George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, didn’t shoot the teenager in self-defense, a prosecutor told a jury of six women at the start of trial in Florida.
Prosecutor John Guy told told jurors yesterday how prosecutors believe Zimmerman, 29, came to spot, confront and shoot Martin, 17, point blank as he walked to the condominium of his father’s girlfriend on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.
“He profiled him as a kid about to commit a crime in his neighborhood,” Guy said. “George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him for the worst of all reasons, because he wanted to.”
Guy also promised the jurors, chosen after nine days of selection, they would hear the recording of a bystander’s emergency call to police, over which the sounds of the confrontation and the fatal gunshot could be heard.
“Listen carefully to when the screaming stops,” he said. “Trayvon Martin was silenced immediately, when the bullet passed through his heart.”
Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder, an unlawful killing without premeditation, faces as long as life in prison if he’s found guilty. He has maintained he fired in self-defense after Martin punched him in the nose, knocked him down and banged his head on the pavement.
The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a man whose father is white and mother Hispanic prompted rallies and protests across the U.S. and elicited a comment from President Barack Obama that if he had a son, that child would have looked like Martin.
Defense lawyer Don West told jurors yesterday that Zimmerman isn’t guilty of murder and called the killing a “sad case.”
“He shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after being viciously attacked,” West said. “There are no monsters.”
West played the bystander’s emergency call to police that Guy had referred to. In contrast to Guy’s narrative, West told the all-female panel that Zimmerman cried for help, then fired his loaded handgun into Martin’s chest. After Martin fell forward, Zimmerman climbed on top of him, by which time witnesses had arrived.
“They saw Trayvon Martin face down and they saw Zimmerman on top of him,” the attorney said. Sanford police found Martin face down with a bullet wound to the chest.
Early in his opening statement, West tried to make light of the difficulty in seating a jury unfamiliar with the news of the shooting.
“Knock knock” he said. “Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? Good, you’re on the jury.” The panel, West acknowledged, wasn’t amused.
The trial, presided over by Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, might last as long as three weeks.
The encounter with Zimmerman happened as Martin was walking through a gated community, carrying a can of iced tea, a bag of Skittles candy and $40.
Tensions over the incident were stoked by the decision of then-Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee not to arrest Zimmerman. The murder charge was announced April 11, 2012, by special prosecutor Angela Corey. “We did not come to this decision lightly,” she told reporters at the time.
The state’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows individuals to use deadly force in a public place if they “reasonably” believe they face “great bodily harm,” prevented police from making an arrest in the case, officials said at the time. Before the law was adopted in 2005, people were expected to retreat from a threatening situation if possible.
Zimmerman opted not to request a hearing on whether the law applies in his case, though his lawyers can still argue during the trial that it gave him immunity for his decision to shoot Martin.
There were no eyewitnesses to the killing.
Sanford, site of the shooting and the trial, is a city of about 54,000 people about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Orlando.
Prosecutors have submitted a list of 85 possible witnesses, including Zimmerman’s father and Martin’s parents. One witness is a woman who said she was on the phone with Martin at the time of his confrontation with Zimmerman. The woman said Martin told her he was being followed by a stranger and was scared.
Sean Noffke, a police emergency call operator, testified yesterday that he spoke with Zimmerman when the defendant first sighted Martin walking through the condominium complex called The Retreat at Twin Lakes.
Zimmerman said he was driving to a store around 7 p.m. when he saw Martin walking in the rain, according to recording of a police interview.
Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious person, describing Martin as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.
“Are you following him?” Noffke asked Zimmerman, according to the recording.
“Yeah,” Zimmerman responded.
“OK, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said.
“OK,” Zimmerman responded.
During the call, Zimmerman made references to people he said had committed crimes in his neighborhood and hadn’t been caught.
Asked yesterday why he didn’t order Zimmerman to stay in his truck until police arrived, Noffke said it is contrary to emergency operator policy to do so, because “they would be liable if anything happened.”
Noffke, under cross-examination by Mark O’Mara, another defense attorney, said he didn’t detect anger in Zimmerman’s tone of voice.
O’Mara also questioned whether Noffke’s asking Zimmerman to tell him what Martin was doing encouraged him to pursue the teenager.
“It’s best to avoid any kind of confrontation, to just get away from a situation,” Noffke replied.
In a police interview after the shooting, Zimmerman said he had left his vehicle to look for a street name to give the dispatcher. As he walked back to his SUV, he said, Martin approached from behind and asked whether he had a problem. Zimmerman said he told him he didn’t.
Martin said, “Well, you do now,” and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to a recording of Zimmerman’s Feb. 26, 2012, interview with police.
Zimmerman told officers he fell and that Martin got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk. A police report said Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of the head. Zimmerman said he began yelling for help “but no one would help me,” according to the incident report.
Zimmerman told police that Martin covered his nose and mouth with his hands. Martin then told him “You’re going to die tonight,” and reached for the Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm pistol that Zimmerman had holstered around his waist, according to Zimmerman.
Zimmerman said he got to the gun first and fired the hollow-point bullet into Martin’s chest.
Martin, who lived in Miami Gardens, Florida, was staying at the home of his father’s girlfriend in the neighborhood, according to police.
The case is State of Florida v. Zimmerman, 1712FO4573, Florida Circuit Court, 18th Judicial Circuit, Seminole County (Sanford).
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at email@example.com; Chris Boyd in the Sanford, Florida, courthouse
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org