Police Dispatcher Testifies That George Zimmerman Did Not Seem Like a Man on the Verge of Violence


CBS News

This afternoon the prosecution in George Zimmerman's trial presented testimony from Sean Noffke, the police dispatcher who handled Zimmerman's call the night he shot Trayvon Martin. Both the prosecution and the defense (during cross-examination) repeatedly played parts of the call. The prosecutor sought to portray a couple of Zimmerman's comments—"fucking punks" and "these assholes, they always get away"—as evidence that he shot Martin out of "ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent," which is an element of the charge he faces, second-degree murder. Yet Zimmerman sounds calm throughout the call, and Noffke repeatedly testified that he did not find anything alarming about his manner. Noffke said people often curse during 911 calls, so he did not consider that a danger sign. 

The prosecution also portrayed Zimmerman as eager to pursue Martin, although it is unclear from the recording of the call whether he got out of his car at his own initiative or because Noffke asked him in which direction Martin was running. After we hear the sound of door chimes and wind, we hear Noffke say, "Are you following him?" Zimmerman says yes, and Noffke replies, "OK, we don't need you to do that." Noffke testified that, because of liability concerns, police dispatchers are trained to make suggestions to callers rather than issue commands. In any event, Zimmerman says "OK" in response to Noffke's suggestion. While defense attorney Mark O'Mara suggested that Zimmerman stopped at that point, the prosecution's theory seems to be that Zimmerman continued pursuing Martin after the call, provoking the confrontation that ended in Martin's death.

The problem for the prosecution is that it's hard to imagine how that could have happened, especially in light of Zimmerman's injuries, unless Martin, angry at being followed, responded violently at some point. A violent reaction in these circumstances may be understandable; it may even have been justified by a reasonable fear that Zimmerman—an armed stranger stalking him for no apparent reason—would injure or kill him. But according to the prosecution, Zimmerman was the aggressor from beginning to end, pursuing and killing Martin for no reason other than his anger at those "fucking punks," those "assholes" who "always get away," a category in which he had mistakenly placed Martin. Although it is still early in the trial, we have not heard anything yet that makes this account seem plausible. The guy in the phone call certainly does not sound like someone building himself up into a murderous rage, and if Zimmerman pursued Martin with "evil intent," why would he give a heads up to the police?

The trial recessed early today because of a dispute about whether earlier calls that Zimmerman made to Sanford police about burglaries in the neighborhood should be admitted as evidence. O'Mara objected, saying he did not see the relevance, while the prosecutor argued that the calls helped illuminate Zimmerman's state of mind on the night of the shooting. It sounded like Judge Debra Nelson expects to rule on that question soon.