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Time 7:09 PM EST (start)
Date February 26, 2012 (2012-02-26)
Location The Retreat at Twin Lakes
in Sanford, Florida, U.S.
(See aerial views of points of interest.)
Coordinates 28°47′35″N 81°19′47″W / 28.79295°N 81.32965°W / 28.79295; -81.32965 (The Retreat at Twin Lakes Community in Sanford, Florida)Coordinates: 28°47′35″N 81°19′47″W / 28.79295°N 81.32965°W / 28.79295; -81.32965 (The Retreat at Twin Lakes Community in Sanford, Florida)
Participants George Zimmerman (shooter)
Deaths Trayvon Martin
Charges Second-degree murder[1]

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman took place on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States. Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old African American male who was unarmed.[2] George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old multi-racial Hispanic American,[3][Note 1] was the designated neighborhood watch coordinator for the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where the shooting took place.[4]

While in his vehicle on a private errand, Zimmerman saw Martin walking inside the community, where Martin and his father were visiting his father's fiancée. Zimmerman called the Sanford Police Department to report Martin's behavior as suspicious.[5] Shortly afterwards, Zimmerman left his vehicle and there was an altercation, which ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin once in the chest at close range.[6][7][8][9][10]

When police arrived on the scene, Zimmerman told them that Martin had attacked him and that he had shot Martin in self-defense.[2][11] Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and two vertical lacerations on the back of his head.[12][13] EMTs treated Zimmerman at the scene, after which he was taken to the Sanford Police Department. Zimmerman was detained and questioned for approximately five hours.[13][14] A statement was videotaped, and he was then released without being charged.[12] Police said that they had not found evidence to contradict his assertion of self-defense.[15][16][17][18][19]

The circumstances of Martin's death, the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman, and questions about Florida's Stand Your Ground law received national and international attention. Allegations of racist motivation for the shooting and police conduct contributed to public demands for Zimmerman's arrest.[20][21][22] A Special Prosecutor was appointed to take over the investigation, and on April 11 she chose to file charges of murder in the second degree against Zimmerman.[23][24] Zimmerman then turned himself in and was placed in custody.[25][26] On April 20, the judge approved Zimmerman's bail on a $150,000 bond.[27] He was released from jail on April 23 with the stipulation that he wear an electronic monitoring device until trial.

On June 1, Judge Lester granted a Motion to Revoke Bond due to concerns that Zimmerman and his wife had not fully disclosed their financial status during the original April 20 bond hearing.[28][29] Zimmerman voluntarily returned to custody on June 3 to await a June 29 bond hearing.[30][31]


People involved in the case[edit]

Trayvon Martin in an undated photo
George Zimmerman

Trayvon Martin[edit]

Trayvon Benjamin Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) was the son of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who were divorced in 1999.[32] He was a high school junior [33][34] and lived with his mother and older brother in Miami Gardens, Florida. He and his father were visiting his father's fiancée and her son at her townhome in The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford on the day he was fatally shot.[35][36][37][38][39] Martin had visited his father's fiancée at Twin Lakes several times.[40][41]

Martin was 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 158 pounds at the time of his death.[42]

George Zimmerman[edit]

George Michael Zimmerman[43] was born on October 5, 1983, in Manassas, Virginia,[44] and is the son of Robert Zimmerman, Sr., a retired Virginia magistrate,[45] and Peruvian-born Gladys (née Mesa) Zimmerman.[46][47] He grew up in what his father has described as a "multiracial family" (one of his maternal great-grandfathers was of Afro-Peruvian background),[48] and was raised in his mother's Catholic religion (his father was Baptist).[49] Zimmerman's voter registration record lists him as Hispanic and a Democrat.[50][51]

Zimmerman's height is shown as 5'8" and his weight as 185 pounds on his Seminole County Sheriff's Office Inmate Booking Information dated 4/11/2012.[52] Zimmerman's height is shown as 5'7" and his weight at 200 pounds on the Sanford Police Department Offense Report for 2/26/2012.[53]

In 2009, he moved with his wife to The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida, a multi-ethnic[54] gated community, where the shooting occurred.[55][56] He was employed as an insurance underwriter prior to the shooting[57] and was in his final semester at Seminole State College for an associate degree in Criminal Justice.[58] His goal was to become a judge.[59]

Sanford Police Department[edit]

At the time of Trayvon Martin's shooting, Bill Lee was chief of the Sanford Police Department.[60] Lee had been chief of police since April 2011.[60]

On March 22, Chief Lee temporarily stepped down from his position due to public criticism over his handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting.[60] In April, the Sanford City Commission refused to accept Lee's resignation and stated, "Lee’s spotless record showed there needed to be further review to determine if he failed in his duties." Lee remained on paid leave until he was fired on June 20, 2012, by Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte.[61] Lee responded by stating, "It is disappointing that, in spite of his steadfast commitment to fairness and waiting for the results of a review of the Sanford Police Department and its investigation of the Trayvon Martin case, City Manager Bonaparte has chosen to exercise his rights under the employment contract to terminate my employment without cause... I continue to stand by the work performed by the Sanford Police Department in this tragic shooting, which has been plagued by misrepresentations and false statements for interests other than justice." [62]

On June 26, 2012 the lead investigator of the case, Christopher Serino, was transferred out of the Sanford Police Department's investigative unit at and reassigned to the patrol division at Serino's request.[63]

State Attorneys[edit]

State Attorney Angela Corey

Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger was the prosecutor initially responsible for the case.[64] Wolfinger is responsible for prosecutions in Brevard and Seminole counties, where the shooting occurred.[65] On March 22, 2012, Wolfinger removed himself from the case and requested that the case be assigned to another state prosecutor. Wolfinger stated, “This request is being made in light of the public good with the intent of toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation.” [66]

On March 22, 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced his appointment of Angela Corey as the Special Prosecutor in the Martin investigation. [67] She is the State attorney for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.[68] After several weeks of investigation, on April 11, 2012 Corey charged Zimmreman with second-degree murder in Martin's death.[23][69]

George Zimmerman's attorneys[edit]

Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig were the first lawyers to represent George Zimmerman.[70][71] On April 10, 2012, they announced that they were withdrawing from the case as Zimmerman was no longer returning their calls and had been acting against their advice.[72] According to Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, Sonner and Uhrig should not have disclosed those details and other information about Zimmerman after they had stopped representing him, because of considerations of attorney-client privileged information.[73]

On April 11, 2012, it was announced that Zimmerman was represented by a new attorney, Mark M. O'Mara,[25] who is board-certified as a criminal trial specialist.[74] O'Mara pointed out that a small number of murder cases actually go to trial, with many cases resulting in a plea bargain. "We're not taking any possibilities off the table how this case gets resolved," he said. O'Mara described the intensely debated encounter between Martin and Zimmerman as resulting in "a deceased child," and also said, "Obviously, it was a horrible intersection of two young men's lives and it ended in tragedy."[75][76] George Zimmerman's defense team has set up a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a website with a defense fund registered with the Florida Division of Consumer Services. O'Mara stated on the website that "Using social media in a high-profile lawsuit is new, and relatively unprecedented, but that is only because social media itself is relatively new. We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible, and ethical approach to new media."[77][78][79]

