Why I Called George Zimmerman a Murderer, and Why I Was Wrong

On March 17, I thought I had it all figured out. I wrote a post on my blog in which I pronounced America’s most famous neighborhood watch captain guilty:

Martin, a wispy 17-year-old-black teen, was walking to the home he was staying in after going to the convenience store for a bag of candy and a Coke. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, stalked Martin from his car, and then well, you can read the rest.

It seems self-evident from the 911 tapes that he was psyching himself up to justify a confrontation. Zimmerman initiated the confrontation by leaving his vehicle. He then asks us to believe — absent any living witness to conflict with him — that a teen some 100 lbs. lighter than him started a fight, and that Zimmerman “had” to shoot the kid in self-defense. Does anyone but Zimmerman’s father — and an apparently incompetent Sanford PD — buy Zimmerman’s claim this was a justifiable case of self-defense?

I’ll admit that I do not know the idiosyncrasies of Florida law, but if an armed person initiates a conflict, then uses that conflict as an excuse to draw his weapon and kill the person he confronted, that sounds a lot like murder in my book. No wonder Martin’s parents are furious that the Sanford PD hasn’t filed charges against Zimmerman.

In light of the just released 911 tapes, which suggest Martin plead for his life before Zimmerman fired a second, killing shot, both Zimmerman and the Sanford PD better prepare for very expensive civil rights cases, and hope that a vigilante doesn’t act to correct a perceived injustice as some have already threatened.

How naive that post now seems. The narrative created by the media at that time was one of an innocent life taken for no reason at all, by a much older, heavier, and racist man itching for a confrontation.

That was before we found out there was only one gunshot and no coup de grâce. That was before we found out that George Zimmerman had not deluged the local police with 46 paranoid 911 calls in one year, but 46 calls over a period of eight years, which isn’t unreasonable for a community watch volunteer. The media had either lied about how often he called, or purposefully compressed the timeline.

That was before we learned that Zimmerman didn’t know Martin’s race when he made the call, and that race didn’t play a roll in any of the 911 calls the local police had on file.

That was before we discovered that George Zimmerman wasn’t the 240-plus pound bruiser in the five-year-old picture the media used as much as possible, but was listed at a much smaller 170 pounds by none other than the New York Times. That’s a nominal 20 pounds heavier than a teen that stood four inches over him.

That was before we found out that two eyewitnesses placed Martin on top of Zimmerman as the aggressor, and that at least one of them claims it was Zimmerman crying for help.

That was before ABC News attempted to claim police surveillance video disproved Zimmerman’s claim of being injured in what may have been a purposeful deception. The very same news organization was forced to later admit the presence of two lacerations on the back of George Zimmerman’s skull consistent with his claim of self-defense. In the end, details of the beating Zimmerman suffered at Trayvon Martin’s hands were only given a brief mention in the local news.

That was before NBC News was forced to fire a senior producer for selectively editing audio of Zimmerman’s 911 call in a deliberate effort to make him sound racist.

And of course, almost no one knows that on the night he took Trayvon Martin’s life, George Zimmerman willingly consented to take a voice stress analyzer test, a kind of lie detector test used by the Sanford police. He passed it.

The narrative has changed in the wake of new details, eyewitnesses, and embarrassing retreats. The actual story may in fact have been a textbook example of the proper use of deadly force.

The revised narrative is that George Zimmerman wasn’t even actively volunteering as a neighborhood watchman, but was in the process of going to the store when he happened to see a hoodie-covered figure acting oddly in the rain, in a way that Zimmerman apparently interpreted as a burglar “casing” the gated community. He called 911 and kept the dispatcher apprised of his current position as best he could, in order to try to bring the police to the scene so that they could talk with the suspicious figure. It wasn’t until partway through the call that Zimmerman was able to tell the dispatcher that he thought the suspect may be black, in a direct answer to the dispatcher’s question about the suspect’s race.

During the course of the 911 call, the dispatcher asks several times for an exact street address, which an apparently frustrated Zimmerman is unable to provide. At one point, Martin notices Zimmerman shadowing him, and disappears between buildings.

Zimmerman chooses to leave his vehicle, either to track Martin or get a street address of Martin’s current location for the responding officers. At this point, Zimmerman is no longer on the phone with the 911 operator. Trayvon Martin is allegedly on the phone with his girlfriend, right up until when the physical confrontation apparently takes place.

