Trayvon Martin 5: My Theories on The Shooting

After George Zimmerman spotted Trayvon Martin loitering near or at the gated community clubhouse, both participants eyed each other carefully, perhaps nervously.

When Martin started running it was most likely because he was apprehensive of Zimmerman, not because he was doing anything wrong.  Zimmerman seems to have interpreted this as guilty action, that Martin had something to hide.  Remember there had been several recent break-ins.

It is not a known fact (to the public at least) that Martin was returning from the 7-Eleven; this is just one of many bits of hearsay advanced by Ben Crump, one of the Martin family lawyers.  Martin may have been to the 7-Eleven.  He may also have scored some dope, and may have been having a toke on the way home.  He also may have been surveying the houses for future yard thefts and/or break-ins.  All accounts of what he was doing prior to Zimmerman's call to police are supposition only.  The proof of one does not exclude the others.

If I were Martin, and wanting to avoid Zimmerman, I would want to stay in the well-lighted areas, while taking the most direct route home.  To maximize good lighting I would have gone straight east for about 400' to Retreat View Circle, then straight south about 400' on a (presumably) well-lit street to the front door of Brandy Green's townhouse.  Conversely, if I were afraid of Zimmerman cutting me off on Retreat View Circle with his SUV, I would want the most direct route, and would have gone straight east about 300' to the sidewalk tee, then south for about 400' along the less brightly lit sidewalk to the back door of Brandy's townhouse.  I would lean to the last possibility, because it would get Martin out of Zimmerman's line of sight sooner, and into a darker area where he is less likely to be seen.  He had a distance lead and probably was not afraid of Zimmerman catching him after the initial sprint.

The timeline makes it a certainty that Martin remained in the north end of the rows of houses, or if he went south, he doubled back to engage Zimmerman near the north end.  

What is not known is how the fight started.  I lean toward Zimmerman's allegations that Martin hit him, knocking him down.  Zimmerman had no motive to hit Martin.  All he needed was to keep him in sight until the cops arrived, which he could do simply by talking to him.  Martin, on the other hand, had not gone home, but had hid somewhere before confronting Zimmerman.  

While this is pure speculation, I see Martin as the more likely aggressor.  Zimmerman's allegations of Martin hitting him and knocking him down are supported by the police report indicating that Zimmerman had a bleeding nose, injuries to the back of his head, and a wet back as though he had been lying in the grass.

I grew up in a rough coal mining town in the middle of an oil patch.   It is hilarious to read the surmising of people who assume that George seriously outweighed Trayvon, and therefore Trayvon could not have been the aggressor.  Weight might matter in organized wrestling, but is hardly determinative in street fights which operate under less stringent rules, as demonstrated by Paul Newman in this video clip from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  

Zimmerman is not 240 pounds as Ben Crump would have you believe.  I took a screen capture of him in the cop shop, along with a screen capture of one of the officers taken as close as possible at the same spot for comparison.
While Ben Crump would have you believe that Martin was only 140 pounds, the partial police report listed his estimated weight at 160, which seems more likely from the more recent images of Trayvon I have seen.  I'm guessing they had about a 40 pound weight differential, not 100 pounds.

But the most hilarious part is that weight has little to do with it.  Mark Twain is credited with saying something to the effect that it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that counts.  I had a classmate in grade 12 (about 5'11" and 140 pounds) whose favourite weekend pastime was beating up Junior A hockey players and big, dumb rig workers.

Serious fights are nothing like the sissy stuff shown on YouTube where people flail around endlessly, basically sparring with the air.  Most serious fights I have seen, and a few I have been in, are over within 5 to 10 seconds, when one of the combatants is stunned and goes down, often due to a sucker punch.  After that it's just the victor pounding or kicking the vanquished into submission.

I've seen several two-hit fights -- the first guy hits the second guy and the second guy hits the ground, or ice (hockey), or floor (bar), sometimes out cold.

Here's a YouTube video that starts as a drunken semi-serious sparring match.  Watch the smaller guy get in a good punch at the 19 second mark, and put the big guy down.  Sometimes that punch is the first one thrown. 

A gangly teenager like Martin could easily sucker punch Zimmerman and put him down.  And I think that's what happened.

Officer Timothy Smith wrote in his incident report that after handcuffing George and removing his handgun and holster:
While I was in such close contact with Zimmerman, I could observe that his back appeared to be wet and covered in grass as if he had been laying on his back on the ground.  Zimmerman was also bleeding from the nose and back of his head.
I am somewhat suspicious of the "as if he had been laying on his back on the ground" part; it sounds contrived and offers an opinion which was not needed.  Officer Smith says nothing about whether Martin's back was wet (he was found lying on his stomach), nor does Officer Ricardo Ayala, the first officer to make contact with Martin following the shooting.