Martin family attorneys[edit]

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer representing the interests of the Martin family, operates a law firm in Tallahassee, Florida, with his partner Daryl Parks. The firm has eight lawyers who focus on wrongful death, malpractice, personal injury and civil rights.[80][81] In 2006, Crump sued to have the video released in the case of Martin Anderson, a teenager who died at a boot camp run by the Bay County, Florida, Sheriff's Office.[80][82][83] The Martin family is also represented by Natalie Jackson, an Orlando civil rights attorney.[84][85]

Background to the shooting[edit]

The Retreat at Twin Lakes, north entrance

The Retreat at Twin Lakes[edit]

The Retreat at Twin Lakes is a 260-unit gated community in Sanford, Florida.[86] The community is approximately 49% non-Hispanic white, 23% Hispanic, 20% black, and 5% Asian, according to Census figures.[87]

George Zimmerman and Tracy Martin's fiancee each rented homes in the development.[41][88] At the time of the shooting, Martin was staying with his father's fiancee at The Retreat while Martin served a 10-day suspension from Michael M. Krop High School in Miami.[89]

Zimmerman's concealed firearm permit[edit]

Zimmerman was licensed to carry a firearm since November 2009. In response to Zimmerman's multiple reports regarding a loose pit bull in the Twin Lakes neighborhood, a Seminole County Animal Services officer advised Zimmerman to "get a gun" rather than rely on pepper spray to fend off a pit bull.[58] Although neighborhood watch volunteers are not encouraged to carry weapons, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee acknowledged that Zimmerman had a constitutional right to carry his firearm. [87]

Neighborhood response to criminal activity[edit]

From January 1, 2011 through February 26, 2012, police were called to The Retreat at Twin Lakes 402 times.[87] Eleven of those calls were made by Zimmerman for a variety of concerns, from potholes and a stray dog to suspicious activity.[86][90][91][86][Note 2] Crimes committed at The Retreat in the year prior to Martin's death included eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting. In addition there were dozens of reports of attempted break-ins; in one case a woman with an infant hid in an upstairs room until the police arrived and scared away the intruders, who had already entered her home and disconnected the television.[92]

In September 2011, the Twin Lakes residents held an organizational meeting to create a neighborhood watch program. Zimmerman was selected by neighbors as the program's coordinator, according to Wendy Dorival, Neighborhood Watch organizer for the Sanford Police Department.[87][93][94] [95] Zimmerman "once caught a thief and an arrest was made...He helped solve a lot of crimes," said Cynthia Wibker, secretary of the homeowners association.[87]

Three weeks prior to the shooting, on February 2, 2012, Zimmerman called police to report a young man peering into the windows of an empty Twin Lakes home. Zimmerman was told a police car was on the way, and he followed protocol, awaiting their arrival. By the time police arrived, the suspect had fled. On February 6, 2012, workers witnessed two young black men lingering in the yard of a Twin Lakes resident around the same time her home was burglarized. A new laptop and some gold jewelry were stolen. The next day police discovered the stolen laptop in the backpack of a young black man, which led to his arrest. Zimmerman identified this young man as the same person he had spotted peering into windows on February 2.[58]

Shooting and initial investigation[edit]

Martin had walked to a convenience store near the Twin Lakes development. On his return,[35][96][97] he was observed by Zimmerman,[98] who was driving in his vehicle through the neighborhood on a personal errand.[99] At the end of their interaction, Martin was shot 70 yards (64 m) from the rear door of the townhouse of his father's fiancee.[100][Note 3]

Zimmerman's call to police[edit]

At approximately 7:09 PM, February 26, 2012, Zimmerman called the Sanford police non-emergency number to report what he considered a suspicious person in the Twin Lakes community. [101] Zimmerman stated, "We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy." [58] He described an unknown male "just walking around looking about" in the rain and said, "This guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something." [102] Zimmerman reported that the person had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes.[103] On the recording, Zimmerman is heard saying, "these assholes, they always get away."[104][105]

About two minutes into the call, Zimmerman said, "he's running." The sound of a car door chime is heard, indicating Zimmerman left his vehicle, after which Zimmerman lost sight of the person he was observing. [44] The dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following the person. When Zimmerman answered, "yeah," the dispatcher said, "We don't need you to do that." Zimmerman responded, "Okay." Zimmerman asked that police call him upon their arrival so he could provide his location.[44] Zimmerman ended the call at 7:15 p.m. [44]

Arrival of Sanford Police[edit]

Police officer Timothy Smith arrived at the scene at approximately 7:17 PM. He reported finding Zimmerman standing near Martin, who was lying face down in the grass and unresponsive.[9][12] At that time, Zimmerman stated to Smith that he had shot Martin and was still armed. Smith handcuffed Zimmerman and removed his weapon from him. Smith observed that Zimmerman's back was wet and covered with grass and he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head.[9][107]

Ricardo Ayala, the second officer to arrive that night, noticed Officer Smith had Zimmerman in custody, then observed Martin lying face down in the grass and attempted to get a response from him. At this time, Sgt. Anthony Raimondo arrived and together with Ayala began CPR. Paramedics from Sanford Fire and Rescue arrived and continued CPR, finally declaring him dead at 7:30 PM.[9]

Other officers who had arrived by this time secured the area and made contact with neighbors in the area and obtained statements from witnesses at the scene. They did not realize Zimmerman had been in a vehicle, however, so it was moved before they could seize it.[108] Zimmerman was treated and released by paramedics while still at the scene of the incident.[9][107] After placing Zimmerman in his police vehicle, Officer Smith heard Zimmerman say, "I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me."[9][109] Zimmerman was then transported to the Sanford Police Department where he was questioned by investigators for approximately five hours.[9][14]

Martin's body was taken to the morgue where he was tagged as a John Doe as he was not carrying any identification.[18] Martin's father, Tracy Martin, called to file a Missing Persons report early on February 27 and police officers arrived at his fiancée's condo with photographs of his dead son around 9:20 am.[18][110]

Witness accounts[edit]

Recordings of eight calls to the police made on the night of the shooting were released by the Sanford police on March 17, 2012.[103][112]

Witnesses in the Twin Lakes development[edit]

A witness to the confrontation just prior to the shooting stated that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and punching him, while Zimmerman was yelling for help. This witness, who identified himself as "John", stated that "the guy on the bottom, who had a red sweater on, was yelling to me, 'Help! Help!' and I told him to stop, and I was calling 911".[113] He went on to say that when he got upstairs and looked down, "the guy who was on the top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.".[113][114]

A 13-year-old boy walking his dog saw a man on the ground shortly before the shooting and identified him as wearing red.[115][116][117] His mother later disputed the testimony and claimed that the police pressured him into choosing what color the man was wearing, and that her son could not see any details in the dark. She also stated that the police waited five days before requesting to even question her son and said the lead homicide investigator told her he did not believe the shooting was self defense.[118][119]

