So much new information has emerged in the past few days regarding the Trayvon Martin killing — autopsies, police reports, audio recordings — that we can now start to cobble together a much more detailed sense of what transpired between the 17-year-old black teenager and 28-year-old George Zimmerman, the Hispanic neighorbood watch volunteer who shot him to death.
Based on a 22-minute police interview with a girlfriend of Martin’s, who’d been on the phone with him that night, we know that he saw Zimmerman watching him from a car. He’d just bought some Skittles and iced tea from a neighborhood store and had briefly sought shelter from the rain before starting his walk home. On the call, he said Zimmerman was “crazy and creepy” and informed the girl that he’d gotten out of the car and started following him. She told him to run and he did. “I could hear the wind blowing,” she remembers, and “he said he lost him.”
Minutes later, Zimmerman was back.
“He was breathing hard,” the girl recalls of Martin’s final communication. “His voice kind of changed. I know he was scared. His voice was getting kind of low.” He told her that Zimmerman “was getting close to him,” but he said he was too tired to keep running.
“Why are you following me for?” Martin can be heard asking Zimmerman on the audio recording.
“What are you doing around here?” Zimmerman asks in response. (He would later tell police he’d thought Martin was “on drugs or something.” Though trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, were found in Martin’s bloodstream, “they are so low as to almost certainly not be connected to recent intoxication,” Time’s Healthland blog asserts.)
Unsure what was going on, Martin’s girlfriend starting calling out his name, until she heard a bump and what sounded like Martin yelling “get off, get off,” before the line went dead.
This must be when the two men started grappling. According to Zimmerman’s account, Martin attacked him, pushing him to the ground. Several witnesses cited in police reports confirm seeing a young black man in a hoodie straddling a “white or Hispanic male” on the ground and punching him. One witness said he was punching him mixed-martial-arts-style. Police say Zimmerman can be heard calling for help at least fourteen times on an audio recording of a 911 call at the time. Then there was a pop and witnesses say they saw the man on top keel over, and Zimmerman get out from under him.
He stood up and took a couple steps away and put his hands on his head and then walked back over to the guy on the ground. He looked at him for a minute, then started to walk away toward the road. That is when the police walked up.
Police reports and Martin’s autopsy seem to corroborate the story that there was a scuffle of some sort. George Zimmerman had two black eyes, a fractured nose, head lacerations, a minor back injury, and skinned knuckles, while the back of his clothes were stained with wet grass. Martin had an abrasion on one of his left fingers and was shot from as little as one inch (though possibly as far as three feet) away.
But questions remain: Who struck first? And was George Zimmerman authorized under Florida’s now much-maligned Stand Your Ground to shoot Trayvon Martin in self defense?
Those questions are what the jury will consider at Zimmerman’s trial for second-degree murder. The Sanford Police investigator’s report did say that the death would have been “ultimately avoidable” had Zimmerman just stayed in his car, as a police dispatcher had recommended. That, and had he not profiled Martin quite as quickly as he did, apparently a habit that had already gotten him fired from at least one job.
This post has been corrected to indicate that there was, in fact, no 22-minute recorded phone call between Trayvon Martin and a friend the night he was killed; instead, the friend sat for a 22-minute interview with police.