WASHINGTON (NNPA) — Two investigators working for Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin have filed court documents saying George Zimmerman, who was arrested last week, “profiled” the Black youth in Sanford, Fla.
Zimmerman, who had been free since killing Martin on Feb. 26, turned himself in the authorities last Wednesday and was immediately charged with second-degree murder, which could land him a life sentence.
He appeared in court for the first time Thursday before Judge Mark E. Herr in Sanford, answering “Yes, sir” to two basic questions about the charges filed against him. Zimmerman, 28, is scheduled to appear back in court on May 29 at which time he is expected to plead not guilty.
The case has sparked international interest and protests. Initially, Zimmerman was questioned by police and released after he claimed to be acting under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law that provides broad protection for people claiming to be acting in self-defense. It took 45 days —and constant pressure from Martin’s family and angered protestors — to get a special prosecutor appointed to handle the case. The local prosecutor assigned to the case did not file charges against Zimmerman, but turned the case over to a grand jury.
However, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey halted that process and filed second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman.
An affidavit of probable cause filed in connection with the second-degree murder charge shed further light on evidence collected by the special prosecutor prior to filing formal charges against Zimmerman, who has a White father and a Latino mother.
“On Sunday 2/26/12, Trayvon Martin was temporarily living at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Seminole County, Florida,” said the affidavit filed by the investigators, T.C. O’Steen and Dale Gilbreath. “That evening Martin walked to a nearby 7-11 store where he purchased a can of iced tea and a bag of skittles [sic]. Martin then walked back to the townhouse where he was living when he was profiled by George Zimmerman. Martin was unarmed and was not committing a crime.”
Amplifying on the profiling claim, the investigators explained, “Zimmerman who also lived in the gated community, and was driving his vehicle observed Martin and assumed Martin was a criminal. Zimmerman felt Martin did not belong in the gated community and called the police. Zimmerman spoke with to the dispatcher and asked for an officer to respond because Zimmerman perceived that Martin was acting suspicious. The police dispatcher informed Zimmerman that an officer was on the way and to wait for the officer.”
The investigators noted that Zimmerman made reference to people he felt had committed break-ins and gotten away, saying “these —holes, they always get away” and “these f–king punks.”
Unlike Sanford police, who have been strongly criticized for the way they have handled the investigation, the special prosecutor’s investigators spoke with Trayvon’s girlfriend, who had been talking with him on the phone shortly before his death.
“During this time, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening,” the investigators stated. “The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn’t know why. Martin attempted to run home but was followed by Zimmerman who didn’t want the person he falsely assumed was going to commit a crime to get away before the police arrived. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and followed Martin. When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman’s was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him. Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home.”
The affidavit continued, “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued. Witnesses heard people arguing and what sounded like a struggle. During this time period witnesses heard numerous called for help and some of these were recorded in 911 calls to police. Trayvon Martin’s mother has reviewed the 911 calls and identified the voice crying for help as Trayvon martin’s voice.
“Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest. When police arrived Zimmerman admitted shooting Martin. Officers recovered a gun from a holster inside Zimmerman’s waistband. A fired casing that was recovered at the scene was determined to have been fired from the firearm.”
Some legal experts were surprised that Special Prosecutor Angela Corey filed murder rather than manslaughter charges against Zimmerman.
Murder requires prosecutors to prove that Zimmerman intended to kill Martin. On the other hand, manslaughter is associated with accidental deaths.
Michael Grieco, a defense attorney and former felony division chief for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, told the Orlando Sentinel that he very surprised that second-degree murder charges were filed against Zimmerman. He said, “It’s a stretch charge.”
However, those commenting on the case are not privy to what evidence the prosecution may have gathered in investigating the case.
A source close to the case told the NNPA News Service that under Florida law, a jurors will be given instructions by the judge that will allow them to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder or a lesser charge of manslaughter, which is punishable by 15 years plus another 15 years because Trayvon Martin was a minor. The murder charge carries a maximum life sentence.
“The jury can convict of a lesser charge, but had she charged Zimmerman with manslaughter, they would not have been able to increase the punishment,” the source said.
As supporters of both Martin and Zimmerman attempted to tone down emotions surrounding the case, a top official of the Southern Baptist Convention created a controversy by describing the behavior of President Obama and some civil rights leaders supporting Trayvon as “shameful.”
The official, Richard Land, said President Obama, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson “poured gasoline on the racialist fires.” According to the Associated Press, Land said the leaders were trying to use the case “to try to gin up the black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election.”
Land’s comment will not help repair the image of the organization that supported slavery and segregation. Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first Black president of the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting in June. But some Black pastors say that even with Luter expected election, the group still has difficulty shedding its racist past.