Mary Cutcher and her roommate, Selma Mora Lamilla, appeared on AC 360 and Cutcher stated that she believes "there was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling" just prior to the shooting, but admitted that she neither saw the shooting nor the preceding altercation.[120][121][122] Cutcher and her roommate heard the pair in their backyard and a "very young voice" whining, with no sounds of a fight. They heard a gunshot; the crying stopped immediately, and they saw Zimmerman on his knees straddling Martin on the ground.[120][122] Mary Cutcher phoned police after the fatal shooting and said the black man was standing over another man, although Trayvon Martin was already dead.[123] According to the Orlando Sentinel article, "Police spokesman Sgt. Dave Morgenstern [on March 15] issued a statement disputing Cutcher's version of events, calling her statements to WFTV "inconsistent with her sworn testimony to police."[124] However, Cutcher and her roommate maintain that their account of the incident to the police did not agree with Zimmerman's, and they demanded the police issue a retraction.[121]

On March 29, 2012, an eyewitness referred to as a male said that he saw two men on the ground scuffling, then heard the shooting, and saw Zimmerman walk away with no blood on him.[125][126] The witness later appeared on CNN AC360 referred to as a female, giving more details on her account. She pointed out that she heard an argument between a younger and an older voice. The whole time she witnessed the incident the scuffling happened on the grass. She said that the larger man, who walked away after the gunshot, was on top, and that it was too dark to see blood on his face.[127]

A witness who arrived shortly after the shooting revealed photos he took that night that showed "blood trickling down the back of Zimmerman's head from two cuts. It also shows a possible contusion forming on the crown of his head". In revealing the photo to ABC News in mid-April, he noted he heard but didn't see the scuffle, but was one of the first to arrive, and was the first to talk to Zimmerman after the shooting.[13]

After the prosecutors made some discovery information available, the Orlando Sentinel quoted an eye witness statement which said a man had "witnessed a black male, wearing a dark colored 'hoodie' on top of a white or Hispanic male who was yelling for help." The witness said the black male was throwing punches "MMA [mixed martial arts] style." After hearing a "pop," he saw the black male "laid out on the grass."[128][129] When the witness was interviewed several weeks later, after giving his first statement, he thought the black male was either punching or pinning the lighter skinned male underneath him. He was no longer certain who was calling for help, having not seen their mouths in the dark. He was still certain that the black male had been on top of the lighter-skinned male.[130]

Martin's friend[edit]

According to state prosecutors and attorney Benjamin Crump, Martin was talking on his cellphone to a friend around the time of the incident, which phone company records confirm.[131][132] She was interviewed by Crump who made a statement for her, as her parents requested her anonymity, and she gave a sworn interview recorded by a state prosecutor.[131][132] Martin's friend said that he described a man as "crazy and creepy," who was on the phone watching him from a vehicle, before the man started following him.[132] The friend said that she told Martin to run to the townhouse where he was staying with his father and the father's girlfriend.[132] She said that Martin told her that he had lost the man and then noticed a couple minutes later that he was being pursued again.[133] [131][132] She then heard Martin say, "What are you following me for?" followed by a man's voice responding, "What are you doing around here?"[131][132] She said that she heard the sound of pushing,[131] and then heard Martin say what sounded like, "get off, get off," and the call ended.[132] She attempted to call him back immediately, but was unable to reach him.[134]

Zimmerman's initial detention and release[edit]

The back of Zimmerman's head at the police station.[135]

Zimmerman was handcuffed at the scene of the shooting and taken to the Sanford police station for questioning, arriving there at 7:52 p.m. according to a police video.[136] His gun, a black Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm semi-automatic pistol, taken from him at the scene, was placed into evidence.[10][137]

Zimmerman was interviewed by Investigator D. Singleton,[9][138] and sometime after 11:21 AM Crime Scene Tech D. Smith photographed his injuries and hands and used a Gunshot Residue Kit to collect GSR. Zimmerman's clothes were taken as evidence after his wife arrived with a change of clothes.[139]

Zimmerman was not given a drug or alcohol test.[12] Peter Bella, a retired Chicago Police forensic investigator, told the Washington Times, "Except for DUIs, police cannot test suspects for drugs or alcohol, unless the accused demands or consents to it, or they get a warrant".[140][141][142]

He also underwent voice stress analysis, a type of lie detector test, which he passed, and the day after the shooting he re-enacted the incident for police.[108]

According to an ABC News report, the lead homicide investigator on the case, Chris Serino, filed an affidavit the night of the incident saying he was unconvinced by Zimmerman's account and recommending charging Zimmerman with manslaughter, but was informed by State Attorney Wolfinger's office that there was not enough evidence to obtain a conviction.[16] Zimmerman was eventually released without being charged.[12]

Based on unconfirmed media reports that Wolfinger met with Sanford Chief Lee on the night of the shooting, the Martin family requested that the Justice Department investigate the State prosecutor's office. Wolfinger responded that the accusations were "outright lies" and denied that any such meeting or communication took place. Wolfinger's office reported that the Sanford police consulted with Kelly Jo Hines, the prosecutor on call the night of the shooting, but it has not been disclosed what was talked about.[143]

George Zimmerman's account of events[edit]

On the advice of his legal counsel, Zimmerman has not spoken to the media since the shooting.[144] The statements he gave to police investigators were also not publicly released until the second round of discovery was completed. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, placed his written and recorded statements on Zimmerman's defense web site on June 21, 2012.[145][146][147] Prior to the release of the statements, the only publicly available information about Zimmerman's version of the incident came from interviews with some of his family members and friends and from leaks to the news media by sources inside the investigation, and his recorded phone call to 911. According to these early reports, on the night of the shooting, and afterwards, Zimmerman described in detail for investigators what took place.[148][149][150][151]

Zimmerman said he was driving to the grocery store when he spotted Trayvon Martin walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman's father said that, while his son was not on duty that night as Neighborhood Watch captain, there had been many break-ins and he thought it suspicious that someone he didn't recognize was walking behind the town homes instead of on the street or the sidewalk. Zimmerman therefore called a non-emergency police line to report Martin's behavior and summon police.[152][153] During the call, Zimmerman told the dispatcher that Martin was "coming to check me out."[5] A source to the Orlando Sentinel said in May that Zimmerman told investigators that at one point Martin circled his vehicle,[Note 4] and he rolled up his window to avoid a confrontation.[149][154]

Zimmerman told investigators he was returning to his vehicle when Martin approached him from his left rear and confronted him.[149][150] According to Zimmerman's father, Martin asked Zimmerman if he had a problem to which Zimmerman replied "No, I don't have a problem", and while Zimmerman reached for his cell phone Martin said, "Well, you do now" or something similar,[148][150] then punched him in the face, knocking him down, and began beating his head against the sidewalk.[149][150] Zimmerman said he called out for help while being beaten, and at one point Martin covered his mouth to muffle the screams.[149][150] According to Zimmerman's father, during the struggle while Martin was on top of Zimmerman, Martin saw the gun his son was carrying and said something to the effect of “You’re gonna die now” or “You’re gonna die tonight” and continued to beat Zimmerman.[148] Zimmerman and Martin struggled over the gun, and Zimmerman shot Martin once in the chest at close range, in self-defense.[149][150][151][Note 5]

