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In Trayvon Martin’s Case Documents, ‘No Obvious Slam Dunk’

May 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Prosecutors released this week more than 200 pages of photos, eyewitness accounts and investigative reports in the case of Trayvon Martin's killing in Florida. The Washington Post's Sari Horwitz tells Margaret Warner that the documents bolster neither the prosecution nor the defense's case.
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, an update on the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida.

His death sparked a national debate on stand your ground laws. Yesterday, prosecutors released more than 200 pages of photos, eyewitness accounts, investigative reports and the autopsy stemming from that February night when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot an unarmed teen. The documents are accessible online.

Last month, a special prosecutor appointed by Florida’s governor charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. His trial isn’t expected to begin until next year.

Here to help us sort through the documents and their potential impact on the defense and the prosecution is Sari Horwitz, justice reporter for The Washington Post.

And, Sari, thank you for joining us.

So big picture here, this is really a treasure trove of documents and tapes. How much does it flesh out what happened that night?

SARI HORWITZ, The Washington Post: Well, it’s interesting, Margaret.

There are a lot of new details in this voluminous amount of materials that — of course we love these open record laws in Florida, which is how we were able to get this, by filing a Freedom of Information Act. And we were able to get these 200 documents and video and audio and crime scene reports.

And there are a lot of new details. For example, we saw the ballistics report that shows us exactly where Trayvon Martin was shot, the left part of his chest. We find out where the bullet went, through his heart, through his lung. It never left his body. We found out that there was close contact, that it was shot at very close range. It was like a contact shot.

There were a lot of details in the medical reports that show us that this was sort of an intimate hand-to-hand struggle. There was — from DNA, we can see Trayvon’s blood on George Zimmerman’s shirt, George Zimmerman’s blood on Trayvon’s sweatshirt, blood under Trayvon’s fingernails, all kinds of material that shows us that this was a real struggle and a fight.

And there were – there’s video and there’s photos that show that George Zimmerman was, indeed, injured. There are lacerations to the back of his head. He had a bloody nose. And Trayvon, we know from the autopsy report, has an injury on one of his fingers.

So lots of new details in the reports. But I would add that there is no obvious smoking gun, no obvious slam-dunk document that completely bolstered George Zimmerman’s account that he was shooting Trayvon in self-defense or that bolsters the state’s account for charging George Zimmerman with second-degree murder.

MARGARET WARNER: So then there were also a lot of eyewitness accounts, that is, the eyewitness accounts that the police and the investigators took. What did those add up to? Did that help bring clarity to what happened between the two of them?

SARI HORWITZ: You know, Margaret, as in many of these criminal cases, eyewitnesses see different things, they hear different things.

So in this case, you have one man that says he saw a black man on top of a white man, beating him up. And he describes the white man, what he’s wearing, a red jacket, which would be George Zimmerman. But then you have a woman who is standing in her house and looks out her window and hears, she says, a boy screaming, so, you know, two different accounts.

One person saw one man chasing another, so different accounts. It was dark, it was raining. The other thing you have is a 911 recording that recorded the screams outside. A woman called during the fight and you get the screams on tape. Trayvon’s mother says that is definitely Trayvon screaming for his life. George Zimmerman’s parents say, no, that’s absolutely George Zimmerman.

The state prosecutor, special prosecutor Angela Corey, brought in the FBI. They did an analysis which was inconclusive. They said the tape isn’t good enough for them to make a, to have come to a conclusion. So what this leaves us with, it really sums up the case, is a lot of uncertainty. It shows the difficulty in bringing closure and certainty to this very highly charged case.

MARGARET WARNER: And so, finally, briefly, what happens next in this highly charged case? Is there a hearing coming up? What’s next?

SARI HORWITZ: There is.

George Zimmerman, as everyone knows, has pled not guilty to the second-degree murder charges. And he’s in hiding. He’s out on bail. The next hearing is scheduled for August 8. George Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, has the option over the next couple of months to ask for what is called a stand your ground hearing, where he goes before a judge and says, my client shot Mr. Martin in self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground laws, which allow someone who fears for his life to use deadly force.

If he convinces a judge of this, there would be a ruling from the judge and there could be no trial. If the judge is not persuaded, then we would go on to a trial phase, which could be another year.

MARGARET WARNER: And is he — has he been arraigned?

SARI HORWITZ: There was an arraignment hearing, yes. The hearing coming up in August is – Aug. 8 — is for planning purposes, really, a scheduling hearing.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, a lot more to develop.

Sari Horwitz, thank you so much.

SARI HORWITZ: Thank you, Margaret.