If Martin's back was wet it means nothing.  They could have rolled over each other in their struggle.  But if it was dry, it most assuredly would indicate that Martin was the agressor.

I would like to know if the bullet exited.  Neither of the two short police reports mention an exit wound, but other officers, and certainly investigators with Major Crimes would have commented on the presence or absence.  I'm an amateur metal detectorist, and if the bullet exited and was in the area of the fight it would be relatively easy to find.  A bullet in the ground near the fight would not be good for Zimmerman.  The location of an exited bullet would say much about the respective locations of the combatants when the shot was fired.

I'm inclined to go with eye witness accounts that the two were wrestling on the ground when the shot occurred, although it is not clear who was on top.  From the evidence made public it would appear that Zimmerman was on the bottom.

Regardless, the coroner or medical examiner will undoubtedly have forensic evidence on bullet trajectory which could narrow down the possible locations of Zimmerman and Martin.  Also, the powder tattoo (or lack thereof) on Martin's clothing should define distance.  I got a good laugh out of the news report stating that a funeral director had determined that Martin was not in a fight.  Since when did funeral directors become medical examiners?

There is considerable conjecture as to who was doing the screaming heard on one of the citizen 911 calls.  Zimmerman and his family say it was him; the Martin family are sure it was Trayvon.  In the end it doesn't matter (other than partially discrediting Zimmerman's account if it turns out to have been Martin).  Martin could have been on top of Zimmerman, and then seen his handgun, and perhaps Zimmerman reaching for it.  Martin could well have been screaming for his life, knowing that if Zimmerman got the handgun out, his life might be over soon.  I haven't seen anyone else advance this theory. 

There has been considerable ink wasted on who saw what that night, and who heard what.  It's mostly irrelevant because eye witness testimony is one of the least reliable forms of evidence.  Many people have been wrongly convicted of major crimes by eye witness testimony alone, and sometimes executed, before conclusive evidence clears them.  But what is recorded on the citizens' 911 calls will be evidence for the timeline of the fight just before the shooting.

I learned about the unreliability of eye witness testimony back in 1969 when I was taking a law enforcement class from an ex-RCMP officer.  As he was droning on one day, the classroom door opened, a man entered, pointed a handgun at the instructor, said something, and fired some (blank) shots (loud!)  Then he left.  The instructor then gave us about 10 minutes to write down everthing we could remember about the incident. 

Then he gathered those accounts and gave us a specific questionnaire.  What was the shooter wearing?  What was his height and weight?  What hand was the gun in?  How many shots were fired?  How long between the first shot and each suceeding shot?  Did the man say anything (if so, what?)  What did he do with the gun after shooting?  What (if anything) did he say after shooting?  What did the instructor say (if anything) before or after the shooting?  What (if anything) did any member of the class say?  How long was the gunman in the room?  You get the drift.  If you've ever been in one of these exercises you'll understand why eye witness testimony is unreliable.

From the evidence made public there is nothing to discredit Zimmerman's claim of self defence.  I don't see how the "stand your ground" rule needs to be applied.  If Zimmerman was on his back, stunned, getting pounded, and in fear that he was going to be seriously injured or killed, he would be justified in using potentially lethal force with or without a "stand your ground" law.  

One of Zimmerman's spokesmen (probably brother or father) stated that the police had George walk the site and explain his locations and actions the morning after the shooting.  This would seem logical.  And there certainly could be some officers thinking George should be charged with manslaughter, e.g.  And a prosecutor could very well look at all the evidence available at that time and decline to support the laying of a charge at that time.

The public seems to be under the mistaken impression that someone injured or killed is entitled to his/her day in criminal court.  There is no such legal principle.  The principle is that an accused is entitled to his/her day in court, to have a fair trial before being sentenced or set free.  Ethically, a prosecutor should not proceed with a case where he/she does not have a reasonable chance of securing a conviction, regardless of personal feelings of culpability.  Or politics.

Now that Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder, the Martin family should fade from the scene, because all they have asked for publicly is for Zimmerman to be arrested and charged.  If the Martin family, or more likely their lawyers, continue to make public statements then there is another agenda at work.  I will deal with this in a later post on why this particular story is deemed newsworthy.

There is nothing stopping the Martin family from seeking civil remedies against Zimmerman, and potentially the community association and the City of Sanford.  That's why Ben Crump is there; he's a civil litigator.  But the civil litigation can be planned more carefully if there is a criminal trial first.

I'd sooner be defence counsel than prosecutor on this one.  But at this point I know very little, only the small amount of evidence that is in the public domain.  That's only the tip of the iceberg; there is much more evidence that is not public.  There always is.

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