By piecing together the 911 call and the series of events as alleged by Martin’s still anonymous girlfriend, we can see that a man is following a teenager, and the teenager notices he is being followed. We see Zimmerman’s apparent frustration at being unable to get the police guided to the suspect — his frustrated cry of “these assholes always get away” — and see two reasons Zimmerman would have left the car after first telling the dispatcher he didn’t want to because he didn’t know where Martin was at the time.

It is at this point that the confrontation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman takes place. We have no living witnesses to the start of the confrontation, other than Mr. Zimmerman. He claims Trayvon Martin assaulted him by punching him in the face (breaking his nose), and then jumped on top of him and started pounding his head into the the pavement.

At this point, apparently two witnesses responded to cries for help. One witness, named “John,” identified the man on the bottom wearing red (George Zimmerman) as the person crying for help in 911 calls as the other person (Trayvon Martin) was on top of him. “John” moved to get a better view out another window when he heard the gunshot and then saw Martin on the ground.

A second eyewitness also identified George Zimmerman as the man on the ground crying for help.

Not one witness had a start-to-finish view of the confrontation, and even if they did, eyewitness accounts are notoriously inaccurate. But when the various aspects of the case are weaved together from what is publicly known, a more plausible and tighter narrative seems to coalesce.

Shortly after getting off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, George Zimmerman left his vehicle. He and Trayvon Martin engaged in some sort of a conversation, which is agreed upon (in a larger context) by both Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him at the time, and Zimmerman’s account.

At that point, the call between Martin and his girlfriend terminated, and her testimony is of no further value.

Zimmerman alleges that Martin punched him in the face, breaking his nose and knocking him down with one punch. Basic forensic details, such as the grass stains on Zimmerman’s back and the injuries to his face reported by police and the resulting swelling and bruising reported by the neighbor the next day, make this at least plausible.

Zimmerman claims that Martin then jumped on top of him and began bashing his head against the sidewalk, and he began crying for help. Again, this part of Zimmerman’s story is at least partially corroborated by the eyewitness testimony, police reports, the enhanced police department video that shows two substantial lacerations on the back of Zimmerman’s head, and the reported bandages and swelling the neighbor confirmed the next day.

Zimmerman claims that Martin then saw and went for his gun. There were no eyewitnesses to this portion of the confrontation, and the next eyewitness view (from “John”) tells us what we already know: George Zimmerman fired a single shot from a 9mm pistol that hit Trayvon Martin, killing him. The rest of the actions from this point on are contained in police reports, but the confrontation was over, and Trayvon Martin lay dead or dying.

The Sanford police are being heavily condemned for mismanaging the investigation, but they did manage to do two things that may shed light on the whole story. They managed to get Zimmerman to the police station, where video surveillance confirmed his head injuries, and Zimmerman passed the voice stress analyzer they administered, which suggests he believes the story he gave to police.

When all these publicly known bits of evidence are combined, it suggests that a series of miscalculations and escalations by both men led to Trayvon Martin’s death.

George Zimmerman used questionable judgment in leaving his vehicle. But if the evidence and testimony publicly known are to be believed, it was an angry young Trayvon Martin who committed the first crime of the evening when he threw a punch that knocked George Zimmerman down. At this point, Trayvon Martin became the aggressor.

Eyewitnesses and forensics suggest that Martin continued his assault, escalating it to assault with a deadly weapon when he began trying to smash Zimmerman’s skull on the pavement. If this is accurate, and Zimmerman was on his back crying for help while Martin pressed his attack, then Zimmerman had reason to believe he was under the threat of serious injury, maiming, or death at the hands of Trayvon Martin.

At that moment, in reasonable fear for his life, and apparently after a struggle for his gun if Zimmerman’s lie detector-cleared testimony can be believed, he fired a single shot at Trayvon Martin.

Ultimately, the forensics the public has not seen may be the ultimate arbiter of truth. If the ballistic trajectory is consistent with Zimmerman’s story, then Trayvon Martin was killed in a textbook case of self-defense. Florida’s “stand your ground” law is utterly immaterial and Zimmerman committed no crime whatsoever.

Ultimately, the special prosecutor will have to weigh the evidence in this case and make her own determination, but she would have to find some very compelling evidence countermanding the testimony and forensics shows thus far, which seem to support Zimmerman’s claim of legal self-defense.

I took the media’s claims at face value and erroneously labeled George Zimmerman a murderer based upon false information that was designed to arrange a lynching.

I won’t get fooled again, and I hope that prosecutor Angela Corey, who dismissed the grand jury this week, won’t fall into the same trap of trying to pursue a narrative instead of true justice.

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