Zimmerman 'ignored back-off warning'
13/04/2012 - 07:22:26
Neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman followed and confronted the black teenager he is accused of murdering after a police dispatcher told him to back off, prosecutors in the US said.
Zimmerman, 28, made his first court appearance in Florida yesterday, accused of second-degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The prosecution’s case, outlined in an affidavit filed in support of the charges, appeared to contradict Zimmerman’s claim that Trayvon attacked him after he had turned away and was returning to his vehicle.
In the affidavit, prosecutors also said that Trayvon’s mother identified cries for help heard in the background of an emergency services call as her son’s.
The account of the shooting was released as Zimmerman appeared at a four-minute hearing in a jailhouse courtroom, setting in motion what could be a long, drawn-out process or an abrupt and disappointingly short one for the Martin family because of the strong legal protections contained in Florida’s “stand your ground” law on self-defence.
During the hearing, Zimmerman wearing a grey prison jumpsuit, spoke only to answer “Yes, sir” twice after he was asked basic questions from the judge, who was not in court but on closed-circuit TV. The defendant’s hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee. His hands were shackled.
He did not enter a plea – that will happen at his arraignment, which was set for May 29. Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, has said his client will plead not guilty. A bond hearing for Zimmerman will probably be held on April 20, Mr O’Mara said later.
To prove second-degree murder, prosecutors must show that Zimmerman committed an “imminently dangerous” act that showed a “depraved” lack of regard for human life. The charge carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life.
The special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, has refused to explain exactly how she arrived at the charge. But in the affidavit, prosecutors said Zimmerman spotted Trayvon while patrolling his gated community in Sanford, got out of his vehicle and followed the boy.
Prosecutors interviewed a friend of Trayvon’s who was talking to him on the phone moments before the shooting. His parents’ lawyer has said that he was talking to his girlfriend in Miami.
“During this time, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening,” the affidavit said. “The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn’t know why.”
During a recorded call to a police dispatcher, Zimmerman “made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighbourhood. Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated ’these a******s, they always get away’ and also said ’these f*****g punks’, said the affidavit.
It continued: “When the police dispatcher realised Zimmerman 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.
“Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.”
The account provided no details on the struggle other than to say that witnesses heard numerous calls for help and that Trayvon’s mother reviewed the 911 recordings and recognised her son’s cry.
Zimmerman told authorities that Martin attacked him as he was going back to his vehicle, punched him in the face, knocked him down and began slamming head against the pavement.
At yesterday’s hearing, the case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, a 39-year-old former assistant state attorney from Sanford who was elected to the bench in 2010. Zimmerman is being held without bail at the county jail.
For all the relief among civil rights activists over the arrest, legal experts warned there was a real chance it could get thrown out before it went to trial because of the “stand your ground” law, which gives people a broad right to use deadly force without having to retreat from a fight.
At a pre-trial hearing, Zimmerman’s lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence – a relatively low legal standard – that he acted in self-defence in order to get a judge to throw out the second-murder charges. And if that fails and the case does go to trial, the defence can raise the argument all over again.
Zimmerman’s lawyer is expected to ask the judge for a hearing on “stand your ground”.
“It is going to be a facet of this defence, I’m sure,” Mr O’Mara said. “That statute has some troublesome portions to it and we’re now going to have some conversations and discussions about it as a state. But right now it is the law of Florida and it is the law that is going to have an impact on this case.”
Martin family lawyer Ben Crump said he wanted to make the repeal or the amending of “stand your ground” laws in Florida and other states to be a big part of Trayvon’s legacy.
“We’re not the wild, wild west,” Mr Crump said.
more stories like this:
- once per day, no spam.