The most damning part of the 183-page document dump released by the prosecution yesterday in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is the eyewitness the media would rather you never hear from.
The eyewitness did not see the beginning of the fight, but had a clear view of it when he heard George Zimmerman crying for help and went to his door. He saw George Zimmerman on his back on the ground. Trayvon Martin, according to the eyewitness, was sitting on Zimmerman’s chest, raining down blows from a mount position, “MMA style.” From the investigator’s description of a witness statement on page 38 of the discovery documentation, we learn:
When he investigated, he witnessed a black male, wearing a dark-colored “hoodie” on top of a white or Hispanic male and throwing punches “MMA (mixed martial arts) style.” He stated that he yelled out to the two individuals that he was going to call the police. He then heard a “pop.” He stated that after hearing the “pop,” he observed the person he had previously observed on top of the other person (the black male wearing the “hoodie”) laid out on the grass.
The witness was 30 feet away, with a direct and apparently unobstructed line of sight to the fight.
The witness’s statement is transcribed in the next paragraph:
I heard yelling out back in grass area of home but not sure at first but after second “help” yell I opened blinds, and saw clothing but everything dark outside. I opened door and saw a guy on the ground getting hit by another man on top of him in the strattle [sic] position hitting a guy in red sweatshirt or on the bottom getting hit was yelling help (guy getting hit on ground was wearing red calling out help). I said I was calling the cops and ran upstairs then heard a gunshot. When I got upstairs I saw the guy on top who was hitting the guy in the red lain out on the grass as if he had been shot.
Let’s unpack that statement.
What the witness is referring to as “the strattle [sic] position” is what is also known as the “mount,” which is an offensive position in mixed martial arts. When one fighter has downed the other and assumed a dominant position (mounted), that top fighter has pinned the other to the ground and is sitting on his abdomen, using his body weight to keep the fighter in the bottom position from being able to move.
It is a very difficult position for a fighter who has been mounted to defend himself in, as the bottom fighter is an inviting target target for punches, forearm strikes, and elbow strikes. Also, he has only his forearms and hands to obstruct incoming blows.
Every bit as important is the fact that in the bottom position it is very difficult to counterstrike against an opponent mounted high on your upper abdomen (chest). The fighter on the bottom has no leverage or torque and is rendered nearly incapable of mounting any countering offense. A fighter in this position, unable to throw the fighter on top off balance and unable to escape, is almost certainly doomed to defeat.
Fighters that prefer to take their opponents down to the ground to fight and hope to obtain this dominant mounted position are said to favor a style of fighting called “ground and pound.”
To better visually explain the concept of the mounted position and the danger it poses to the fighter on the receiving end (bottom) of the mount, I’ve provided a video of “ground and pound” in action from a December 27, 2008, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts fight. In this contest, French heavyweight Cheick Kongo dominates Lebanese-born English heavyweight Mustapha Al Turk from an open guard position similar to what the witness reported as the “strattle [sic] position” in the Martin/Zimmerman fight. For in this instance, Al Turk’s open guard offers no more defense than if he were fully mounted, and provides a chilling example of the kind of damage that can be done in seconds.
Video follows on next page.
The video may not be for the squeamish.
The eyewitness adamantly claims that he saw Trayvon Martin in the top-mount position, with George Zimmerman on the bottom crying for help. In 911 calls placed by apartment residents, Zimmerman can be heard crying for help 14 times over a period of 38 seconds, as counted by Sanford Police investigators. These cries for help immediately preceded the shot that ended the fight and caused Trayvon Martin’s demise.
Much of the media has chosen today to focus on editorializing done by the Sanford Police Department investigator in his capias request (request to arrest), which concluded:
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 as a concerned citizen and initiated dialogue in an effort to dispell each party’s concerns.
The investigator concluded that there was probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman for manslaughter, a request ultimately rejected by the prosecutor at that time.
It is undoubtedly true, in hindsight, that if George Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle there would not have been as great a chance of a conflict, but Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson says that is “legally irrelevant“:
Getting out of the car, in itself, is not provoking the use of force. The prosecution would have to show Zimmerman started the fight, not merely that he was in a place he has a right to be.
Even so, Zimmerman would have had legal protection even if he initiated contact if the counter-force were deadly or threatened serious bodily harm and there was no way to escape. There would be a fact issue if, as some reports say, Zimmerman were on the ground being beaten.
These nuances will be lost in the media blitz, and you will hear how Zimmerman must be guilty because he got out of the car.
Trayvon Martin mounted George Zimmerman and began raining strikes down on him for more than 38 seconds, despite the fact that Zimmerman was clearly beaten and cried for help 14 times during that time period.
Legally this is where self-defense law, and possibly the “stand your ground” provision that is part of that law, becomes relevant, and it is the first and only time that it is relevant for either man in this conflict.
At this moment, did George Zimmerman have reason to believe that the continuing assault on him could result in his serious injury or death? Put another way, could a “reasonable man” in this exact same position and unable to retreat suspect that he was facing the possibility of death if he did not use lethal force to end the threat?
The information provided by this witness completely changes the dynamics of what we now know about the case.
There is the possibility that something is still sealed or in redacted testimony (or in George Zimmerman’s statements that were not released as part of the evidentiary process) that could provide enough evidence to warrant going forward with the criminal trial. After spending last night reviewing all 183 pages of released information, however, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion except that while Trayvon Martin’s death was both tragic and avoidable, it was ultimately a legally justifiable self-defense homicide.