Trayvon Martin case: Jury can hear five 911 calls from George Zimmerman

The nonemergency 911 calls George Zimmerman has made to local police will help prosecutors in the Trayvon Martin case sketch Mr. Zimmerman's character for the jury. Of the 50 calls he made over eight years, five can be played in court, the judge said Wednesday.

Jacob Langston/Reuters
Defense attorneys Don West (l.), and Lorna Truett (r.), listen to testimony with George Zimmerman during Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., Wednesday, June 26.

Lawyers prosecuting the Trayvon Martin shooting case will have an opportunity to sketch a portrait of defendant George Zimmerman, now that the trial judge has decided the jury can hear five of Mr. Zimmerman's nonemergency 911 calls to police. The calls could help shape jurors' impressions of Zimmerman, who is on trial in Florida for second-degree murder, as either a seething vigilante or a stand-up community organizer.

Zimmerman is on trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin to death on the drizzly evening of Feb. 26, 2012. He had made at least 50 such calls to police over an eight-year span leading up to the shooting, to report things like slow-moving vehicles and loitering by strangers in his gated Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood here in Sanford, Fla. Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson ruled Wednesday that prosecutors can play five of the calls in court. 

Trayvon was returning to the neighborhood home where his father was staying, toting an iced tea, a bag of Skittles, and $40 in his pocket, when Zimmerman got out of his car to investigate, before a 911 dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.”

The moment before Trayvon’s death remains murky. As a result, the perceived characters of the teenager and of the defendant loom large in the trial, forcing Judge Nelson to tread carefully. More-direct investigations of Zimmerman’s and Trayvon’s characters could enter the trial, now in its third week, if either side raises issues that could be explored by the other side.

The judge has previously ruled that the jury won’t be able to consider social media interactions by Trayvon that describe pot-smoking, guns, and a fascination with martial arts fighting. The defense had said that, similarly, the 911 recordings of Zimmerman are immaterial because they don’t pertain to the moments before Trayvon was shot.

But prosecutors say the 911 calls show what they characterize as Zimmerman’s zealous, angry mind-set and “ill will.” The calls “show the context in which [Zimmerman] sought out his encounter with Trayvon Martin,” prosecutor Richard Mantel told the judge before her ruling.

The opening statement from the prosecution on Monday included a profanity-laced string of words Zimmerman can be heard syaing on a 911 recording of the moments before Trayvon was shot, including the phrase, “These [expletive] always get away.”

“He shot [Tryavon] for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to,” prosecutor John Guy said.

In testimony Tuesday, Sanford Police Department’s former community watch organizer, Wendy Dorival, added texture to the debate about Zimmerman’s character.

On one hand, she said, watch members are specifically instructed to call police and stay away from potential crimes in progress. But she also called Zimmerman conscientious and professional, and noted that she had, in fact, asked him to take part in a second neighborhood watch group because of his work organizing the unit in the Retreat at Twin Lakes.

Zimmerman, now 29, worked for an insurance company before his arrest, and had been enrolled in a law enforcement program at a local college. He aspired to be a police officer.

Zimmerman’s supporters say evidence that Trayvon aspired to be a fighter is relevant, because it could explain and corroborate Zimmerman’s version of events – that Trayvon decided to attack Zimmerman, at which point Zimmerman was within his legal right to defend himself with deadly force.

Trayvon's supporters say the teenager, in any case, was within his right to try to defend himself against an armed man following him for no reason.

Zimmerman has claimed that he got out of his car to check his location when Trayvon attacked him, broke his nose, and then began to beat his head against the sidewalk. He has said he didn’t realize Trayvon was a minor, and wasn’t sure if Trayvon was armed. He has also said Trayvon said, “You are going to die tonight” before wrestling for Zimmerman’s gun. Zimmerman says he got to the gun first, and fired a single bullet into Trayvon’s chest.

On Tuesday, the jury saw the clothes both men wore on the night of the shooting, including Trayvon’s gray hoodie, which has become symbolic of a case that has sparked fervent debate about racial profiling, self-defense laws, and the extent to which liberalized gun-access laws invite unnecessary violence.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.