Legal experts have stated that Zimmerman's credibility could become an issue at trial, saying the case relies on jurors believing Zimmerman's account of what happened that night in February.[155]

Investigator for the prosecution Dale Gilbreath testified at the April 20 bond hearing that he does not know who instigated the fight, Martin or Zimmerman, and that no evidence disproves Zimmerman's statement that he was making his way back to his vehicle when Martin confronted him; however he questioned Zimmerman's statement that Martin was slamming his head against the sidewalk just before he shot the teenager, saying it was "not consistent with the evidence we found.[156]

Douglas Keene, a trial consultant and forensic psychologist, stated that in a self-defense case, a jury has to decide "whether or not someone can be trusted to have used good judgment. Credibility is always a paramount issue in any trial," he said. Zimmerman's claim of self-defense rests on whether the jury can trust him "as a reporter of the facts".[157]

Initial Sanford Police investigation results[edit]

On March 12, 2012, Police Chief Lee turned the investigation over to the State Attorney's office for review. [158] Lee said there was not enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman. "In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense," Lee said. "Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him." In response to criticisms of the investigation, Lee responded that "We are taking a beating over this" and defended the investigation.[159] "This is all very unsettling. I'm sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, February 26, he'd probably do things differently. I'm sure Trayvon would, too."[87]

On March 13, 2012, Chris Serino sent a capias request to the state's attorney recommending charges of negligent manslaughter against Zimmerman. [17][160][161] The capias states, "the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and waited 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". "There is no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter."[162] The State Attorney's office initially determined there was insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman and did not immediately file charges based on the capias request. [161] [11][163]

On March 16, Serino told the Orlando Sentinel that his investigation had turned up no reliable evidence that cast doubt on Zimmerman's account, that he had acted in self-defense. "The best evidence we have is the testimony of George Zimmerman, and he says the decedent was the primary aggressor in the whole event, everything I have is adding up to what he says."[164]

Zimmerman and family go into hiding[edit]

While the shooting was being investigated, Zimmerman, his wife, and his parents went into hiding due to threats they received.[144][165] Zimmerman left his job and his school expelled him, citing safety concerns.[166][49] Days before he was charged with murder, Zimmerman placed a self-created web site on the internet. The site included some brief statements from him, but no information about the night of the shooting since he said he had been advised by legal counsel not to discuss it. He also solicited donations for living expenses and legal defense costs.[167] Zimmerman's attorneys at the time, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner, said Zimmerman had created the site against their advice,[72] and when Mark O'Mara took over as Zimmerman's defense counsel shortly afterward, he took the site down and later replaced it with one in which he posts his official comments on the case. He also arranged for another site to be set up to collect donations for Zimmerman. The funds from the site are overseen by an independent third party.[77] Zimmerman and his wife were later accused by prosecutors of not disclosing the funds raised through the first web site at his April 20 bond hearing and his bail was revoked as a result.[29]

Further investigation[edit]

On March 20, 2012, State attorney Norm Wolfinger announced that a Seminole County grand jury would be convened on April 10 to investigate the death of Martin.[168][169][170] However, after State Attorney Angela Corey was assigned to the case by Florida Governor Rick Scott on March 22, she decided that her office would choose on its own whether to press charges. "I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this, I foresee us being able to make a decision, and move on it on our own."[68]

Governor Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate the shooting[171][172] and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi confirmed that the FDLE was involved and stated "no stone will be left unturned in this investigation."[169]

On March 20, 2012, the Justice Department announced that it was opening investigations into the incident.[173] The FBI opened a parallel investigation into whether Martin's civil rights were violated, interviewed witnesses, and looked into Zimmerman's background.[174]

President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters on March 23 after federal investigators were deployed to Sanford, said, "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this... If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."[175]

Court proceedings[edit]


On April 11, 2012, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.[176] Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, held a live press conference announcing the charges.[177] In Florida, that charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a minimum sentence of 25 years. Corey reported that Zimmerman had turned himself in to law enforcement and was arrested and placed in custody.[1]

Prosecution's account of events[edit]

On April 11, 2012, the State Attorney's Office filed an affidavit of probable cause in support of second degree murder charges against Zimmerman. The affidavit states that it does not contain a complete recitation of facts, but presents only the facts to support probable cause for second degree murder charges. The affidavit describes what investigators allege took place between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the shooting.[178] [179] [180] [181] [182][183][184]

The affidavit states that Martin was walking back from a nearby 7-Eleven store to the townhouse where he was living temporarily when he was "profiled" by Zimmerman.[180][181][183] Zimmerman was driving in his vehicle when he observed Martin and assumed he was a criminal, according to investigators.[180][183] Feeling that Martin did not belong in the gated community where Zimmerman lived, he called the police. He asked for an officer to respond because he perceived that Martin was acting suspicious.[149][180] The dispatcher told Zimmerman an officer was on the way and to wait for him.[178][180] In the call, Zimmerman made reference to people he felt had gotten away with break-ins in the neighborhood, and while talking about Martin, stated "these assholes, they always get away" and also said "these fucking punks".[180][182][183]

According to investigators, while Zimmerman was speaking with police, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening.[180][181][182] She said that Martin was scared because he was being followed by an unknown male and didn't know why.[180][182] Martin attempted to run home, while Zimmerman exited his vehicle and started to follow Martin.[179][182] When the dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and told him an officer would meet him. Prosecutors stated that Zimmerman disregarded the dispatcher's instruction and continued to follow Martin, then confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.[179][180][181]

The affidavit describes witness accounts of hearing people arguing, what sounded like a struggle, and calls for help that were recorded in the 9-1-1 calls to police.[180][183] Martin's mother reviewed the 9-1-1 calls and identified the voice crying for help as her son's.[185][180][183] When police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman admitted to shooting Martin in the chest.[180] An assistant medical examiner conducted an autopsy and determined that Martin had died from the gunshot.[180][183][Note 6]

Legal analysts have criticized the prosecution for over-charging Zimmerman, claiming that the probable cause affidavit does not support a charge of second-degree murder.[186][187] Harvard law profession, Alan Dershowitz, claims that the probable cause affidavit may be perjurious if Special Prosecutor Angela Corey knowingly omitted facts favorable to Zimmerman's self defense claims.[186]

During a bond hearing on April 20, 2012, Investigator Dale Gilbreath testified under oath that he did not know whether Zimmerman or Martin started the confrontation and that there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claim that he was walking back to his vehicle when Martin confronted him, however he questioned Zimmerman's statement that Martin was slamming his head against the sidewalk just before he shot the teenager, saying it was "not consistent with the evidence we found." [156][188][189] Gilbreath was one of two investigators who attested to the facts stated in the probable cause affdavit.[183]


A hearing was held on April 12, 2012, in which Judge Mark Herr ruled that the affidavit was legally sufficient to establish probable cause. Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara requested that the court documents, including witness statements and other information, be sealed. The court granted the request.[190][191] Zimmerman's arraignment was scheduled for May 29.[192] O'Mara asked for a new judge on April 16, saying Judge Jessica Recksiedler had a potential conflict of interest, and on April 18, she agreed to disqualify herself. Judge Kenneth Lester, Jr., was appointed by the chief judge to take over the Zimmerman case.[193][194][195]

