USA TODAY, April 12, 2012
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla. – Many in the public see George Zimmerman as an aggressive neighborhood watch volunteer who profiled Trayvon Martin, chased the teen and murdered him. That’s also how Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey regards him, according to court records.
The prosecutor’s first public filings shed light on the investigation as media trucks filled the parking lot of the jail where Zimmerman, who appeared in court for the first time Thursday is behind bars.
Trayvon was “profiled” by Zimmerman, who “falsely assumed (Trayvon) was going to commit a crime” as the teen was trying to get back to the home of his father’s girlfriend, according to records. The documents portray Zimmerman as the aggressor throughout the Feb. 26 incident, remarking to police at one point that people like Trayvon were “punks” causing trouble in his neighborhood.
Photographers, television crews and notepad-toting reporters made their mark across the Seminole County Courthouse and adjacent jail all day Thursday. The constant sound of photos being snapped and helicopters hovering above ceased only for a few minutes during Zimmerman’s court appearance when all fell silent.
Outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where the killing happened, a sidewalk memorial for Trayvon filled with teddy bears and notes, as well as Skittles wrappers and cans of iced tea, the snacks Trayvon was carrying when he was shot. There and in downtown Sanford, people went along their daily routines without signs of the protests that have filled the city — and the nation — for weeks.
The scenario described in court records paint Zimmerman, 28, as a man who ignored a police request to stop following Trayvon, 17. A witness said Trayvon called her and said he was “scared because he was being followed by an unknown male and didn’t know why.”
It’s an image of the confrontation that aligns with the one described for weeks by Trayvon’s parents, their attorneys and public supporters. It’s also one that has sparked dozens of rallies across the nation, fueled by the belief of many that the case is just one example of a much larger problem of racial injustice in the USA.
After spotting Trayvon on Feb. 26, Zimmerman called 911, got out of his vehicle, and followed the teen. Zimmerman then “disregarded the police dispatcher” and chased Martin as he was trying to return home, according to court records.
Zimmerman “confronted Martin and then a struggle ensued,” court records say. Prosecutors believe Zimmerman didn’t want Trayvon to “get away before the police arrived.”
Trayvon was talking to on the phone with a friend and said a man he didn’t know was following him, records say. Trayvon’s mother later reviewed the 911 calls made by nearby residents and identified the voice crying for help as Trayvon’s, court records say.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, told police he shot the black teen in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him.
At his first court appearance Thursday, Zimmerman remained mostly quiet. He shook his head and said “yes” when Seminole County Judge Mark Herr asked him questions about the charge against him. Dressed in a gray county jail jumpsuit and handcuffed, Zimmerman looked noticeably thinner and stood straight and expressionless during the brief hearing. His hair was shaved down to stubble, and he had a thin goatee.
No plea was entered, and no bail was requested.
Herr said he found probable cause to move ahead with the case and set formal arraignment for May 29.
Zimmerman’s new lawyer, Mark O’Mara asked the court to seal records pertaining to the case, and Corey agreed.
After the hearing, O’Mara, told reporters that he hoped to have Zimmerman released on bond and “to have him a place to be safe” in the next couple of weeks.
He said he decided not to ask the judge for bond as “an attempt to calm things down rather than demand a presentation of evidence that might only increase the furor.”
O’Mara told reporters he was not getting paid for his services because Zimmerman “doesn’t have any money.” Zimmerman apparently has established a website to raise money for his legal bills.
O’Mara said Zimmerman is tired.
“It’s been a very long period of time for him. He’s gone through some tribulations of his own,” O’Mara said. “He is facing second-degree murder charges right now. He’s frightened.”
The jail booking report shows Zimmerman was born in Manassas, Va., and describes several tattoos. He is being held in protective custody in a cell designed to hold two inmates that is approximately 67 square feet.
The murder charge is likely to face intense scrutiny as it is weighed against Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which police cited the night of the shooting as the reason Zimmerman was not charged in the first place. The law gives Florida citizens the right to use deadly force if they feel threatened.
Contributing: AP; Carolyn Pesce