And there is reason to question whether Zimmerman was actually pursuing Martin. Prior to being cautioned about following the suspect, Zimmerman can be heard breathing heavily into the phone as though running. But after the dispatcher’s admonition, Zimmerman’s breathing returns to normal, and he calmly converses with the dispatcher about how the responding officers can contact him by phone and find him within the complex.
My own inference from listening to the 911 tapes is that Zimmerman stopped running after Martin during his call to police, but then followed Martin’s path in an attempt to see where Martin had gone. Note that at the beginning of the 911 call, Zimmerman is seated in his truck, apparently in the area of the complex’s clubhouse near the gated entrance. But the shooting occurred on a walkway running past the rear yards of the townhouses, an area where Zimmerman would not have been able to drive his truck. Why did Martin walk back there? Did he come upon Martin unexpectedly, and if so, which of them initiated the physical confrontation?
Zimmerman reportedly sustained a bloody nose and a gash to the back of his head, injuries that may bolster his claim of self-defense. But it may also have been the case that Martin, on being followed by a stranger whom he also regarded as suspicious, acted in self-defense when that stranger approached him with a gun. On one of the 911 calls to Sanford police, a voice can be heard screaming for help prior to the gunshot, but it has not been established if that voice is Zimmerman’s or Martin’s. A grand jury will attempt to resolve these questions next month, but even if it hands down an indictment on Zimmerman, I fail to see how prosecutors can win a conviction unless they can produce some damning evidence not yet revealed. Some have suggested Zimmerman used a racial slur during his call to police, indicating a possible racial animus that may have influenced his decision to shoot, though it’s far from clear what he actually said.
Trayvon Martin’s death was tragic, but it is a tragedy that will not find a neat resolution in the criminal courts. The only certainty is that the tragedy will be rendered into farce by the cast of characters who will use it to raise their own questionable profiles. And the first man up, as you might have expected, will be the most questionable of all: Al Sharpton descends on Sanford today.