When George Zimmerman tries to convince a judge or a jury that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, the evidence in the case appears to be a mixed bag.
More than 200 pages of photos and eyewitness accounts released by prosecutors Thursday show he and Martin were in a loud and bloody fight in the moments leading up to the shooting and that Zimmerman appeared to be getting the worst of it, with wounds both to his face and the back of his head.
The state attorney's office released the evidence late Thursday afternoon, including 183 pages of documents, hundreds of photos and dozens of audio recordings, including:
- Pictures of Zimmerman appearing to have a broken nose and numerous other injuries to his head
- Autopsy report: Martin had THC in his system the night of the shooting.
- FBI audio analysis: Addresses whether Zimmerman said a racial slur or not.
- Sanford Police Department's Capias request: Sanford police investigator wrote, "Zimmerman can be heard in the background crying for help." The investigator also writes that "the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of the law enforcement." The investigator also said Zimmerman could have identified himself to Martin as a "concerned citizen."
Trayvon Martin's girlfriend, who was on the phone with Martin, said she heard Trayvon Martin say "Get off, get off" and then the phone went dead.
But original lead detective in the case believed Zimmerman caused the fight by getting out of his vehicle to confront Martin, who wasn't doing anything criminal, and then could have defused the situation by telling Martin he was just a concerned citizen and tried to talk to him. He didn't think Zimmerman could legally invoke Florida's "stand your ground" law and should be charged with manslaughter.
Under that law, people are given wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat in a fight if they believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously injured, they weren't committing a crime themselves and are in a place they have the legal right to be. The original prosecutor in the case accepted Zimmerman's invocation of the law after the Feb. 26 shooting but a special prosecutor rejected his claim last month and charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. The former neighborhood watch volunteer has pleaded not guilty, has been released on bail and reportedly is in hiding.
He and his attorney will have two more chances to invoke the law. First, they will try to convince a judge during what will be a mini-trial. If the judge agrees, the charges will be dropped although prosecutors could appeal. That is likely months away. If the judge rejects the claim, Zimmerman could they try to convince the jury and win an acquittal. A trial is unlikely to start before next year. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, didn't return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.
Joelle Moreno, a Florida International University law school professor, said the evidence now released makes it difficult to predict if that defense will work. She is a member of a state senator's task force examining the law.
Larry Kobilinsky, professor of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that after reviewing the evidence, he thinks Zimmerman is in a good position.
"I think the prosecution's case has been seriously diminished by all of this evidence," he said.
Still, many of the pertinent questions remain unclear: What was in Zimmerman's mind when he began to follow Martin in the gated community where he lived? How did the confrontation between the two begin? Whose screams for help were captured on 911 calls? And why did Zimmerman feel that deadly force was warranted? Did the fact that Martin was black play a role in Zimmerman's actions?
The evidence supporting Zimmerman's defense includes a photo showing the neighborhood watch volunteer with a bloody nose on the night of the fight. A paramedic report says Zimmerman had a 1-inch laceration on his head and forehead abrasion.
"Bleeding tenderness to his nose, and a small laceration to the back of his head. All injuries have minor bleeding," paramedic Michael Brandy wrote about Zimmerman's injuries in the report.
But other evidence supports the contention of Martin's parents that Zimmerman was the aggressor.
The investigator who called for Zimmerman's arrest, Christopher Serino, told prosecutors the fight could have been avoided if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement. He said Zimmerman, after leaving his vehicle, could have identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and talked to him instead of confronting him. The report was written March 13, nearly a month before Zimmerman's eventual arrest.
He said there is no evidence Martin was involved in any criminal activity as he walked from a convenience store to the home of his father's fiance in the same gated community where Zimmerman lived.
The lawyer for Martin's parents seized on the investigator's recommendation.
"The police concluded that none of this would have happened if George Zimmerman hadn't gotten out of his car," said attorney Ben Crump. "If George Zimmerman hadn't gotten out of his car, they say it was completely avoidable. That is the headline."