatcher: Just let me know if he does anything ok
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.
Martin, evidently, walks past him without stopping or speaking.
As Zimmerman identifies himself to the dispatcher and provides directions to his location , he expresses frustration three times that Martin will get away before the police officer arrives [See italicized material below — the bracketed descriptions of background sounds within the quoted material were provided by Wikipedia]. He gets out of his vehicle, follows Martin and acknowledges the dispatcher’s instruction not to do that with a simple “OK.”
Yet, he appears to continue looking for Martin, instead of returning to his vehicle. When the dispatcher asks him where his vehicle is parked, he says he cannot because it is parked in front of a “cut-through” or pedestrian walkway “between buildings” (townhomes). He does not appear to be in or near his vehicle because he neither provides any addresses to be used as landmarks near his vehicle, nor does he describe his vehicle or provide explicit directions to find it. Instead, he tells the dispatcher to instruct the officer en route to call him on his cell phone after he arrives in the neighborhood.
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.
7:10:39 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.
7:11:08: Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?
[Ambient sounds are heard which may be Zimmerman unbuckling his seat belt and his vehicle’s “open door” chime sounding. The change in his voice and the sound of wind against his cell phone mic indicate that he has left his vehicle and is now walking. The dispatcher seems to pick up on these changes and sounds concerned when he later asks Zimmerman if he is following Martin.]
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]
[This section of the recording has been the subject of much speculation. Some suggest that Zimmerman has just made a racial slur, but the audio is not clear.]
7:11:22: Dispatcher: Are you following him?
7:11:25: Zimmerman: Yeah
7:11:26: Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that.
7:11:28 Zimmerman: Ok
Dispatcher: Alright sir what is your name?
Zimmerman: George…He ran.
Dispatcher: Alright George what’s your last name?
[A clicking or knocking sound can be heard here]
Dispatcher: And George what’s the phone number you’re calling from?
[Clicking or knocking sound is heard again]
Zimmerman: [phone number redacted]
Dispatcher: Alright George we do have them on the way, do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there?
Dispatcher: Alright, where you going to meet with them at?
[For the remainder of the recording, Zimmerman sounds distracted. The knocking sound occurs several times during the final exchange with the dispatcher]
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, that’s my truck…[unintelligible]
7:12:10: 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.
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, oh crap I don’t want to give it all out, I don’t know where this kid is.
7:12:40 Dispatcher: Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?
7:11:42 Zimmerman: Yeah that’s fine.
7:12:43: Dispatcher: Alright 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?
7:12:49: 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 you’re in the area.
7:13:02 Zimmerman: Thanks.
Dispatcher: You’re welcome. – Call Ends 7:13:07
The Critical Three Minutes
Zimmerman shoots and kills Martin three minutes after the phone call ends.
How do we know that?
All 911 calls are timed and this is how we know that Zimmerman’s call ended at 7:13 pm. During another timed 911 call from the resident of a townhouse reporting a fight between two individuals in the yard behind the townhouse, a shot abruptly punctuates a terrified scream for help at 7:16 pm.
Martin’s girlfriend calls him at 7:12 pm, which has been verified by cellular phone records for both phones.
Through counsel for Martin’s parents, she provided a statement in which she said Trayvon expressed concern about a man following him. She told him to run. Then she heard Martin say,
What are you following me for?
This was followed by a man’s voice responding,
What are you doing here?
She said that she heard the sound of pushing and then Trayvon said,
Get off me, get off me.
Martin’s headset suddenly went silent. She attempted to call him back immediately, but was unable to reach him.
That call ended at 7:16 pm.
What Happened Next
Officer Timothy Smith of the Sanford Police Department was the first to arrive at the scene of the shooting at 7:17 pm.
Police recovered Martin’s cellphone from the wet grass near his body. The Arizona Iced Tea and Skittles were found inside the pouch pocket of his hoodie.
The Autopsy Report
According to the autopsy report, the fatal shot was fired straight-on from an intermediate distance and entered Trayvon’s chest 1 inch to the left of the midline and 1/2 inch below his left nipple. It perforated the right ventricle of his heart and perforated his left lung, collapsing both lungs. There was no exit wound. The trajectory of the shot was front to back, neither up nor down, neither to the left nor to the right.
