Fri May 18, 2012
Trayvon Martin Case Evidence Raises More Questions
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, leaders of the G8 - that's the group of eight highly industrialized nations - are meeting at Camp David this weekend, but they're also joined by the leaders of some emerging African countries who will discuss the issue of food security on the continent. We'll talk more about that in a few minutes.
But first, we want to turn to a case that we've been following closely on this program. That's the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. He was the unarmed Florida teenager who was killed in February by self-appointed Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman is facing second-degree murder charges. He's out on bail right now, but yesterday a trove of information about the case and the investigation was made public for the first time.
NPR's Greg Allen is based in Florida. He's been reviewing that and he's with us now. Greg Allen, thanks so much for joining us.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Sure. Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So what's jumped out to you as you've reviewed this material?
ALLEN: Well, you know, there's not a lot of stuff here that you didn't have some inkling about, but you start to get more of a complete picture and you start to see what is going to be, you know, brought forward at trial, what are some of the conflicting stories you're going to hear.
I thought, to me, the first - the most compelling thing at first was this request that the Sanford police investigators prepared and put forward and sent to the state attorney back on March 13th - excuse me - and that was a request for George Zimmerman to be arrested and charged with negligent homicide, manslaughter.
And in that report - this was put together by Christopher Serino, the Sanford police investigator - he says that - in there he expresses some skepticism about - it seems to me - about Zimmerman. He says in his report according to records checks, all of Zimmerman's suspicious calls - person's calls while residing in The Retreat neighborhood have identified black males as a subject and he says 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.
And he says there's no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter. So he's saying that he thought he should have been charged and that was before - that was when Norman Wolfinger, the previous state attorney, still had it. He declined to act for whatever reason.
MARTIN: Now, there has been a - this has been one of the issues that Trayvon Martin's family has talked about all along, which is why did George Zimmerman pursue him and why did he get out of the car? Now, I know that there are witness accounts or people who heard things, people who saw things. Do any of the witness accounts shed any light on why George Zimmerman got out of the car?
ALLEN: They don't. No. And you know, the witnesses - most of the witnesses actually heard - got their attention when they heard the sounds of the fight, so most people - no one saw actually what created the actual fight and the physical altercation there - at least the witnesses who were in Sanford.
There was a few different people who say there was a chase. They heard footsteps running. Most of those people weren't - none of those folks in Sanford could say who was chasing whom. The one insight we get on that is from Trayvon Martin's girlfriend, who's not been named, but was interviewed both by Benjamin Crump and then also by the state attorney's office. They went and talked to her in person and she gave them a detailed description of the night.
She talked to Trayvon Martin on and off all day long up to moments before his death and she describes that first Zimmerman was in the car and then Trayvon - she told Trayvon to run - he ran - to run to his father's house. She said he was running to his father's house, going the back way. He had to stop running, she said, because he became too tired. She said, keep running. And he said no. The other guy - Zimmerman, presumably - is too tired also.
Eventually Zimmerman catches up and she's on the phone with Trayvon Martin at that time and she says she hears a thump and then after that the phone went dead. So that would suggest that there was a pursuit and that Zimmerman was the one who was doing the pursuing.
MARTIN: And on the other side of it, though, George Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, and I just want to play a cut of tape from another witness interview and ask for your thoughts. This is from a man who lived close to where the scuffle was taking place. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF WITNESS INTERVIEW)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The one guy on top in the black hoodie was pretty much just throwing down blows on the guy, kind of MMA style.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Like a ground and pound...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. Like a ground and pound on the concrete at this point, so at this point I told them I was calling 911. I locked my door, went inside, heard a pop. Never heard a gunshot before, so I didn't know if it was a rock or something like that. We ran upstairs. As soon as I got upstairs, I looked down below and then I saw the guy in the black hoodie pretty much just laid out on the ground.
MARTIN: Now, that seems to - I think one might argue that that supports George Zimmerman's version of events, which is that he was in fear for his life and safety at that point and that he was acting in self-defense. Do investigators offer any narrative around that?
ALLEN: No. They don't around that, and I think you're exactly right. There is material here that does bolster Zimmerman's defense and that is a key part of it. That witness - his townhouse was right next to where the altercation took place. He was watching television with his fiancee. He came outside and saw much of the fight going forward, and he had more descriptions and he's been interviewed several times by various investigators and always gave pretty much the same story, that the person on top appeared to be Trayvon Martin and he was raining down blows upon George Zimmerman. They were on the concrete at that point and, you know, of course then later we have photos and medical personnel reports saying that George Zimmerman did have his nose broken and had a couple of lacerations on the back of his head.
And on that there's also a question about who was calling for help and that's an interesting question as well.
MARTIN: That is an interesting question, too, and also I want to mention that there are other interviews that - where two people who are not identified say that they thought Zimmerman was acting strangely and were pretty adamant that he's in the wrong. Not clear about why that is because - and also, there's an autopsy report that was done on Trayvon Martin that showed that were some substances - controlled substances - in his system.
So, Greg, before we let you go, very briefly, is there anything that has not been released that people who are closely following this case would find compelling and important?
ALLEN: Well, of course the most compelling stuff we have not heard or seen is the interviews with George Zimmerman. Those are protected under Florida law. All of this stuff is made public under Florida law if you give a public records request, but Zimmerman's account - his interviews are protected because they could be construed as confessions under Florida law. Any confession, if someone is charged, then is not made public, so that's why we haven't seen those and that will have - that will be a key to this case, of course.
MARTIN: And we will keep following that and we appreciate you. NPR's Greg Allen has been covering the Trayvon Martin case closely. He was with us from his home office in Miami.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.