A motion was filed April 16, 2012, in Seminole County Circuit Court requesting that records in Zimmerman's case file be unsealed. A group of news organizations in Florida, including the Associated Press and The Miami Herald, challenged efforts to seal the records. Information such as full police reports, autopsy reports, and transcripts of witness interviews are normally public under Florida law. "The closure order and the manner in which it was entered are contrary to law," the news organizations said in the motion.[196][197]

A bail hearing was held on April 20 and Judge Lester ruled that Zimmerman could be released on a $150,000 bond.[27] At the hearing, Zimmerman took the witness stand and told the parents of Martin he was "sorry for the loss of your son".[198][199]

Zimmerman was released on bail on April 23, 2012. He was fitted with an electronic monitoring device that revealed his whereabouts in real-time.[200]

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, waived Zimmerman's right to appear at an arraignment on April 23, 2012, and entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.[200]

On June 1, 2012, Judge Lester considered a motion by news media to have the rest of the discovery evidence released. Both the prosecution and the defense requested that many of the records be sealed, including statements given by Zimmerman to the police, but the judge said most of the evidence would be made public within 30 days.[201]

Zimmerman's bond revocation[edit]

On June 1, 2012, Judge Lester granted a motion to revoke Zimmerman's bond. The prosecution alleged that Zimmerman and his wife had misled the court by failing to reveal a large amount of money they had received through donations[29] and that they had used a "rudimentary 'code' to discuss the money in recorded jailhouse phone calls—referring to $100,000, for example, as '$100.'"[202] Judge Lester revoked the bond and ordered Zimmerman to surrender himself to the court and remain in custody until his next hearing.[28][29] On June 3, Zimmerman turned himself in to Seminole County Sheriff's Office personnel in compliance with the court's order.[31][203]

On June 11, 2012, Judge Lester issued a written ruling citing his reasoning for revoking Zimmerman's bond, stating,"This is a serious charge for which life may be imposed; the evidence against him is strong; he has been charged with one prior crime, for which he went through a pre-trial diversion program; and has had an injunction lodged against him ... Most importantly, though, is the fact that he has now demonstrated that he does not properly respect the law or the integrity of the judicial process." A new bond hearing was set for June 29.[204]

On June 18, 2012, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey released six phone calls Zimmerman made to his wife while he was in the Seminole County Jail. In the calls, Zimmerman gave his wife passwords and instructions for the transfer of funds between accounts. The funds represented money people had donated to Zimmerman's defense fund via the web.[205]

Discovery evidence[edit]

On May 14, 2012, the defense received a first round of discovery evidence, including 67 compact discs and a list of witnesses, and on May 17, much of it was publicly released. The evidence included audio and video recordings, photos, witness statements, forensic findings, and Trayvon Martin's autopsy report.[206][207] Evidence taken from Zimmerman after the shooting; his weapon, bullets, clothes, a DNA sample, medical records and his cell phone data were also included in the discovery documents.[208] On June 21, the defense publicly released additional audio and video discovery materials. [209]

Among the documents released in May was the prosecution's witness list that included 50 possible law enforcement officers, including 28 officers from the Sanford Police Department, 28 civilian witnesses, including members of Martin's family, two of Zimmerman's friends and his father, Robert Zimmerman. Police technicians in biological and DNA evidence, trace evidence, gunshot residue, fingerprints and firearms, two FBI agents, and two audio technicians were also listed as potential prosecution witnesses.[210]

On June 21, 2012, the prosecution released recordings of two 911 telephone calls placed by Martin's father the morning after the shooting. In the calls, Mr. Martin expressed worry that his son had not returned home, and he inquired about filing a missing person report.[211] On the day the 911 calls were released, the defense released audio and video recordings of Zimmerman's police interviews and reenactment following the shooting.[212]

On June 26, 2012, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey released more evidence including a police report previously released, but not redacted in some areas as before. The report contains the results of Zimmerman's voice stress test[213] , along with Zimmerman's account of the events and written statements.[214]

Martin's autopsy report[edit]

The Volusia County medical examiner found that Martin was killed by an injury resulting from a single gunshot fired at "intermediate range," between 1 and 18 inches according to a forensic expert. [215] The autopsy also found that Martin had one small abrasion on his left ring finger below the knuckle. No other injuries were found on Martin's body at the time of his death. [215]

The autopsy report stated that Martin had trace levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his blood and urine.[216][217] The toxicology report found the levels to be 1.5 nanograms/ml of THC and 7.3 nanograms/ml of THC-COOH, a metabolite of THC that can stay in the system for weeks after cannabis has been smoked.[216][217] Larry Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science stated that the THC amount was so low that it may have been ingested days earlier and played no role in Martin's behavior. "This kind of level can be seen days after somebody smokes".[218]

Screams for help on 911 recordings[edit]

The discovery documents include FBI reports stating that analysts were unable to determine whose voice is heard crying out for help in 911 calls, citing poor audio quality and the “extreme emotional state” of the person screaming. [219][220]

According to police reports included in the discovery documents, after listening to audio recordings of the 911 calls, Martin's father, Tracy Martin, told police investigators that it was not Trayvon Martin's voice calling for help.[219] Martin has since told reporters he was uncertain at that time, but that when he heard an enhanced recording on March 16 he was convinced it was his son calling for help.[221] In an interview with prosecutors on March 19, Zimmerman's father identified the screams as George Zimmerman's, stating, "There is no doubt who is yelling for help. It is absolutely my son." [221]

Zimmerman's injuries[edit]

The first round of discovery documents included police reports that state Zimmerman "appeared to have a broken and a bloody nose and swelling of his face". According to police reports, Zimmerman was offered three chances to be taken to the hospital, but Zimmerman declined each time.[219] ABC News reported that a medical report compiled by the family physician of George Zimmerman showed that, following the altercation with Martin, Zimmerman was diagnosed with a closed fracture of his nose, two black eyes, lacerations to the back of his head, a minor back injury, and bruising in his upper lip and cheek. [222]

Zimmerman's recorded interviews and reenactment[edit]

On June 21, 2012, Zimmerman's attorneys released audiotapes of several interviews he had with police shortly after the shooting. Also included were Zimmerman's written statement of February 26, 2012, and video recordings of his reenactment of the incident and a voice stress test that he passed.[223][212][224][209]

In the interviews, Zimmerman says he took note of Martin because he was near a home that he had previously called police about. He also said "he was just walking casually, not like he was trying to get out of the rain," and he felt "something was off" about him.[154]

Zimmerman said he left his truck to seek a street sign in order to tell the police dispatcher where he was. He told investigators that he was not following Martin but was "just going in the same direction he was" to find an address, but admitted that he had also left his truck to try to see the direction in which Martin had gone. [225] The altercation began, he said, when Martin suddenly appeared while Zimmerman was walking back to his vehicle. He described Martin at different points in the interviews as appearing "out of nowhere," "from the darkness," and as "jump[ing] out of the bushes."[225][212] Zimmerman said that Martin asked if he had a problem, he replied no, and then Martin said that he did now, and punched him.[226] As they struggled on the ground, Zimmerman yelled for help "probably 50 times," he said, and then ended up with his head on a sidewalk with Martin on top of him.[212] When he tried to move off the concrete, Martin saw his gun and grabbed for it, but Zimmerman grabbed it first. He said after firing his weapon at Martin, he wasn't sure at first that he had hit him, so he got on top of him in order to subdue him.[225][212] Bystanders and police arrived shortly afterward.

