Lawyers for George Zimmerman on Thursday released a series of audiotapes, videos, and written statements that the former neighborhood watch volunteer gave police the day after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager (watch a sample video below). Zimmerman, who now faces second-degree murder charges, calmly explains that he thought the hoodie-clad Martin looked suspicious, so he called police. Then, Zimmerman says, as he was walking to his truck to await a squad car, Martin suddenly "emerged from the darkness." After a brief exchange, Zimmerman says that Martin started beating him until his head "felt like it was going to explode," and the beating didn't end until Zimmerman shot Martin. Does this account from Zimmerman, who wasn't charged until the case sparked a public outcry, clear up lingering questions? Here, six takeaways:
1. Zimmerman was not unscathed
A month after the Feb. 26 killing, Sanford, Fla., police released police station security camera footage that, though grainy, showed Zimmerman with no apparent injuries, which cast doubt on his claim that he had acted out of self defense. This video, however, makes it clear that the accused murderer was indeed "bloodied and battered," says Richard Luscombe at Britain's Guardian. He has a black eye, cuts to his nose, and adhesive bandages on the back of his head, which he says Martin slammed repeatedly into a concrete sidewalk.
2. It may have been Zimmerman, after all, who was heard yelling for help on 911 tapes
At the end of March, the Orlando Sentinel reported that forensic voice identification experts it hired concluded that the final screams before the fatal gunshot — captured in a neighbor's 911 call — didn't come from Zimmerman. But Zimmerman told police the day after the killing that Martin "kept punching my face and my head," and he feared he would lose consciousness: "I couldn't breathe and he still kept trying to hit my head against the pavement." Then, Zimmerman says, he started screaming, "Help me, help me. He is killing me."
3. Trayvon Martin's dying words were "You got me"
In the video, Zimmerman says that Martin first approached him, saying, "You got a problem?" Zimmerman says he replied that he didn't, and Martin said, "You do now." The two began struggling on the ground and, at one point, Zimmerman's shirt rode up, exposing his firearm. When Martin saw that he was carrying a pistol, says Zimmerman, he reached for it and said, "You're going to die tonight." That, Zimmerman says, is when he fired the gun, once. According to Zimmerman, Martin, mortally wounded, uttered his last words: "You got me. You got it."
4. Why the first witness says Zimmerman was the one on top
One of the first neighbors to arrive after the shooting said Zimmerman was straddling Martin on the ground, not the other way around. Zimmerman told police that, during the struggle, Martin was on top of him until the gunshot. Thinking that he had missed, Zimmerman says he interpreted Martin's statement, "You got me," to mean "I give up, you've got a gun." Zimmerman says he pushed the teen off of him, sat up, and pinned Martin to the ground. At that point, Zimmerman says, he thought Martin was still a threat. "Just don't move," he recalled saying. "And he was saying something like 'Ahhhh. Ahhhh.'" Then Martin stopped struggling, and Zimmerman got up.
5. Zimmerman insists Martin started it
Despite investigators' recommendation to charge Zimmerman right away, Sanford police initially decided to let Zimmerman go free, citing Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which says citizens have a right to use force in self-defense if attacked. So it matters whether Martin really did throw the first punch, says Patrik Jonsson at The Christian Science Monitor, because "who starts an attack is key under Florida's Stand Your Ground law." Yes, and Zimmerman describes what might be called a "textbook" self-defense case, says Chris Cuomo at ABC News. But jurors may think it sounds "too perfect," as if 'he checked every box to get himself off the hook."
6. Did Zimmerman make things up?
The Martin family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, says the striking thing about Zimmerman's account is the inconsistencies between what he said before and after talking with a lawyer. Also, the detective conducting one of the interviews, Chris Serino, notes that, although Zimmerman is injured, his cuts and bruises were "not quite consistent" with the brutal beating he described. Zimmerman says he tried to deflect incoming blows, but his defensive wounds were "essentially nonexistent," Serino says. When someone repeatedly slams your head into a sidewalk, you don't merely get scrapes and cuts, says Serino: "Skull fractures is what happens with that."
Sources: ABC News, Christian Science Monitor, Guardian, Miami Herald, New York Times, Orlando Sentinel
Take a look at one of Zimmerman's accounts:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- Why Israel can no longer let the Palestinian Authority be responsible for security in the West Bank
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?
- How social conservatives became a minority in need of protection
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Why charity can't solve society's deepest problems
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Hey, Paul Ryan's new poverty plan isn't completely terrible!
Subscribe to the Week