Witnesses tell conflicting stories about what happened to Trayvon Martin

May 18 2012 - 8:45am

MIAMI -- At first, the howling in the dark sounded like a dogfight. Then came cries.

"Help! Help! Help!"

No one knows who was crying out.

In a steady drizzle that February night, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were fighting for their lives -- a fact that wasn't immediately clear to the witnesses in a case that has riveted the country. Details of that night emerged Thursday as the recorded and written accounts of the shooting at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community were released, although most witness names were blacked out.

The information gathered by police and other investigators, released publicly for the first time, offers a glimpse into the demeanor of Zimmerman immediately after he shot Martin. But no one really saw what happened, their views limited by the night and fear. Some were too scared to look. Some peered out of windows from behind blinds. Some peeked but only saw figures entangled.

But there were no eyewitnesses to give a start-to-finish account of what happened the night the 17-year-old Miami Gardens teen lost his life.

One man peeked through his door. At first, he said, he thought the dispute was far away. But the yelling and fighting got louder and closer to his home. When he looked outside, he saw Martin and Zimmerman fighting as if they were in mixed martial-arts combat.

Martin appeared to be on top.

"Hey, cut it out!" the witness said he yelled.

The two kept fighting. So he ducked inside to call 911.

And then, a shot. Zimmerman's .9 millimeter handgun fired.

"It sounded like a rock hit a window," the witness said. "I've never heard a gunshot before."

He looked outside.

"The person that was actually on top at that point was laying in my grass, kind of in a sprawled position -- not moving," he said. "And then I saw another person with his hands in the air."

That was Zimmerman.

Flashlights from neighbors began to illuminate bits of the night. Police were en route. Zimmerman stood over Trayvon.

"The gun's on the ground," Zimmerman said, according to the witness. "I shot this guy in self-defense."

They appear to be his first words after the shooting.

Another neighbor whose wife had been peering intermittently at the squabble soon came outside. He shined his flashlight on Zimmerman.

"Man, I got blood on my face?" Zimmerman asked, the witness told police on the night of the shooting.

"Yeah, you got blood all over, man," the witness said he responded. "I looked over and he's got blood on the back of his head. You all right man?"

Zimmerman: "Ah, man this guy he was beating up on me so I had to shoot him." The witness asked what kind of gun Zimmerman shot.

"Did you use a 9 (mm) or a .40?" he asked.

Zimmerman: "I used a 9." Witness: "Did you call 911 yet?"

Zimmerman squatted down and, the witness said, he could see "blood on the back of his head, grass stains. And by that time I flashed my light down. And there was this kid face down in the grass."

"Can you please call my wife," Zimmerman reportedly asked him, the witness said in a follow-up interview a month later. "Let her know what happened."

The witness complied, called Mrs. Zimmerman and told her that her husband was handcuffed and being held in a shooting. Zimmerman apparently chimed in.

"Just tell her I shot somebody," the witness said Zimmerman told him.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator asked the witness later about Zimmerman's demeanor when he said he'd shot someone. The witness described it as "just quick get-to-the-point-type talk... Almost like, he just did it. Not like he was in shock. Not like: 'I can't believe I just shot somebody.' It was more like: 'Just tell my wife I shot somebody.' Like it was nothing."

Another witness in the subdivision told Sanford Police she believed Zimmerman misjudged Martin. "I think he has a temper and I think he got the crap beat out of him. He thought he could take this little 17-year old, and I think maybe he did in self defense, maybe shoot him once, but from what I am being told there was two fires... and the only one that we saw was the one that laid the kid out and killed him."

Another witness, contradicting the first, said she believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin when she peeked.

"First we heard like a howling sound," she said. "And then the second time we heard a more-clearly 'help' sound."

She said she couldn't tell who was crying out.

"At first I couldn't see anything. It was dark," she said. "The second time I looked -- I looked so many times outside I don't know which one was which ... What I remember is, it was too dark. And then a guy was on top of another guy -- and the shot."

Although she couldn't describe the men's faces, she was able to recall their physiques: "I know after seeing the TV of what's happening -- comparing their pictures -- I think Zimmerman is definitely on top because of his size."

One witness in the case, a girlfriend of Martin's, was nowhere near the scene. She was on the phone with him, calling from South Florida. The girlfriend told prosecutors the two were talking when Trayvon encountered Zimmerman.

"He was telling me that there was a man watching him," she said, according to the records. She said Martin told her he was walking away. The phone disconnected. She called back.

"He said he is walking and this man is still following him behind in the car," she said. "He put his hoodie on."

She couldn't hear much more.

"He just ran," she said. "I could hear the wind blowing."

She heard the confrontation.

"Why are you following me?" she said Trayvon asked.

She said she heard the voice of a man in response, asking: "What are you doing around here?"

Soon, the phone went dead.

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(Audra D.S. Burch contributed.)

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(c)2012 The Miami Herald

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