Investigators pointed to some apparent inconsistencies and questionable statements in what Zimmerman told them, such as that he said he didn't know the name of a street in his development. Zimmerman said in response that he had a bad memory and takes medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.[154] Investigators also questioned the extent of his injuries and why he didn't identify himself to Martin as from the neighborhood watch. Zimmerman said he didn't want to confront Martin.[212][154]

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has criticized Special Prosecutor Angela Corey's handling of the case, said he believed that the video reenactment of the incident would help Zimmerman during a trial if it were submitted as evidence and shown to a jury, but he wasn't sure that it would be. Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump pointed to the apparent inconsistencies in Zimmerman's story.[225]

Zimmerman's voice stress test[edit]

On June 26, 2012, the prosecution released the results of a voice stress test performed on George Zimmerman the day after the shooting. [227][228] A voice stress test is a type of test used to measure deceptive or psychological stress in the human voice in response to questions. [229]

Zimmerman was asked, "Did you confront the guy you shot?", to which Zimmerman answered, "No." Zimmerman was asked, "Were you in fear for your life, when you shot the guy?", to which Zimmerman answered, "Yes." [227] The examiner concluded that Zimmerman "told substantially the complete truth" in the examination, and Zimmerman was classified as "No Deception Indicated (NDI)" according to the report. [227]

Public response[edit]

An undated personal photo of Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie was displayed by protesters and sold by merchants on hoodies, T-shirts and keychains, prompting the family to trademark slogans using his name.[230]
Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a "Million Hoodie March" in Manhattan on March 21.

After the shooting, Zimmerman was criticized by the Martin family and in the media for following Martin and for carrying a weapon.[231][232][233] Sanford police chief Bill Lee stated that neighborhood watch volunteers are not encouraged to carry a gun but have a Constitutional right to do so.[87] Lee further stated, "Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred."[232] Sanford Police volunteer program coordinator Wendy Dorival, told the Miami Herald that she met Zimmerman in September, 2011, at a community neighborhood watch presentation. “I said, ‘If it’s someone you don’t recognize, call us. We’ll figure it out,’ ‘Observe from a safe location.’ Dorival said.”[87]

Protests were staged around the U.S. prior to Zimmerman's April 11 indictment on murder charges.[27] Over 2.2 million signatures were collected on a petition, created by Martin's mother, calling for Zimmerman's arrest.[231] It was the website's largest petition ever.[234]

Since Martin was killed while wearing a hoodie, hoodies were used as a sign of protest, and many cities staged "million hoodie marches" or "hundred hoodie marches." Additionally, some professional athletes, including Carmelo Anthony and the entire Miami Heat roster, tweeted photos of themselves wearing hoodies.[citation needed]

Bags of Skittles candy and cans of Arizona Iced Tea were also used as protest symbols. Martin was reported to be returning from a 7-Eleven convenience store with these items when he was shot,[96][97][235] although the beverage he purchased was actually an Arizona brand fruit drink.[236]

Walkouts were staged by students at over a dozen Florida high schools,[237] and thousands of people attended rallies around the country to demand Zimmerman's arrest.[20] Members of the Occupy movement marched in solidarity during the "Million Hoodie March."[238][239]

A number of high-profile citizens made public comments or released statements calling for a full investigation, including Reverend Al Sharpton,[175][240] Reverend Jesse Jackson,[241] and President Barack Obama,[175]

Speaking on the day of Zimmerman's arrest, Al Sharpton said, "Forty-five days ago, Trayvon Martin was murdered. No arrest was made. The Chief of Police in Sanford announced after his review of the evidence there would be no arrest. An outcry from all over this country came because his parents refused to leave it there."[242][243] Jesse Jackson also referred to Martin as "murdered and martyred."[244] And U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (Dem.), who represents Martin’s hometown of Miami, used the word “murdered” when she referred to Martin's fatal shooting. [245]

Herman Cain objected to what he called "swirling rhetoric" and "a war of words,",[246] and former NAACP leader C.L. Bryant singled out Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for being "race hustlers" who were exploiting Martin's death "to inflame racial passions." Bryant also criticized President Barack Obama for his "nebulous" comment, "If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” [247][248] Former education secretary William J. Bennett criticized what he called a "mob mentality," saying that "...the tendency in the first days by some, including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and an angry chorus of followers, was to rush to judgment with little regard for fairness, due process, or respect for the terrible death of a young man."[249]

Senior Fellow Shelby Steele at Stanford University's Hoover Institution said that the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death was being exploited by a generation of "ambulance-chasing" black leaders who have promoted "our historical victimization as the central theme of our group identity."[250]

According to Zimmerman's father, George Zimmerman received death threats after the shooting and was forced to move out of his home.[251] The New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 reward for the "capture" of George Zimmerman;[252][253] this was condemned by the city of Sanford.[252]

In parts of the U.S., various acts of vandalism, assaults, and crimes have been connected in part to alleged revenge for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.[254][255][256][257][258]

Film director Spike Lee retweeted to his 200,000 Twitter followers an erroneous Sanford, Florida, address, purported to be Zimmerman's, which forced a family out of their home to avoid harassment after they received hate mail and unwanted visits from reporters.[259][260][261] Lee was criticized for his retweet[262] and he later issued an apology for having tweeted the wrong address.[263]

Alan Dershowitz criticized the probable cause affidavit against Zimmerman as "so thin that it won't make it past the judge," calling it "irresponsible and unethical," and opined that the charges were motivated by prosecutor Corey's desire to be re-elected.[264][265] In June, Dershowitz said that Corey had contacted the dean of Harvard Law School about his remarks, threatening to sue Dershowitz for libel and slander, and the school too, and saying she wanted him to be disciplined by the American Bar Association. Dershowitz said the dean defended his remarks under academic freedom, and he commented that "[e]ven if Angela Corey’s actions were debatable, which I believe they were not, I certainly have the right, as a professor who has taught and practiced criminal law nearly 50 years, to express a contrary view." [266] [267] CNN legal analyst Mark NeJame expressed concern over Corey's threats and questioned if the prosecution of Zimmerman was for political reasons.[268]

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote "...what's often overlooked in all the heated conversations about this tragedy is the actual timeline based on police documents." He pointed to the four-minute phone conversation Zimmerman had with a Sanford police dispatcher and noted that at normal walking pace Martin had plenty of time to return to the home where he was staying by the time the call ended, yet apparently he chose not to. The shooting happened five minutes after Zimmerman first reported Martin running, but the location of the shooting was only 80 yards from Zimmerman's vehicle. Zorn continued, "[The timeline] indicates that the victim as well as the accused made some terrible choices that night...and it tells us to keep our minds open and our tempers in check, at least until some of [the] gaps get filled at Zimmerman's trial." [269]

Fox News Channel host Geraldo Rivera claimed that Martin's "gangsta style clothing" was "as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was."[270][271] Rivera was quoted saying, "I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies." [270] Faced with outrage over his statements, Rivera apologized, saying that he had "obscured the main point that someone shot and killed an unarmed teenager."[272] When a 7-Eleven surveillance video showing Martin making a purchase on the night of the shooting was released two months later, however, Rivera referred to the clothes he had been wearing as "thug wear." His comments were criticized by the Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, who compared them to people blaming rape victims for wearing short skirts [271]

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News called for restraint and urged other pundits to stop trying the case in the media. He said that the case is a "tragedy" but should not be tried in the media[273]

After Zimmerman's bond was revoked for allegedly misrepresenting how much money he had when his bond was set,[274] Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said he expected the prosecution to bring Zimmerman's credibility "front and center in this entire case."[275] Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara stated that it was a "mistake" that had "undermined his credibility, which he will have to work to repair."[276]

Alleged race issues[edit]

Allegations against Zimmerman[edit]

Chicago protestors on March 28.

