Forensic Firearm Evidence May Solve Zimmerman Case

Posted: May 17, 2012 in criminal justice system
Tags: , , ,

article by Frederick Leatherman with special thanks to editor at Firedoglake/MyFDL for sizing the image.

Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

For reasons that follow, I believe the forensic firearm evidence will solve the Zimmerman case.

Many of you have focused instead on Zimmerman’s decision to follow Martin contrary to the dispatcher’s request and concluded that he was the aggressor. I do not believe that conclusion is supported by the evidence.

Image by Donkey Hotey.

If I were representing Zimmerman, I would argue that he was not ordered to stop pursuing Martin. The specific admonition from the dispatcher, after Zimmerman admitted that he was following Martin, was, “We don’t need you to do that.”

Plus, the dispatcher was not a police officer with a badge. He did not have the authority of a badge.

Therefore, I do not believe Zimmerman ignored an explicit police order and I do not see any unlawful conduct in carrying his cell phone while following Martin at a respectful distance to keep an eye on him in order to inform the police officer where he was after the police officer arrived in the neighborhood. Recall that he suggested the dispatcher tell the officer to call him on his cell phone when he arrived.

He had a license to carry so he did not violate any law by doing that.

Of course, a neighborhood watch coordinator from the Sanford Police Department had previously advised Zimmerman and others not to carry guns and not to contact suspects to avoid tragedies like the one that ended in Trayvon Martin’s death. This warning and the dispatcher’s admonition are relevant to consider in determining Zimmerman’s intent when he followed Martin. A jury might well reach the same conclusion that many readers have reached; namely, that Zimmerman was the aggressor because he knew he was not supposed to follow Martin.

Then again, it might not.

Zimmerman’s version of what happened is that he lost Martin and decided to return to his vehicle. As he was walking toward it, Martin approached him from behind his left shoulder and asked, “Why are you following me?”

Zimmerman said he responded, “What are you doing here?”

He claims Martin punched him in the nose, knocking him down on his back, and then jumped on top of him and started slamming his head into the sidewalk.

He also claims he yelled for help but no one responded.

Zimmerman says Martin saw his holstered gun as he was reaching for it and said, “One of us is going to die tonight.”

They struggled for the gun. Zimmerman won and shot him once in the chest.

This would be self-defense, if true.

Martin’s girlfriend says when she called him at 7:12 pm, which is verified by cell phone records, Martin told her that some guy was following him. She told him to run. Then she heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?”

She heard someone else say, “Why are you here?

Then she heard sounds that sounded like a struggle with Martin’s headset being ripped off his head and the phone went dead. She called him back but got no answer.

She confirms the two statements that Zimmerman said were made. Her opinion of what was going on after that may or may not be accurate.

A neighbor named John told the police that he saw two people struggling on the ground. The man on top was hitting the man lying on his back. The man lying on his back was wearing a red sweater and calling for help. Zimmerman was wearing a jacket with red sleeves.

John closed and locked his patio door. Then he went upstairs to a bedroom and looked out the window. The man who had been on his back yelling for help was standing and the man who had been hitting him was lying face down in the grass, apparently dead.

Therefore, he neither saw who threw the first punch, nor the relative positions of the two individuals and what they were doing when Zimmerman fired the fatal shot. We do not know how much time passed after he closed and locked the patio door until he looked out the upstairs bedroom window and we do not know how the struggle progressed. Apparently, he did not even hear the shot.

During a 911 call by another neighbor to report a fight between two men in her backyard, a loud terrified scream for help can be heard in the backyard. The scream ends suddenly with a loud gunshot that is followed by silence.

Without knowing how much time passed before John looked out his upstairs bedroom window, we cannot conclude if this scream is the same yell for help that John heard. Moreover, without questioning John, I cannot say with any confidence that he correctly identified Zimmerman as the person calling for help, even though Zimmerman claimed to have called for help.

I am inclined to believe that it is not the same scream, due to the time lapse and because Martin’s mother has identified her son as the person screaming for help.

Also, two independent forensic audiologists using different methodologies to clean-up the recorded 911 call (i.e., filter out static and background noise) have compared the scream to Zimmerman’s voice on his call to the police. To a reasonable scientific certainty, they excluded him as the source of the scream for help.

Nevertheless, Zimmerman and his father have identified him as the person calling for help.

Let’s temporarily disregard what everyone said and focus on that 911 call with the scream for help in the background.

I have three questions:

1. How could a mother not know her son’s terrified scream for help?

2. Why would a man with a gun in his hand be desperately screaming for help and suddenly stop screaming at the precise instant the shot is fired?

3. How could two experts working independently of each other using different forensic methodologies and reaching the same conclusion to a reasonable scientific certainty be wrong?

Finally, consider the shot itself. It was fired from an intermediate distance, which is anywhere from 0.5 centimeters to 1 meter. I am confident the forensic firearm experts have already performed the standard experiments that I have described elsewhere in a comment on my previous article, but we do not yet know the results.

They will be able to say to a reasonable scientific certainty where within that range the gun was when the fatal shot was fired.

Using a steel rod and a photograph, the Assistant Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy will be able demonstrate the path of the bullet after it entered the body. The firearms expert will be able make a mark on the steel rod in that photograph showing the location of the muzzle when Zimmerman fired the fatal shot.

When we see that demonstration, we will likely know if Zimmerman lied or told the truth.

Given what he said, I was expecting a contact or near contact wound. Depending on the fine tuning, an intermediate or close range wound is consistent with a scenario in which the two individuals have separated.

That contradicts Zimmerman’s story because in that situation his use of deadly force would not be necessary since he would not be in imminent danger of death or grievous bodily injury.

Stay tuned.

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