Forensic evidence both supports, casts doubt on Zimmerman claims

Review of evidence finds good and bad for Trayvon Martin's accused killer

SANFORD, Fla. – Forensic evidence compiled in the killing of Trayvon Martin supports George Zimmerman's claim that Martin was leaning over him when he fired his gun, but casts doubt on Zimmerman's timeline on the night he shot and killed the unarmed teen, according to a review by a forensic expert for WKMG-TV.

Michael Knox, a retired Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective and crime scene investigator, published some of the findings in his book, "Intermediate Range: The Forensic Evidence in the Killing of Trayvon Martin."

Knox and WKMG calculated the exact moment Zimmerman slammed shut his door as he left his truck at 7:11:48 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2011 to follow Martin through the Retreat at Twin Lakes community.

Knox then retraced Zimmerman's footsteps, as Zimmerman described them in a reenactment for police videotaped the day after the shooting, and compared the results to a recording of Zimmerman's nonemergency call to Sanford police.

Among his conclusions:

  • If Zimmerman's retelling of the event were accurate, the confrontation Zimmerman described with Martin would have occurred much sooner than it actually did;
  • Zimmerman covered more time and distance after leaving his truck that night than he revealed to police;
  • based on the times and distances Zimmerman said he covered, Zimmerman would have still been on the phone with Sanford police when he claims he was attacked by Martin;
  • had Martin walked directly to his destination, his father's girlfriend's townhome, he would have made it there safely before Zimmerman ended his nonemergency call to Sanford police;
  • Martin was in fact leaning over Zimmerman when the fatal shot was fired, just as Zimmerman has maintained.

To reach that last conclusion, Knox examined both a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report on the gunshot's impact to the hooded sweatshirt Martin was wearing and the autopsy report describing the gunshot wound to the body.

The medical examiner determined the gunshot was fired from "intermediate range," but the hoodie showed a "contact" shot, indicating the muzzle of Zimmerman's gun was touching or extremely close to the fabric when the shot was fired.

Knox explained that the loose fitting sweatshirt was farther away from the body because of gravity, which pulled it down as Martin was situated above Zimmerman.

That is consistent with Zimmerman's claim that he was on his back struggling with Martin when he reached for the gun, pointed it upward and fired, Knox said.

"We look at the physical evidence and then we say, 'What does it tell us?'" said Knox, who before his 2010 retirement testified often for the same state attorney's office that was specially appointed by the governor to prosecute Zimmerman.

To demonstrate the effects of an "intermediate range" shot through cloth, Knox and WKMG used a Kel-Tec 9mm handgun similar to the one Zimmerman owned and, at a local gun range, fired test shots through two pieces of fabric: One tightly stretched over cardboard, the other hanging loosely about three inches in front, in contact with the muzzle when the shot was fired.

It produced results similar to what was found in the forensic reports: Contact damage on the cloth closest to the gun, and a 3/8-inch hole with a 2-by-2 inch pattern of stippling, or gunshot residue, on the shirt stretched skintight over the cardboard. This was not an exact scientific replication of the actual gunshot, because of differences in ammunition and the weapons' exact specifications, but a demonstration for Local 6 viewers.

Nor do any of the findings prove whether Zimmerman committed second-degree murder, as is alleged, or acted in self-defense, as Zimmerman claims.

But they could be crucial when a judge or jury determines if there is sufficient evidence of self defense or whether Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter or some other crime.

The defense, for instance, might focus on why Trayvon Martin did not walk directly to the townhouse where he was staying, perhaps suggesting Martin doubled back or lay in wait among bushes in the dark and confronted Zimmerman from behind, as Zimmerman claims.

"That part is difficult to explain, because clearly Trayvon Martin does something other than walk straight to (his father's girlfriend's) townhome," Knox said.

Of course, the unarmed teenager had no obligation to go to the townhouse or do anything else, other than obey the law, which is what he was doing -- at least until, Zimmerman claims, he attacked the neighborhood watch captain.

But the state could accuse Zimmerman of lying about where he went and how long he took to get there after leaving his truck, showing he would have had plenty of time to get back to his truck, as he claimed he was trying to do. Prosecutors could argue an overzealous self-appointed defender of the community used the unaccounted for time to try to track down the "suspicious" "punk" he thought was "up to no good," an "asshole (who) always get(s) away," all descriptions Zimmerman gives of Martin during the phone call.

More than 2:30 passes between the time Zimmerman hung up with Sanford police (7:13:39) and when a neighbor who heard the commotion connected with a 911 operator (7:16:11). The struggles continues on that call for 45 seconds, until the fatal gunshot is heard at 7:16:56.

Exactly what happened during that 2:32 gap only Zimmerman has survived to say.

Knox does not know exactly when the struggle began -- because that moment was not recorded -- but it had to come some seconds before the 911 call was made. It took some time for the 911 caller to hear and react to the struggle and then make a decision to get to a phone and properly connect with 911.

Knox also does not speculate on who may have been the initial aggressor, or whether either person had a right to fight back with deadly force.

"What you have here is a case where you have two people perceiving one event in two very different ways," Knox concluded. "George Zimmerman is perceiving that Trayvon Martin is a suspicious character, he's doing something wrong. Trayvon Martin perceives it as, 'Why is this guy following me? Why is he staring at me?' What can happen in a situation like that is each person's individual perception causes them to act in a particular way. Their actions collided and turned into this tragic event."