Zimmerman was accused of being motivated by racism[2][134] and of having racially profiled Martin.[2][251][11][277] During early media coverage of the incident, Zimmerman's call to the police dispatcher was edited by NBC, shortened such that it appeared that Zimmerman had volunteered Martin's race. The unedited audio recording proved that the police dispatcher specifically asked about Martin's race, and only then did Zimmerman reveal that Martin was black. NBC apologized for the misleading edit and disciplined those involved.[278]

Defense of Zimmerman's character[edit]

In an open letter on March 15, 2012, Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, defended his son against allegations that his actions were racially motivated, stating that Zimmerman was Hispanic, was raised in a multiracial family, and "would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever," saying that the portrayal of his son as a racist "could not be further from the truth." According to his family, some of Zimmerman's relatives are black.[46] Zimmerman's former lawyer Craig Sonner stated that Zimmerman is not a racist, and that he had mentored black youths in the past.[279] Joe Oliver, a former television news reporter who is acquainted with Zimmerman,[280] noted "I'm a black male and all that I know is that George has never given me any reason whatsoever to believe he has anything against people of color."[281]

In early April, an anonymous letter to the NAACP, which was signed "A Concerned Zimmerman Family Member," said Zimmerman had been one of the few to take any action to protest the 2010 beating of Sherman Ware, a black homeless man, by the son of a Sanford police officer. Zimmerman reportedly distributed fliers in the black community trying to get others involved too, and helped organize a January 8, 2011, Sanford City Hall community forum to protest the incident.[282] Zimmerman's father confirmed his son's efforts on Ware's behalf.[283]

In May, the Miami Herald secured an audiotape of the January 8, 2011, Sanford City Hall community forum. On the audiotape, Zimmerman was heard criticizing the conduct of the Sanford Police Department in the Ware case. Zimmerman criticized former chief, Brian Tooley, and said Tooley had engaged in a "cover-up" and that he should lose his pension. He also said he'd been on ride-alongs with Sanford police where he found them to be lazy. The Herald also reported that it had contacted five out of six black churches where Zimmerman was reported to have distributed fliers on the Ware beating, however no one recalled receiving them.[84]

Allegations against the Sanford police[edit]

For not arresting Zimmerman, the Sanford police faced heavy criticism, protests, and allegations of racial bias.[2] The NAACP wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressing "no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation" and requesting that personnel be detailed to Sanford to review the case without bias."[11][134] Lee repeatedly defended the investigation, stating that the Sanford police did not feel they had conducted a racially biased investigation and welcomed a review of their efforts.[284][277]

Allegations were also made that the Sanford police were protecting Zimmerman.[150] Lee told reporters that they could not arrest Zimmerman because no evidence contradicted his story, and that to do so would leave the police open to litigation.[277] In regards to the 9-1-1 dispatcher telling Zimmerman that "We don't need you to [follow him],"[285] Lee said "That is a call taker making a recommendation to him. He's not under a legal obligation to do that, so that is not something we can charge him with."[11]

On March 21, 2012, three out of the five members of the Sanford city commission, including the Mayor, passed a motion of no confidence in regards to the police chief Bill Lee, and his handling of the case; however, the vote was advisory only.[286] The following day, Lee announced that he had temporarily stepped down from his position as chief of police, stating "my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process." Lee further stated, "I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks."[60] On April 23, 2012, the city of Sanford announced that Police Chief Bill Lee would resign but city commissioners voted to reject the resignation. Some commissioners had concerns about the fairness of Lee losing his job and the mayor stated he preferred to wait for the results of an investigation into Lee and his department. Lee was to remain on paid leave.[287]

"Stand your ground" laws[edit]

Self-defense laws in the United States, particularly regarding justifiable homicide, vary by state. Florida law, as of 2005, includes a "stand your ground" provision, under which a person, who reasonably fears death or great bodily harm (the ordinary deadly self-defense requirement) is relieved of the common-law requirement that one first attempt to retreat, if one can safely do so, before using deadly force.[288] In almost all states, such laws exempt people in their own homes; Florida's version extends the no-retreat doctrine to vehicles and public places. In at least 17 states, including Florida, there is no duty to retreat before using force.[289][290] After the shooting, media reports had indicated that Zimmerman would most likely use the "Stand Your Ground" provision in Florida's self-defense law. According to Durell Peaden, one of the sponsors of the Florida law, the law does not say that a person has a right to confront another. "When [Zimmerman] said 'I'm following him', he lost his defense."[291] However, the same article goes on to state, "Peaden and Baxley said they didn't know all the facts of the case, so their interpretations of what happened could change if new information arises during the investigation."[291]

According to analysis by David Kopel, Florida's Stand Your Ground Law "is legally irrelevant to [the] case", and the case turns on whether Martin initially attacked Zimmerman, or whether the initial attack was by Zimmerman attacking Martin.[292]

The Florida Statute excepts persons engaged in "unlawful activity" from protection by the Stand Your Ground provision: (3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.[293]

On March 19, 2012, Florida authorities announced they had picked 17 people to head up a task force to review the Florida statute that deals with justifiable use of force, including the stand your ground provision. It was decided that the group would hear arguments and testimony from residents at public meetings across the state and pass along recommendations to the governor and the legislature.[294]

Media coverage[edit]

Trayvon's father Tracy Martin, family attorney Benjamin Crump and mother Sybrina Fulton, at the 'Million Hoodies' protest in Union Square, New York

For the first 10 days after Martin's death, the story was covered by only the Florida media.[295] In order to bring more attention to the case, Martin family attorney Natalie Jackson sought the assistance of Orlando publicist Ryan Julison.[18]

On March 7, 2012, Reuters covered the story,[18][296] and the following day, CBS News, acting on a tip it received from the network's local bureau in Atlanta, Georgia, obtained an exclusive interview with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton that was broadcast on CBS This Morning.[295][297] Benjamin Crump, the family's attorney, who had been retained to pursue legal action and to persuade the news media to cover the case, arranged for the interview to take place.[295]

