Evidence released sheds new light on Trayvon Martin case

May 18 2012 - 8:38am

MIAMI -- A trove of evidence collected for George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial was made public Thursday, including the report that shows the lead detective originally wanted to file manslaughter charges because he said the whole encounter could have been avoided with better judgment and a little dialogue.

But the cache of forensic evidence, autopsy reports, documents, audio tapes and police reports also paints a murky portrait of a fight between two people that left a teenager dead, a man facing life in prison, and a community shaken.

Some witnesses contradicted each other and others were flat wrong. Some heard two shots, when only one was fired. Some saw the man with a red shirt -- Zimmerman -- on top during the fight, and still more were convinced that it was 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who cried for help.

Ultimately, records show the Sanford Police investigator believed Zimmerman was taking a beating from Martin and cried for help 14 times in 38 seconds. But witnesses described Zimmerman as nonchalant after the killing, and two people who knew him told police that he was a racist and a bully.

Just a day after the Sanford police chief announced that no probable cause existed to make an arrest, the lead detective swore otherwise.

"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," lead investigator Chris Serino swore in March 13 statement. "There is no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter."

His conclusion: probable cause for manslaughter.

The documents made public Thursday by the state attorney's office in Duval County, which is prosecuting the case, also showed that:

--Martin's body tested positive for trace levels of marijuana

--When Martin's father first listened to the 911 police tapes, he told detectives that it wasn't his son's voice crying for help. This is a critical aspect of the case, because the state attorney's investigators cited Martin's mother's testimony that it was her son's voice as part of the probable cause affidavit in support of the charge against Zimmerman. An FBI analyst said there was no way to tell for sure whose voice it was.

--The autopsy report showed Martin had a small cut on one of his fingers.

--Pictures showed Zimmerman's nose was swollen and had two cuts on the back of his head.

--The medical records and statements from police and emergency responders show Zimmerman was hurt: His nose had been whacked hard enough for it to swell. A paramedic said Zimmerman probably needed stitches. Although he complained of feeling lightheaded and a bad back, Zimmerman declined to go to a hospital.

--Both Zimmerman and Martin wound up with the other's DNA on their clothes.

The evidence also included statements from 22 different witnesses, from residents at the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhouse development and a former co-worker of Zimmerman's who said he acted like a racist high school bully.

The witness statements include one eyewitness who said he saw a man in a red shirt getting hit by someone else. When he returned for a second look, he said the man who had been hitting the other was dead.

The documents released Thursday also include Martin's autopsy report, which showed he had a single gunshot wound to the upper chest. It also showed the 5-foot-11 teen weighed 158 pounds, smoked marijuana and had a small abrasion on his left ring finger.

Medical records previously leaked to news organizations that showed Zimmerman went to the doctor the day after the shooting with a broken nose were not included in the files made public Thursday.

Also kept from the media were cellphone records for Zimmerman, Martin and a girl Martin was chatting with in the moments before his death. In a court filing earlier this week, prosecutors said they also plan to present Zimmerman's cellphone text messages, photos and videos from the weeks after Martin's controversial death.

Zimmerman's three statements to police and the videotaped re-enactment he did for detectives the day after he killed Martin were also exempt from being made public, because Florida law says confessions are not public record.

"The most important piece of evidence is the detective saying that, if George Zimmerman would have just stayed in his car, none of this would have happened," said Martin's family attorney, Benjamin Crump. "If Zimmerman had just stood down, then he wouldn't have to plead protection under the Stand Your Ground law. But Zimmerman pursued him. He profiled Trayvon. He started this.

"And now look what happened."

The Fire Rescue report shows Zimmerman had a "small laceration on the back of his head" and a bloody nose. He also had "small abrasions" on his forehead.

"All injuries have minor bleeding," the report said.

"This is suspicious. If he had these injuries, why didn't they take him to the hospital?" Crump said.

In an interview this week with The Miami Herald, Zimmerman's father criticized special prosecutor Angela B. Corey, whom he accused of deliberately ignoring evidence that would corroborate the self-defense claim by filing a probable cause affidavit that swore to facts it's unclear the prosecution can prove.

"They went with the information they had reasonable belief that was untrue, and they swore it was true. Some day, that will come out," Robert Zimmerman said. "Someone should go to jail over that affidavit. They will be studying it in criminal justice classes for years to come."

Zimmerman is a retired magistrate from Virginia, and part of his job was to review affidavits and determine whether an arrest was merited.

He said he feared that jurors could find Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter to appease the public. He was torn about whether it would be best to have a trial -- where all the evidence would be aired out -- or have the case dismissed by a judge.

Florida's Stand Your Ground law gives Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester the right to throw out the case if he determines that Zimmerman was in reasonable fear for his life. If he does, Robert Zimmerman said, it would also offer his son immunity in a civil court.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

The deadly encounter took place Feb. 26, a rainy Sunday night when both the Oscars and the NBA-All Stars game were on TV.

Martin was riding out a 10-day suspension at the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhouse development where his father's girlfriend lives. With the adults out for the evening, Martin walked to a nearby 7-Eleven for snacks.

When Zimmerman, a crime watch volunteer, spotted Martin as he walked through the development, he called police. The complex had endured several break-ins, which witnesses had attributed to young black men who sneaked into the gated community on foot through a patch of trees in the back.

Sanford police noted that Zimmerman had called police before at least four times, always about the presence of a black male stranger.

Previously released recorded calls to police show Zimmerman got out of his car that night and started following Martin. He was out of breath and swearing profanities about how the criminals always got away.

Zimmerman claimed he was on his way back to his truck when Martin attacked him.

Videos included in the evidence include shots of Martin at the convenience store, and at the housing development's club house where his girlfriend said he spent a few minutes hiding out from the rain. Although released to the media, the video files were inoperable late Thursday and not available for viewing.

The Sanford Police Department's decision to let Zimmerman go and refer to case to the state attorney's office for further review sparked a nationwide outcry. In recent weeks public sentiment has become more divided, as the case grew increasingly contentious and opinions divided along racial lines.

Through a website, Zimmerman raised nearly $220,000 in a single month, largely from donors who believe the media rushed to judge him. He had been working in the mortgage industry and studying criminal justice at Seminole State College before the school expelled him after the shooting.

He is now free in bond, hiding at an undisclosed location.

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(Staff writers Andres Viglucci and David Smiley contributed to this story.)

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(c)2012 The Miami Herald

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