The documents, photographs and audio recordings in the case against George Zimmerman for the slaying of Trayvon Martin fill significant gaps in our previous understanding of what happened the night of Feb. 26. They’ve bolstered the narrative presented by supporters of both Zimmerman and Trayvon. They’ve cleared up inaccuracies in earlier reporting. And, with the exception of one paragraph in a document seeking Zimmerman’s arrest, they’ve gotten us no closer to the clarity we desperately want.
The surveillance video of Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford Police Department 35 minutes after he killed Trayvon showed him looking rather unscathed for a man who said he had been fighting for his life. The cell phone photo of his face and those of his bloodied scalp and injured nose show that he was indeed injured.
For many, this is proof Trayvon was “suspicious” and “up to no good.” But I must ask, in this age of heightened alert regarding sexual predators and others who would do harm to young people, what would you do if, as a 17-year-old, you were accosted by a stranger? The most common response I got when I posed the question last week on Twitter can be summarized as “fight like hell to get away.”
We’ve known for a while now that Zimmerman was not tested for drugs or alcohol by police at the scene and that Trayvon was. The assumption was that the 17-year-old was clean. I even got ahead of my skis, as the president might say, by making that assumption. The autopsy on Trayvon would reveal trace amounts of THC, which is an ingredient in marijuana. Some readers gleefully pointed out my error. But let’s not get carried away. We’re talking about pot, not crack or some other drug.
Larry Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, downplayed the import of this finding in a story by the Associated Press. “This kind of level can be seen days after somebody smokes,” Kobilinsky told the AP. “If it comes up in the case, I would be surprised. It wouldn’t benefit the defense, it wouldn’t benefit the prosecution, and if the defense tried to bring it up, the judge would keep it out.”
The Post’s Stephanie McCrummen and Sari Horwitz yesterday highlighted how the most disputed moment of the deadly encounter between Zimmerman and Trayvon are its last 45 seconds. Who was screaming for help? Was it Zimmerman, as his father and numerous witnesses say? Was it Trayvon, as his mother and an audio expert retained by The Post say? According to a police report, even Trayvon’s father initially said it wasn’t his son. After hearing a second, clearer recording, Martin said that was Trayvon’s voice screaming for help.
But it was the interview with the girl who was on the phone with Trayvon in his final moments that is the most riveting. He told her a “crazy and creepy man” was watching him from a car. Trayvon told her he thought he lost him, only to discover that Zimmerman “was getting close to him. She urged him to run home and then said she heard Trayvon ask, “Why are you following me for?” The reply she heard was, “What are you doing around here?” The last words she said she heard Trayvon say after she said he was pushed or bumped were “Get off, get off.”
Lead investigator Christopher Serino filed a “capias request” on March 13 seeking to arrest Zimmerman and charge him with manslaughter. His rationale for wanting to take Zimmerman into custody strikes at the heart of why people across the country were enraged that Zimmerman walked free for killing an unarmed teenager.
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 law enforcement, or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialog (sic) in an effort to dispel each party’s concern.
This is the only unambiguous truth to make out of the trove of documents in this heartbreaking case. Because of shoddy police work and my lingering concerns about the impact of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, I dread that even Serino’s clear-eyed, sworn statement might not be enough to hold Zimmerman accountable for killing Trayvon.