Also on March 8, The Huffington Post, The Young Turks, and, which is affiliated with NBC News, started to cover the case.[295][298][299][300] On March 9, 2012, ABC World News featured the story on their nightly broadcast.[301] CNN first reported on the case on March 12, 2012, and by the end of that week, radio hosts and bloggers were also reporting on the story.[295][302] National coverage started to increase the week of March 12 and intensified after March 16, when tapes of 9-1-1 calls were released to the public.[295][303] Having the 9-1-1 calls, which the police had previously declined to release, gave radio and TV reporters more material to report on.[295][303]

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case became the first story in 2012 to be featured more than the presidential race. According to the Project, the varying types of media have focused on the case in different ways. An article in the Tampa Bay Times wrote that, "on Twitter, people are outraged at Zimmerman and want justice, while on cable news and talk radio people are discussing the state's laws for self-defense and gun control and on blogs the focus has been on race."[304]

Aspects of coverage[edit]

Controversy over photos of Martin and Zimmerman[edit]

The Associated Press noted that initially the most widely used media photo of Martin was several years old and showed him as a "baby-faced boy," rather than as a young man in his late teens. To represent Zimmerman, the media chose a shot of a beefy 21 year-old Zimmerman taken seven years prior to the shooting, whereas recent photos show him as slim-faced and more mature. The two outdated photos chosen by the media may have helped shape the initial public perception of the shooting. The AP quoted academic Kenny Irby on the expected effect, "When you have such a lopsided visual comparison, it just stands to reason that people would rush to judgment," and another academic, Betsi Grabe, as saying that journalists will present stories as a struggle between good and evil "[i]f the ingredients are there."[305]

Reporting on Zimmerman's call to police[edit]

Economist and commentator Thomas Sowell criticized the national media for implying that Zimmerman had continued to follow Martin after the police dispatcher said, "We don't need you to do that." He said that they mostly left out Zimmerman's answer, "O.K." because "too many people in the media see their role as filtering and slanting the news."[306]

After the audio of the call was released, reports by CNN[307] and other news outlets alleged that Zimmerman had said "fucking coons" two minutes and twenty-one seconds (2:21) into the call. Two weeks later on April 4, 2012, CNN claimed that enhanced audio revealed that Zimmerman had said "fucking cold."[308] The following day, April 5, 2012, CNN's Martin Savidge reported that forensic audio expert Tom Owen claimed it was "fucking punks."[309] It is said to be "fucking punks" in the affidavit of probable cause, dated April 11, 2012.[184] Other reviewers of the call have offered alternate interpretations of what was said, including "unintelligible." According to the Associated Press, the alleged racial slur "fed growing outrage over the police department's initial decision not to arrest Zimmerman."[310][311][312][313]

Misleading audio editing by NBC[edit]

Between March 19 and March 27, 2012, the NBC Nightly News, NBC's Today show, and NBC's network-owned Miami affiliate WTVJ NBC6[314] ran segments which misleadingly merged parts of Zimmerman's call. On one version of the recording played by NBC, Zimmerman was heard saying, "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something... He's got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male."[315] In another what was played was, "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." In the original 9-1-1 recording, Zimmerman said: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about." The 9-1-1 operator then asked: "OK, and this guy, is he black, white or Hispanic?", and Zimmerman answered, "He looks black."[278] The phrase, "He's got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male" came several exchanges after that point in the conversation.

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post wrote that NBC's alterations "would more readily paint Zimmerman as a racial profiler. In reality... Zimmerman simply answered a question... Nothing prejudicial at all in responding to such an inquiry... To portray that exchange in a way that wrongs Zimmerman is high editorial malpractice..."[278]

NBC issued an apology for "an error made in the production process that we deeply regret,"[316] but never apologized on the air.[317] The network said that the Today show and Miami edits took place in two separate incidents involving different people. A Miami-based NBC News producer lost her job, WTVJ reporter Jeff Burnside was fired,[318] and two other employees were disciplined.[319][320] Lilia Luciano, who had been the reporter on some broadcasts of both versions of the audio,[315][321] was also fired.[322]

Alleged NBC Bias[edit]

Fox News newsmagazine host Geraldo Rivera, a former NBC employee, asserted that NBC "made an ideological decision that... they would argue strenuously for the prosecution of George Zimmerman and the ultimate conviction of George Zimmerman... [T]hey are cheerleading for the conviction of George Zimmerman."[323]

Surveillance video mistake[edit]

Image enhancement of a single frame of the police surveillance video (left) by the Daily Caller (middle) and by Forensic Protection, Inc. working with ABC News (right) has made two welts or abrasions visible. ABC originally said the video showed no blood or bruises.[324]

ABC News obtained a surveillance video of Zimmerman walking unassisted into the Sanford police station after the shooting. An officer is seen pausing to look at the back of Zimmerman's head, but ABC originally said that no abrasions or blood can be seen in the video.[324] The Daily Caller disputed this claim, and posted a still from the ABC video which showed the injury on the back of Zimmerman's head.[325] ABC later reported that it had "re-digitized" the video, and said that this version showed "what appear to be a pair of gashes or welts on George Zimmerman's head," but the story's main focus was on a doctor who claimed it was unlikely that Zimmerman's nose had been broken.[326][327]

Social media[edit]

Robert Mackey, a blogger at The New York Times, wrote that a "wave of vitriol" was aimed at Martin by "conservatives online" in an attempt to make Martin appear menacing by selectively highlighting images from his social media accounts. In one case an image of a different person also named Trayvon Martin in a "gangsta" pose was reprinted in conservative blogs and publications such as the Daily Caller and Michelle Malkin's blog.[328][329]


  1. ^ Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is a Hispanic from Peru. George Zimmerman’s ancestry includes an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather.[49]
  2. ^ The 46 calls from Zimmerman were erroneously reported by numerous media sources, including theOrlando Sentinel[330] andThe Miami Herald,[331] as occurring between January 2011 and February 2012. The media sources blamed a typo on the first page of the 48-page police report for their error.[87][332]
  3. ^ See The Events Leading to the Shooting of Trayvon Martin for seven aerial view depictions of various locations related to the case which include: The Retreat at Twin Lakes (1,3,4,5,6,7); home where Trayvon was staying (1,5,6); site of shooting where police found Trayvon's body (1,7); Zimmerman's home (1,3,5); 7-Eleven convenience store (1,2); main entrance, on the north side (3,4,5); pedestrian entrance (3); unfenced area used by residents as shortcut entrance (3); clubhouse (3,4,5); mailboxes (4); back entrance, on the east side (5); cut throughs (indicated by arrows) (6); shared backyard (6).[333]
  4. ^ An Orlando Sentinel source reported in May 2012 that Zimmerman told investigators that Martin "was circling" his vehicle at one point, but news stories after Zimmerman's statements to police were released reported that he said Martin "circled" his vehicle.
  5. ^ Some referenced information is from the embedded video of Robert Zimmerman's interview,[148]
  6. ^ Please see previous section, "Pre-trial", for 20 April bond hearing testimony by an investigator for the prosecution


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External links[edit]

Category:2012 in Florida Category:Deaths by firearm in Florida Martin, Trayvon Category:Media-related controversies in the United States Category:Race-related legal issues in the United States Category:Self-defense Category:Seminole County, Florida