Tapes released by George Zimmerman's defense yesterday present the clearest picture yet of why he claims to have believed that Trayvon Martin posed a deadly threat on the night he shot the unarmed teenager in Sanford, Florida. As was previously reported, Zimmerman told police he was heading back to his vehicle, having lost sight of Martin, when the teenager "jumped out from the bushes" and confronted him, saying, "What the fuck's your problem?" Zimmerman says he replied that "I don't have a problem," at which point Martin said, "Now you have a problem." According to Zimmerman, Martin then punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. "He was whaling on my head," Zimmerman said. In an interview recorded on February 27, the day after the shooting, Zimmerman gave his account of what happened next:
I kept yelling for help. And I got a little bit of leverage, and I started to sit up, and then he took my head and slammed it into the concrete several times….I started screaming for help, and he covered by nose with one hand and my mouth with the other one, and he told me, "Shut the fuck up!" And I couldn't breathe; I was suffocating. But when I shifted, my jacket came up and my shirt came up, exposing my firearm. And that's when he said—he sat up and looked and said, "You're gonna die tonight, motherfucker." And I saw him take one hand off my mouth and slide it down my chest. And I just pinched his arm and I grabbed my gun, I aimed it at him, and fired one shot.
It is not hard to understand why Martin, tailed by a strange man in an SUV as he walked back to the house where he was staying with his father, might have been angry and scared—maybe even angry and scared enough to attack Zimmerman in an attempt to neutralize a perceived threat. But I'm not sure the mechanics of the struggle described by Zimmerman make sense. If Martin was using both of his hands to cover Zimmerman's mouth and nose, doesn't that mean Zimmerman's arms were free to knock Martin off, or at least knock his arms away? If Martin "sat up and looked" before reaching for Zimmerman's gun, wasn't that another opportunity for Zimmerman to extricate himself? Then, too, the threat Zimmerman says Martin issued seems a little too theatrical to be real. Once the gun was exposed, wouldn't Martin simply have grabbed it instead of telegraphing his intention to do so?
While Zimmerman's story seems fishy, it may still be plausible enough to create reasonable doubt as to whether he reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent Martin from killing him. And as I've said before, the right to "stand your ground" does not enter into it, since Zimmerman claims Martin overpowered him and had him pinned to the ground, meaning he did not have an opportunity to retreat. Whether a jury will believe that is another question.
Previous coverage of the Trayvon Martin case here. The website maintained by Zimmerman's defense is here. His February 26 written description of the circumstances that led to the shooting, which seems consistent with what he said in the interview the following evening, is here.