Q&A In The Trayvon Martin Shooting
The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer led to nationwide protests calling for the shooter’s arrest.
Trayvon Martin’s parents, civil rights leaders and other people are portraying the case as racially charged, saying the shooter, George Zimmerman, would have been arrested had he been black and the victim white.
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Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense after Martin pursued and attacked him.
The case has raised a multitude of questions, some of which remain unanswered. Here are some of the answers and some of what’s not known.
Q: WHAT HAPPENED?
A: Martin, 17, was shot and killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest Feb. 26 during a confrontation with Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community of townhomes in Sanford, Fla., about 20 miles northeast of Orlando.
Zimmerman was driving through the neighborhood when he spotted Martin, who was unarmed and walking to the home of his father’s fiancee. She lived in the same gated community as Zimmerman.
Martin was returning from a trip to the convenience store with an iced tea and a bag of Skittles. It was raining, and Martin was walking with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. He talked to his girlfriend on a cellphone moments before the shooting, according to Martin’s family’s attorney.
Q: WHAT IS GEORGE ZIMMERMAN’S SIDE OF THE STORY?
A: On his website, therealgeorgezimmerman.com, Zimmerman has described the shooting as “a life altering event” but he says he can’t go into details about what happened.
“As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life,” he said on the site.
Zimmerman has told police that he spotted Martin as he was driving through his neighborhood and called 911 to report a suspicious person.
“This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher from his truck. He added that the teen had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes.
“These a——-. They always get away,” Zimmerman said on a 911 call.
There had been several break-ins in the community in the past year, including one in which burglars took a TV and laptops.
A dispatcher told Zimmerman he didn’t need to follow Martin after Zimmerman got out of his truck and started following the teen.
Zimmerman told police he lost sight of the teenager and was walking back to his vehicle when he was attacked. He and Martin fought, according to witnesses. Zimmerman said Martin punched him in the nose and slammed his head against the ground.
At some point, Zimmerman pulled a gun and shot Martin. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense.
Police said Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. He told police he had yelled out for help before he shot Martin.
He has not been arrested or charged, but a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the special prosecutor in the case plans to arrest and charge him. The prosecutor has announced a news conference for 6 p.m. Wednesday, but hasn’t said what information she will release.
Q: WHAT IS THE MARTIN FAMILY’S SIDE OF THE STORY?
A: Much of Martin’s side of the story comes from a cellphone conversation he had with his girlfriend moments before the shooting. She was interviewed by the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, and he released much of what she said to the news media. She has not been identified.
In the interview, she said Trayvon Martin told her that he was being followed.
“She says: ‘Run.’ He says, ‘I’m not going to run, I’m just going to walk fast,’” Crump said, quoting the girl.
The girl later heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?” Another man asked, “What are you doing around here?” Crump said.
After Martin encountered Zimmerman, the girl thinks she heard a scuffle “because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech,” Crump said. The phone call ended before the girl heard any gunshots.
Martin’s parents said their son made the pleas for help that witnesses heard.
Q: WHO IS INVESTIGATING?
A: Sanford Police turned over their evidence to a local prosecutor who then recused himself from the case. Special prosecutor Angela Corey in Jacksonville was appointed to investigate the case by Gov. Rick Scott.
Q: WHY DIDN’T THE POLICE ARREST ZIMMERMAN?
A: Zimmerman claims self-defense, and Florida is among 21 states with a “stand your ground law,” which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight. The Florida law lets police on the scene decide whether they believe the self-defense claim. In many cases, the officers make an arrest and leave it to the courts to work out whether the deadly force is justified. In this case, however, police have said they are confident they did the right thing by not charging Zimmerman.
Q: WHEN WILL THE PROSECUTOR DECIDE WHETHER ZIMMERMAN IS CHARGED?
A: Corey’s office announced Wednesday that she would hold a news conference at 6 p.m. to release new information on the case. A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that she would use the news conference to announce charges against Zimmerman.
The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation. Several members of Congress have called for the case to be investigated as a hate crime. It is unclear when the Justice Department will make its decision.
Q: WHAT CHARGES WILL THE STATE PROSECUTOR FILE?
A: If Zimmerman is charged, he would most likely face manslaughter or negligent homicide charges at the state level. If convicted, he could face a lengthy prison sentence for each charge.
Federal prosecutors could charge Zimmerman with a hate crime if they think there is evidence he was motivated by racial bias. That charge can carry the death penalty in the most severe instances, or up to life in prison.
Federal prosecutors could also accuse Zimmerman of using his official authority to violate Martin’s rights — known as a “color of law” case — but they would have to prove that Zimmerman was acting in some official capacity, similar to a police officer or government official. Zimmerman was a volunteer neighborhood watchman.
Q: WHAT DOES THE POLICE VIDEO OF ZIMMERMAN SHOW?
A: The video shows a handcuffed Zimmerman being led into the police station. Whether it shows signs of a life-and-death struggle is subject to debate. Initially, the video seemed to show no obvious cuts, scrapes, blood or bandages. But enhanced imaging of the video, conducted by news organizations, shows what appears to be scrapes on Zimmerman’s head.
Martin’s family and supporters seized on the footage to dispute Zimmerman’s claim that he shot and killed the unarmed black teenager after the young man attacked him.
Zimmerman’s former attorney, Craig Sonner, said on NBC’s “Today” show that the footage appears to support his client’s story in some respects.
“It’s a very grainy video. … However, if you watch, you’ll see one of the officers, as he’s walking in, looking at something on the back of his head,” Sonner said. He also noted that the police report said Zimmerman was treated before he was taken to the police station for questioning.
Q: WHAT IS GEORGE ZIMMERMAN’S RACIAL AND ETHNIC BACKGROUND?
A: Zimmerman’s father is white, and his mother is Hispanic of Peruvian descent.
Q: WHERE IS GEORGE ZIMMERMAN?
A: It is unclear. Zimmerman’s former attorneys say they don’t know where he is, but hinted that he is not in Florida. The law enforcement official told the AP that authorities know where Zimmerman is and will arrest him there rather than allowing him to surrender.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)