SANFORD, Fla. — After weeks in hiding, George Zimmerman made his first courtroom appearance Thursday in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and prosecutors outlined their murder case in court papers, saying the neighborhood watch volunteer followed and confronted the Black teenager after police dispatchers told him to back off.
The brief outline, contained in an affidavit filed in support of the second-degree murder charges, appeared to contradict Zimmerman's claim that Martin attacked him after he had turned away and was returning to his vehicle.
In the affidavit, prosecutors also said that Martin's mother identified cries for help heard in the background of a call to police as her son's. There had been some question as to whether Martin or Zimmerman was the one calling out.
The account of the shooting was released as Zimmerman, 28, appeared at a four-minute hearing in a jailhouse courtroom, setting in motion what could be a long, drawn-out process, or an abrupt and disappointingly short one for many of the Martin family's supporters because of the strong legal protections contained in Florida's "stand your ground" law on self-defense.
During the hearing, Zimmerman stood up straight, held his head high and wore a gray jail jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer "Yes, sir," twice after he was asked basic questions from the judge, who was not in the courtroom but on closed-circuit TV. The defendant's hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee. His hands were shackled in front of him.
He did not enter a plea; that will happen at his arraignment, which was set for May 29.
To prove second-degree murder, prosecutors must show that Zimmerman committed an "imminently dangerous" act that showed a "depraved" lack of regard for human life. The charge carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life.
The special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, has refused to explain exactly how she arrived at the charge. But in an affidavit filed with the court, prosecutors said that Zimmerman spotted Martin while patrolling his gated community, got out of his vehicle and followed the young man.
Prosecutors interviewed a friend of Martin's who was talking to him just before the shooting. His parents' lawyer has said that Martin was talking to his girlfriend back in Miami.
"During this time, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening," the affidavit said. "The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn't know why."
During a recorded call to a police dispatcher, Zimmerman "made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighborhood. Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated 'these a------s, they always get away' and also said 'these f-----g punks,' said the affidavit, available at http://apne.ws/Itn7Nu .
It continued: "When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him. Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home."
"Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued," prosecutors said in their account. The account provided no details on the struggle other than to say that witnesses heard numerous calls for help and that Martin's mother reviewed the calls to police and recognized her son's voice crying for help.
Zimmerman told authorities that Martin attacked him as he going back to his vehicle, punched him in the face, knocked him down and began slamming head against the sidewalk.
At Thursday's hearing, the case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, a 39-year-old former assistant state attorney from Sanford who was elected to the bench in 2010. Zimmerman is being held without bail at the county jail.
For all the relief among civil rights activists over the arrest, legal experts warned there is a real chance it could get thrown out before it ever goes to trial because of Florida's expansive "stand your ground" law, which gives people a broad right to use deadly force without having to retreat from a fight.
At a pretrial hearing, Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence — a relatively low legal standard — that he acted in self-defense in order to get a judge to toss out the second-murder charges. And if that fails and the case does go to trial, the defense can raise the argument all over again.
There's a "high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case," Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby said. Karin Moore, an assistant professor of law at Florida A&M University, said the law "puts a tremendous burden on the state to prove that it wasn't self-defense."
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said his client will plead not guilty. At some point soon, the lawyer is expected to ask the judge for a hearing on the "stand your ground" law.
"It is going to be a facet of this defense, I'm sure," O'Mara said in an interview. "That statute has some troublesome portions to it, and we're now going to have some conversations and discussions about it as a state. But right now it is the law of Florida and it is the law that is going to have an impact on this case."
Martin family and their lawyer acknowledged the arrest is just a first step.
"I think that it will start the process that we are pushing for," said Martin's father, Tracy Martin, "but we can't just stop because we have an arrest. We got to keep pushing to get a conviction and after a conviction we have to certainly continue to push to get a stiff sentence."
Martin family attorney Ben Crump said he wants to make the repeal or the amending of "stand your ground" laws in Florida and other states to be a big part of Trayvon Martin's legacy. "We're not the wild, wild west," Crumb said.
As for Zimmerman, O'Mara said after the court appearance: "He is tired. He has gone through some tribulations. He is facing second-degree murder charges now. He is frightened. That would frighten any of us."
"He has a lot of hatred focused on him right now," O'Mara said. "I'm hoping that the hatred settles down now that we're moving forward." -- (AP)
ORLANDO — The family of Trayvon Martin advocated Friday for amending legislation similar to the Stand Your Ground law and redefining self-defense across several states, including Florida.
Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, shared their plans for the “Trayvon Martin Amendment” with journalists at the 2013 National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Orlando. The proposed amendment would prevent a person from claiming self-defense if he or she initiated the confrontation.
“The Trayvon Martin Amendment simply stands for the proposition that you cannot be the initial aggressor,” Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said. “You cannot start the confrontation. You cannot pick a fight and then kill the person and say ‘I was standing right by them.’ It flies in the face of common sense.”
Crump said lawmakers have shown interest in the proposed legislation, but he declined to elaborate.
Another attorney working with the Martin family, Natalie Jackson, told journalists at Friday’s news conference that they were an integral part of turning the story into a “sustainable movement.”
Fulton said she understands that reporters have to cover developments in the story, but asked the journalists to be respectful of the family.
“We’re just humans,” she said. “It might be a story to you, it might be a good story, it might be a top story, but this is our lives.”
The family said people can help their cause by signing a petition in support of the proposed amendment and continue to hold peaceful rallies and town hall meetings. Martin’s parents are working to advance mentoring programs through the Trayvon Martin Foundation, providing school supplies for students, and organizing a prayer line for victims of gun violence.
