Editor’s note: This article contains explicit language.
SANFORD, Fla. – The fatal shooting of a black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain who then went free has led to nationwide protests calling for the shooter’s arrest. Trayvon Martin’s parents, civil rights leaders and social media users alike are portraying the case as racially motivated, saying the shooter would have been arrested had he been black and the victim white.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, told police he acted in self-defense after Martin pursued and attacked him.
The case has raised a multitude of questions, some of which remain unanswered. Here are some of the facts of the case that have been established.
Q. What happened?
A. Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed Feb. 26 during a confrontation with George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman was patrolling the neighborhood when he spotted Martin, who was unarmed and walking to the home of his father’s fiancee. He was returning from a trip to the convenience store with an iced tea and a bag of Skittles. It was raining, and Martin was walking with the hood of his jacket pulled over his head. He talked to his girlfriend on a cellphone moments before the shooting.
Q. What is George Zimmerman’s side of the story?
A. George Zimmerman has not spoken publicly. He told police he spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood and called 911 to report a suspicious person.
“This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher from his sport utility vehicle. He added that the teen had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes.
“These assholes. They always get away,” Zimmerman said on a 911 call.
A neighbor said there had been several break-ins in the neighborhood in the past year, including one three doors away in which burglars took a TV and laptops.
A dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his sport utility vehicle and that an officer would be there momentarily. Zimmerman, for unknown reasons, got out.
He and Martin fought, according to witnesses. At some point, Zimmerman pulled a gun and shot Martin. Zimmerman told police he was attacked by Martin after he had given up his chase and was returning to his vehicle. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense.
Police said Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. He told police he had yelled out for help before he shot Martin.
He has not been arrested or charged.
Q. What is Martin’s family’s side of the story?
A. Much of Martin’s side of the story comes from a cellphone conversation he had with his girlfriend moments before the shooting. She was interviewed by the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, and he released much of what she said to the news media. She has not been identified.
In the interview, she said Martin told her he was being followed.
“She says: ‘Run.’ He says, ‘I’m not going to run; I’m just going to walk fast,’ ” Crump said, quoting the girl.
The girl later heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?” Another man asked, “What are you doing around here?” Crump said.
After Martin encountered Zimmerman, the girl thinks she heard a scuffle “because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech,” Crump said. The phone call ended before the girl heard any gunshots.
Q. Who is investigating?
A. Sanford Police have turned over their evidence to local prosecutors for them to decide whether Zimmerman should be charged. The prosecutors have convened a grand jury for April 10. The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation.
Q. Why didn’t police arrest Zimmerman?
A. Zimmerman claims self-defense, and Florida is among 21 states with a “Stand Your Ground Law,” which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight. The Florida law lets police on the scene decide whether they believe the self-defense claim. In many cases, the officers make an arrest and leave it to the courts to work out whether the deadly force is justified. In this case, however, police have said they are confident they did the right thing by not charging Zimmerman.
Q. What could the charges be?
A. If Zimmerman is charged, he could most likely face second-degree murder or manslaughter charges at the state level. If convicted of the second-degree murder charge, he could potentially face up to life in prison because a gun was used.
Federal prosecutors could charge Zimmerman with a hate crime if they think there is evidence he was motivated by racial bias. That charge can carry the death penalty in the most severe instances or up to life in prison.
Federal prosecutors could also accuse Zimmerman of using his official authority to violate Martin’s rights – known as a “color of law” case – but they would have to prove that Zimmerman was acting in some official capacity, similar to a police officer or government official. Zimmerman was a volunteer neighborhood watchman.
Q. What is George Zimmerman’s racial and ethnic background?
A. Police described Zimmerman as “white” in their incident report. Zimmerman’s family has said that he is Hispanic.
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