George Zimmerman Case’s Newly Released Evidence Suggests No Racial Bias
In nearly 300 pages of documents and other evidence newly released by the Florida State Attorney’s Office in its second-degree murder case against George Zimmerman, Zimmerman appears at once absolved of racial animus in the killing of Trayvon Martin, but also as a man whose life has been complicated by a “hero complex” and haunted by abusive personal relationships.
The evidence includes dozens of interviews with witnesses, friends and neighbors, former colleagues and Martin’s family, all of which were conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI. Other evidence includes email correspondence between Zimmerman and members of the Sanford Police Department and an interview with Christopher Serino, the lead investigator on the case.
During Serino’s interview with FBI investigators, he recounted the report he made shortly after Martin’s February 26 killing in which he said the deadly encounter between Zimmerman and Martin was “ultimately avoidable” by Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s statements to 911 and to police investigators “make it clear that he had already reached a faulty conclusion as to Martin’s purpose for being in the neighborhood,” according to Serino’s statements to the FBI. Those statements included observations that Martin appeared suspicious and possibly on drugs,
But, according to the FBI report, Serino added that he believed Zimmerman’s actions on the night of the killing — when he saw Martin walking home from a nearby store, and began following and ultimately shot him — were motivated less by Martin’s skin color and more by a “little hero complex.”
The report states, “Serino believed that Zimmerman’s actions were not based on Martin’s skin color but rather based on his attire, the total circumstances of the encounter and the previous burglary suspects in the community.”
Still, based on previously released police reports, Serino believed there was probable cause for Zimmerman to be charged in Martin’s death. But in the hours and days after the shooting, then-Police Chief Bill Lee and State Attorney Norman Wolfinger decided against charging Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was arrested and charged 44 days after the killing and after Wolfinger recused himself from the case, when Special Prosecutor Angela Corey was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.
The FBI joined the investigation into Martin’s death after a host of prominent civil rights leaders suggested that Martin’s race may have played a role in his death. The hue and cry for justice began in Sanford, where some residents say there has been a long history of police abuses and injustices perpetrated upon black residents.
The FBI has since found no evidence that racial bias played a role in the killing, according to the records released this morning.
In interview after interview, colleagues and friends of Zimmerman said that they did not know him to harbor racially biased views. Former colleagues described Zimmerman as professional, mild-mannered and courteous. One former co-worker, who spoke with Zimmerman the day after the shooting in the lobby of their workplace, said that Zimmerman looked “absolutely devastated.” Another described him as “beat up physically and emotionally.”
But perhaps the most detailed revelations to emerge from Thursday’s trove of evidence comes from the two witnesses who appear to have had among the closest relationships with Zimmerman: a close friend and an ex-fiancé.
The friend told investigators that he met Zimmerman through Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, around 2006 or 2007. Zimmerman later helped get the man a job as a loan processor at the company where Zimmerman worked. The two would go to the firing range or to the woods behind the man’s house and squeeze off 200 to 300 rounds, he told investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Zimmerman “was not a good shot at first but improved slowly over time,” according to the friend, who said he taught Zimmerman how to shoot. The two became so close that the man presided over the Zimmerman’s wedding.
Hours after Zimmerman killed Martin, the man said he received a call from Shellie Zimmerman in which she told him what happened. Early the next morning after Zimmerman was released, the man met the couple at the Sanford Police station and took them to his home, where they would remain for upward of six weeks.
According to the report, the friend described Zimmerman as “a person with strong character but not very street wise,” and that he’d never known Zimmerman to be in a fist fight or to be prejudiced against people of other races or religions, a contention that is contradicted by evidence released in prior reports.
As Zimmerman and his wife were in hiding at the man’s house, a national furor was growing about the circumstances of Martin’s killing and what many felt was a lackluster, uninspired police investigation into his death. Massive protests erupted in cities across the country, and cable news pundits bickered over the nuances of the case.
Zimmerman himself was not unaware of the public response to his actions, according to the friend. “Zimmerman is frustrated with the New Black Panther part and is very scared of them,” the close friend told investigators. “Zimmerman is very concerned with all the negative reaction from the press and others.”
The friend, as well as a woman who told investigators that the two had been engaged, also hinted at Zimmerman’s own complicated family life. Zimmerman’s mother is Latin and from Peru, and his father is white.
Zimmerman was estranged from his mother and other members of his family, according to the report. His mother was “very strict and dominant” the friend told investigators. “His father did not discipline and did not stick up for the kids as they were abused by their mother.”
In an interview with FBI investigators, a woman describing herself as Zimmerman’s ex-fiancé, said that their relationship was tumultuous. The two met in 2001, and a year or so later became engaged. But things went down hill shortly thereafter.
“Zimmerman began to exhibit overly protective and territorial behavior,” she said. At one point he agreed to go to counseling, and did so each week for a year. Then one day as the two were driving back from a session, she said he hit her in the mouth because she was chewing gum. In a later incident that occurred after the pair had separated, the woman said that Zimmerman became physically aggressive after she refused to let him stay the night at her apartment. The two began pushing each other and at one point he pushed her to the bed, according to earlier reports.
The next day she filed an injunction against him.
In retrospect, the woman told FBI agents, Zimmerman’s relationship with his family, and his mother in particular, was the source of a lot of his torment.
At family gatherings, she said, much of the conversation centered around “financial status and material things.” Zimmerman’s mother would often talk about “marrying into white families in order to improve one’s status.” But the woman said Zimmerman never got along with his mother and that the women in his family “exercised a lot of control over” him.
At one point, the woman told investigators, after she’d gotten into a particularly heated argument with his mother, Zimmerman retaliated by turning off the electricity to his mother’s house. “[Zimmerman] locked the electrical box and departed leaving his mother without el
ectricity,” according to the report.