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Zimmerman: 13 Questions Searching for an Answer

Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog.

The shooter in a self-defense case with an unarmed victim usually claims that he thought the person he killed was armed and reaching for a weapon when he shot and killed him.

A maglite

Key questions about a flashlight and other aspects of the Trayvon Martin killing (Photo: Jared and Corin / Flickr).

GZ has not made that claim with the exception of his first “apology” to TM’s parents in court at the first bail hearing when he said he thought TM might be armed.

I have been wondering why he hasn’t been claiming all along that he thought TM was armed.

As he was sitting in his vehicle, GZ told the dispatcher that TM was reaching into his waistband as TM was approaching him. He said TM walked past the vehicle, broke into a run, and disappeared from GZ’s view. This statement set up the I-thought-he-was-armed defense.

After he shot and killed TM a few minutes later, he patted him down for a weapon, but did not find one.

He did not admit patting him down. Instead, he said TM was lying face down. He mounted him from behind, grabbed his hands, and stretched TM’s arms out to the side in a Y-position to prevent TM, who was still struggling and cursing him at that point, from reaching his (GZ’s) gun lying nearby in the grass.

We know this story is a lie because TM’s hands were underneath his body when the police arrived at the scene. Both of TM’s lungs were collapsed and he could not push any air through his vocal cords to utter a sound, much less speak a word. More important, TM would have lost consciousness and died instantly after the gunshot destroyed his right ventricle and collapsed both lungs.

A witness told the police that she saw the large man straddling the boy, who was lying face down in the grass, and running his hands up and down the boy’s back. Her description sounds like a search for weapons.

These two established facts lead me to believe that GZ thought TM was armed with some sort of weapon when he got out of his vehicle and set off in pursuit of him to prevent this particular “asshole” and “punk” from getting away like all of the others.

Because GZ believed TM was armed, I have a difficult time believing GZ did not pull his gun out of his holster before he spotted TM and approached him.

I surmise that when he realized after the shooting that TM was not armed, he decided not to claim that he believed TM was armed because such a claim would have been inconsistent with the struggle and screaming. That is, if TM were armed, he would have drawn his weapon during the fight. A claim that he believed TM was reaching for his (TM’s) weapon and he (GZ) killed him to prevent TM from killing him would not withstand scrutiny.

GZ only had a minute or two to scramble together a story to tell the police before they arrived. I think he decided to reject the I-thought-he-was-armed defense, since TM did not have a weapon, and he decided instead to go with the-psycho-Black-gangsta-Mofo-jumped-and-attempted-to-kill-me-with-his-bare-hands defense because he (GZ) had some bleeding injuries from his struggle with TM. Then he replaced the I-thought-he-was-reaching-for-his-gun narrative with the I-felt-him-reaching-for-my-gun-in-my-holster story to conceal that he had already drawn his gun before the physical encounter started.

Because he must have known that an aggressor cannot claim self-defense, he conveniently left out the part that he attacked and attempted to restrain TM. To justify using deadly force in self-defense, he claimed TM attacked him and was slamming his head against the concrete in an effort to kill him. Unfortunately for him, the wounds to the back of his head and the pattern of blood flow depicted in the photograph of the back of his head taken at the scene of the shooting disprove this scenario.

I have been wondering why GZ’s key chain and little flashlight were found next to the N/S sidewalk a few feet south of the T-intersection and close to the tree. This is Item 1 on the Total Station. The flashlight was on.

The rest of the items, including the tan 7/11 bag (Item 2), spent casing (Item 6), GZ’s black tactical flashlight (Item 5) and TM’s cell phone (Item 7) were found close to TM’s body approximately 40 feet south of the intersection.

Why is the key chain and flashlight up near the intersection instead of with the rest of the items?

I have never believed TM attacked GZ at the intersection. I suspect he was hiding in the shadows one or two houses down from the intersection talking to DeeDee on his cell phone when GZ spotted him from the intersection.

I think GZ most likely was running or jogging E/B on the cut-through sidewalk from RVC, where he went to see if TM was running S/B toward the rear entrance to the neighborhood. When he did not see him, he realized TM must have run into the area between the two rows of townhouses. He turned around and retraced his route spotting TM from the intersection.

Here are my 13 questions searching for an answer.

1. Did GZ unholster his gun when he spotted TM and dislodge or drop his key chain and flashlight?

2. Did he grab the flashlight with one hand and the gun with the other?

3. Did he need two hands to grab the gun and drop the flashlight unintentionally as he grabbed the gun?

4. Where was it?

5. Was it hooked to his belt or a belt loop on his pants?

6. Was it in a pocket?

7. Was he holding it?

8. Was it turned on?

9. Why would he risk turning it on, possibly making himself a target, if he believed TM might be armed?

10. If so, when did he turn it on and why?

11. Did he even know that he dropped it?

12. Did he run into the tree, bump and bloody his nose or did TM hit his nose during their struggle?

13. Why is GZ’s 6-inch tactical flashlight near TM’s body?

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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.

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