Neighbors Give Dueling Accounts of Who Was on Top Before Trayvon Martin Was Shot


Video via The Orlando Sentinel

Several of George Zimmerman's neighbors—all prosecution witnesses—have testified in his murder trial this week, giving conflicting accounts that confirm or contradict his version of the fight that ended in Trayvon Martin's death.

Jayne Surdyka, who testified on Wednesday, said she heard two voices that night, one "louder" and "dominating," the other "higher pitched." She saw two men wrestling, she said, and she heard two cries for help. "In my opinion," she said, "I truly believe especially the second yell for help—it was like a yelp, it was excruciating—I really felt like it was a boy's voice." Somewhat undermining her credibility, Surdyka said she heard three gunshots, when in fact only one was fired. 

Jeannee Manalo, who also testified on Wednesday, said she heard "howling" and a cry for help. Looking outside, she said, she saw two men fighting, with the larger man on top of the smaller man. Based on subsequent news reports, she concluded that the man on top was Zimmerman. "I believe it was Zimmerman," she said, "comparing the size of their bodies." Although Martin was four inches taller than Zimmerman, at the time Zimmerman outweighed Martin by 20 pounds.

Selma Mora, who testified yesterday, said she looked outside after hearing a cry and what sounded like "the thump of a child falling," then saw two men scuffling on the ground. She asked what was going on, she said, and the man on top, who was wearing "some sort of a pattern between blacks and reds" (which sounds like the jacket Zimmerman was wearing), asked her to call the police. She said she heard a gunshot, then saw the man on top get up and pace back and forth, putting a hand to his forehead. The man on the bottom was lying face down. 

Jenna Lauer, who also testified yesterday, said she heard an exchange between two people, followed by a scuffling sound "like sneakers on pavement and grass." Before the gunshot, she heard screams, but she could not say whose they were. "It just sounded like they were desperate," Lauer said. "Whoever it was really needed help."

Video via The Orlando Sentinel

Today the jurors heard from John Good, who said the man on top during the scuffle he saw was wearing dark clothing (Martin was wearing a charcoal-gray hoodie), while the man on the bottom had lighter skin and was wearing "white or red" (Zimmerman's jacket was red and black). Asked if he subsequently concluded that Martin was the man on top, Good said, "Correct…That's what it looked like." He described the man on top as straddling the man on the bottom and punching him, likening it to the "ground and pound" mixed martial arts technique. He said he heard someone cry for help and surmised that it was the man on the bottom.

Of these five accounts, at least two are consistent with Zimmerman's story, two clearly contradict it, and one (Surdyka's) is ambiguous and probably not very reliable. Mora's testmony may be the strongest so far contradicting Zimmerman's account of the fight, although her reference to "the thump of a child falling" is suspect. Even assuming that Zimmerman tackled Martin, it is pretty hard to distinguish the sound of a 17-year-old falling from the sound of an 18-year-old falling. Martin was over six feet tall and weighed 150 pounds—not exactly childlike. But Mora otherwise seemed confident and credible, and Manalo's testimony is consistent with hers (assuming that "larger" means heavier rather than taller).

Good, who may have had the best view of the fight, gave the strongest support to Zimmerman's story. Although he said he did not see the man on top banging the other man's head on the sidewalk (as Zimmerman has described), getting punched in the face while your head is over concrete would have much the same effect. Zimmerman's bloodied face and the wounds on the back of his head suggest that something along those lines happened at some point. Although it is possible that both Martin and Zimmerman were on top for part of the fight, Mora's claim that Zimmerman was on top right before the gunshot cannot be reconciled with Good's claim that Martin was.

We may never know exactly what happened that night, and it is entirely possible that Zimmerman overreacted and shot Martin in a panic. But Good and Mora seem about equally credible, and the clash between them surely leaves a residue of reasonable doubt as to whether the shooting was justified.

You can watch the trial here