For the first time, the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman on Monday heard the defendant, in taped police interviews, give his version of events the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, in a town house complex in Sanford, Florida, 16 months ago.
They also heard from a Sanford police officer who had once been clearly skeptical of Zimmerman’s account, saying Zimmerman seemed overly eager “to catch the bad guy,” but who in court on Monday said it had seemed that the defendant had been telling the truth.
The audio and video recordings had been made public during the discovery phase of the case and were replayed in Seminole County Court on Monday, in the second week of testimony, while the officers who had conducted the interviews, Doris Singleton and Chris Serino, were on the stand.
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder, but has claimed self-defense, while prosecutors charge that he profiled Martin, who was black, and hunted him down. Martin, who lived in Miami, had been returning from buying snacks and was staying with his father and his father’s girlfriend in the complex where Zimmerman, who is half Peruvian, lived.
The case ignited a furor because Zimmerman was not arrested in Martin’s death for six weeks.
Serino had initially suggested that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter even as the Sanford Police Department said publicly that it did not have probable cause to do so.
However, later, Serino also said he had felt pressure from some people in the department and did not believe there was enough evidence to press charges.
In the audio and video recordings of the police interviews, Zimmerman appeared and sounded calm, compliant and earnest. He had waived his right to a lawyer and said his suspicions had been raised by the sight of Martin walking in the rain on the night of Feb. 26 last year.
Burglaries had been rampant in the neighborhood, he said, prompting him to start a neighborhood watch program.
“Something was off” about Martin, he told the police.
He said he had begun following Martin in his car and then on foot.
After Zimmerman got out of his car, he said, Martin soon emerged from the darkness and punched him, knocking him to the ground, suffocating him and then repeatedly bashing his head onto concrete while menacing him with the words: “You’re going to die tonight.”
Zimmerman said he had cried for help dozens of times and then had fatally shot Martin after it seemed the teenager was reaching for Zimmerman’s gun.