The first Trayvon Martin Invitational, a basketball tournament fundraiser for the foundation, was held last month in Harlem.
Tracy Martin also announced a weekend retreat called “Training Black Men.” It will include discussions among black males about dealing with confrontations. “Where we can get the kids together and let them know that we’re here for them, that they’re not in this fight alone and that we’ll be there for them through the duration,” Tracy Martin said.
The Washington Post reported that the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture wanted to obtain the hooded sweatshirt that Martin was wearing the night he was killed. However, the museum’s Facebook page now says it’s “not currently seeking to add Trayvon Martin’s hoodie to its collection.”
At the NABJ news conference, attorneys for the Martin family said they had no comment about the museum and are focusing their energy on significant issues such as getting the legislation.
The case, and its aftermath, has been the focal point of panels throughout the NABJ convention.
“Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered.” -- Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin
We were stunned by the outrageous not guilty verdict reached by a jury of six women in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. We have been following this case since Feb. 26, 2012 — the day unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon, who was Black, was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a white-Hispanic, Sanford, Fla. neighborhood watch captain.
With no reasonable grounds, Zimmerman assumed Trayvon was a suspicious person, disobeyed police instructions, followed him, fought with him and fatally shot him.
From the beginning, the Florida criminal justice system seemed to treat the perpetrator, George Zimmerman, with more deference and concern than the victim, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was not immediately arrested and for weeks, he hid behind Florida’s shameful “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, which allows a person to use lethal force against an assumed attacker.
Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder, but soon thereafter was released on bond. Repeated attempts to impugn Trayvon’s character and to actually put a dead boy on trial were rebuffed by the judge. But it was clear from the start that Zimmerman’s lawyers and others were basing their defense on the stereotyping of Trayvon as a dangerous, violent young Black boy who would have killed Zimmerman if Zimmerman had not killed him first.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Trayvon was a typical high-school junior who loved sports, music and aeronautics and was making plans to go to college. On the day of his killing, he was an invited guest in the community and was armed only with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. It was he who was being relentlessly followed by a stranger. He was scared, and as the outcome proved, he had every reason to be.
We are outraged by the Zimmerman verdict, and while we accept the jury’s decision under the due process of law, we want to assure Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, as well as millions of their supporters, that this is not over. The National Urban League stands in solidarity with the NAACP, the National Action Network, the Black Women’s Roundtable and others in commending the Justice Department in proceeding with its federal investigation of Trayvon’s killing for possible civil rights violations.
We beseech the Department to pursue this investigation to the fullest extent. We are also calling on the broader community to express its outrage by using social media, calling elected officials and mounting a dignified, peaceful yet robust response in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Along with our thoughts and prayers, we pledge a renewed fight in the courts, in Congress, in the media and through public engagement to end racial profiling and secure justice for Trayvon Martin — and help ensure that others like him don’t meet the same fate.
The Zimmerman acquittal, along with the recent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the continued dehumanization of young Black men in America, make it clear that civil rights activists and people of goodwill throughout this country still have a big job to do. In this year marking 50 years of civil rights progress, we must renew our commitment to building “a more perfect Union.” There is no celebration without continuation. The 21st century civil rights struggle has never before confronted us so boldly and clearly.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.
WASHINGTON — The father of Trayvon Martin has joined an effort by members of Congress to focus more attention on issues disproportionately affecting Black men and boys.
Tracy Martin was appearing Wednesday before a forum convened by Black lawmakers to discuss high unemployment, incarceration, racial profiling and other challenges faced by Black men and boys.
Martin was scheduled to give opening remarks in an informal hearing before the Congressional Black Men and Boys Caucus. Congressional caucuses such as this one are made up of members of the House who share interest in a given issue and want to focus attention on it while suggesting possible legislative responses. Caucuses range from the party of the Democrats and Republicans to special group caucuses such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Martin's appearance comes a few days after President Barack Obama made remarks identifying himself with the plight of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was shot and killed last year during a confrontation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, 29, said he fired the deadly shot at the unarmed boy in self-defense, and he was acquitted July 13 of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. The evening verdict sparked protests and calls for federal officials to charge Zimmerman with violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights. Federal officials are reviewing the case.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the congressional delegate for Washington, D.C. and one of the panel's organizers, said in a news release that it is time for the nation and African-American community "to bring our Black men and boys to center stage."
Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny Davis, co-chair of the new caucus, said the aim of the coalition is to keep highlighting issues that impact and influence the conditions of Black males and keep the issue in front of people so there will be understanding.
For example, there are few male African-American teachers in elementary and primary school, so some Black boys never see someone who looks like them involved in education, therefore they grow up perceiving education as a girl thing, Davis said.
"Fifty years after the March on Washington, it is an unfortunate fact that today young Black men are still more likely to be unemployed, to be expelled from school, to be stopped at random on the street because they have been profiled, to be sent to prison, to not have access to regular quality health care, or to have suffered gun violence," Davis stated in a news release.
The unemployment rate for Black men 20 and over was 13 percent in June compared to 6.2 percent for white men in that age bracket. The unemployment rate for Black men and women 16 to 19 years old was 43.6 percent last month, compared to 20.4 percent for white youth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Also on schedule to speak were David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans; Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson and Kweisi Mfume (kwah-EE'-seh oom-FOO'-may), former Maryland Democratic congressman and a onetime NAACP president.
Later this week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are convening a summit in Chicago to address and look for solutions to the issue of urban gun violence. -- (AP)