Based on the 2 inch X 2 inch smoke ring with stippling around the 3/8 inch entry wound, Dr. Vincent J.D. di Maio, the former Medical Examiner for Bexar County (San Antonio) estimated that the muzzle of the gun was 2 to 4 inches from Trayvon’s chest when Zimmerman fired the fatal shot.
The Assistant Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy also reported that Martin had severe global edema (i.e., swelling) to both hemispheres of his brain.
Zimmerman claims he followed the dispatcher’s advice and was returning to his vehicle when Martin approached him from behind his left shoulder and asked him,
Why are you following me?
[Note the use of the present tense, which suggests he has not given up looking for Martin, is not returning to his vehicle, and is not approached from behind (h/t KrisAinTX)]
Martin’s girlfriend corroborates Martin’s question and use of the present tense, if not the context in which Zimmerman claims it was asked.
Zimmerman claims he then asked Martin,
What are you doing here?
Martin’s girlfriend corroborates Zimmerman’s response.
When Officer Smith arrived at the scene at 7:17 pm, a minute after the shooting, he saw Martin lying face down in the grass and Zimmerman standing nearby.
Zimmerman was not attempting to aid or provide CPR to Martin and there is no reference in Smith’s report to Zimmerman being upset or crying.
After retrieving Zimmerman’s gun and holster from inside his waistband, he arrested and handcuffed him with his hands behind his back and placed him in the back seat of his patrol vehicle.
Cool As A Cucumber
When an EMT checked Zimmerman in the patrol vehicle at 7:41 pm his pulse, blood pressure, and all of his vital signs were normal. Here is his report:
Assessment 1941 [7:41 pm]
Breathing Quality Adult Normal 12-20 [which is normal, not panting or out of breath]
No External Hemorrhage noted; Mucuous Membrane Normal
Central Body Color Normal
Within Normal Limits (Airway, Breathing Quality, Accessory Muscle Use, Chest Rise, Radial Pulse, Skin Temp, Skin Moisture [not sweating], Skin Turgor [not showing signs of dehydration], Cap Refill [blood circulation is normal], Pupil Size and Reaction.
[Or as Crane Station, a former RN says, He’s cool as a cucumber, which seems unusual for a person who minutes earlier killed someone and is now under arrest while sitting in the rear seat of a police vehicle with his hands handcuffed behind his back ]
Cause of Injury [to Zimmerman]: Struck by blunt/thrown object. (9640) [Emphasis supplied]
Mechanism of Injury: Blunt
Patient says he was assaulted and his head was struck on the pavement.
Pt’s GCS = 15 [Glascow Coma Scale, which is a level of consciousness scale and 15 is normal] and he is warm and dry with normal skin color. Pt has abrasions to his forehead + bleeding/tenderness to his nose and a small laceration to the back of his head. All injuries have minor bleeding. Pt also denies LOC [loss of consciousness], neck/back pain, and he has + PMS [pulse motor sensory function] X 4 [in all extremeties] with – paresthesia [no tingling]
[That means his pulse, motor, and sensory functions were all okay and functioning normally]
Crane-Station put it best,
How could a guy be talking to his girlfriend and killing somebody at the same time?
Who Screamed For Help?
The FBI Digital Examination Laboratory has reported that identification of the person screaming for help during the 911 call is not possible due to the poor quality of the original recording.
Zimmerman, backed by his father and unidentified family members, claims he is the person screaming for help. A neighbor named John claims he saw Zimmerman calling for help.
Martin’s mother claims Trayvon is the person screaming for help. Two audiologists working independently of each other using different methodologies to clean up background noise and focus on clarifying the scream have excluded Zimmerman as the source of the scream to a reasonable scientific certainty.
The Witness Named John
Claims that he saw Martin on top of John beating him about the head and heard Zimmerman calling for help. He shut and locked his sliding glass door and went upstairs to call 911. He heard the shot as he was going up the stairs. When he looked out a bedroom window, he saw Martin lying face down in the grass, apparently dead, and Zimmerman standing next to him.
He did not see the beginning or the end of the fight and that also appears to be the case with the other witnesses.
Other witnesses reported bits and pieces of this tragic event. I am still reviewing their statement but have nothing definitive or new to report yet.
Given Zimmerman’s state of mind and intent, I believe he was the aggressor and did not act in self-defense. I also believe he attacked Martin while Martin was talking to his girlfriend and Martin may have struck him with the cell phone several times in self-defense causing the injuries treated by the EMT.