Many questions in shooting of Trayvon Martin

Mar 29, 2012, 9:06 PM

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) – The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer has led to nationwide protests calling for the shooter’s arrest. Trayvon Martin’s parents, civil rights leaders and other people are portraying the case as racially motivated, saying the shooter, George Zimmerman, would have been arrested had he been black and the victim white.

Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense after Martin pursued and attacked him.

The case has raised a multitude of questions, many of which remain unanswered. Here are some of the answers and some of what’s not known.

Q: What happened?

A: Martin, 17, was shot and killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest Feb. 26 during a confrontation with Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community of townhomes in Sanford, Fla.

Zimmerman was patrolling the neighborhood when he spotted Martin, who was unarmed and walking to the home of his father’s fiancee. She lived nearby, though it wasn’t clear if her home was in the gated community.

Martin was returning from a trip to the convenience store with an iced tea and a bag of Skittles. It was raining, and Martin was walking with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. He talked to his girlfriend on a cellphone moments before the shooting, according to Martin’s family’s attorney.

Q: What is George Zimmerman’s side of the story?

A: George Zimmerman has not spoken publicly. He told police that he spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood and called 911 to report a suspicious person.

“This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher from his sport utility vehicle. He added that the teen had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes.

“These a——-. They always get away,” Zimmerman said on a 911 call.

A neighbor said there had been several break-ins in the community in the past year, including one in which burglars took a TV and laptops.

A dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his vehicle and that an officer would be there momentarily. Zimmerman, for unknown reasons, got out.

Zimmerman told police he lost sight of the teenager and was walking back to his vehicle when he was attacked. He and Martin fought, according to witnesses. Zimmerman said Martin punched him in the nose and slammed his head against the ground.

At some point, Zimmerman pulled a gun and shot Martin. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense.

Police said Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. He told police he had yelled out for help before he shot Martin.

He has not been arrested or charged.

Q: What is Martin’s family’s side of the story?

A: Much of Martin’s side of the story comes from a cellphone conversation he had with his girlfriend moments before the shooting. She was interviewed by the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, and he released much of what she said to the news media. She has not been identified.

In the interview, she said Trayvon Martin told her that he was being followed.

“She says: `Run.’ He says, `I’m not going to run, I’m just going to walk fast,'” Crump said, quoting the girl.

The girl later heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?” Another man asked, “What are you doing around here?” Crump said.

After Martin encountered Zimmerman, the girl thinks she heard a scuffle “because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech,” Crump said. The phone call ended before the girl heard any gunshots.

Martin’s parents said their son made the pleas for help that witnesses heard.

Q: What did Zimmerman say on the 911 call?

A: On one of Zimmerman’s calls to police that night, he muttered something under his breath that some listeners say sounds like a racial slur. Others, however, say the recording is not clear enough to determine what Zimmerman actually said.

Q: Who is investigating?

A: Sanford Police have turned over their evidence to local prosecutors for them to decide whether Zimmerman should be charged. The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation. Several members of Congress have called for the case to be investigated as a hate crime.

Q: Why didn’t police arrest Zimmerman?

A: Zimmerman claims self-defense, and Florida is among 21 states with a “stand your ground law,” which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight. The Florida law lets police on the scene decide whether they believe the self-defense claim. In many cases, the officers make an arrest and leave it to the courts to work out whether the deadly force is justified. In this case, however, police have said they are confident they did the right thing by not charging Zimmerman.

Q: What does the police video of Zimmerman show?

A: The video shows a handcuffed Zimmerman being led into the police station. It may be important for what it doesn’t show: No obvious cuts, scrapes, blood or bandages. No clearly broken nose. No plainly visible evidence of a life-and-death struggle.

Martin’s family and supporters seized on the footage to dispute Zimmerman’s claim that he shot and killed the unarmed black teenager after the young man attacked him.

Zimmerman attorney Craig Sonner said on NBC’s “Today” show the footage appears to support his client’s story in some respects.

“It’s a very grainy video. … However, if you watch, you’ll see one of the officers, as he’s walking in, looking at something on the back of his head,” Sonner said. He also noted that the police report said Zimmerman was treated before he was taken to the police station for questioning.

Q: What could the charges be?

A: If Zimmerman is charged, he could most likely face second-degree murder or manslaughter charges at the state level. If convicted of the second-degree murder charge, he could potentially face up to life in prison because a gun was used.

Federal prosecutors could charge Zimmerman with a hate crime if they think there is evidence he was motivated by racial bias. That charge can carry the death penalty in the most severe instances, or up to life in prison.

Federal prosecutors could also accuse Zimmerman of using his official authority to violate Martin’s rights _ known as a “color of law” case _ but they would have to prove that Zimmerman was acting in some official capacity, similar to a police officer or government official. Zimmerman was a volunteer neighborhood watchman.

Q: When will prosecutors decide whether Zimmerman is charged?

A: It’s unclear. A spokeswoman for the special prosecutor who has taken over the local investigation said it could be weeks before they decide. Special prosecutor Angela Corey has three options: She could present the case to a grand jury, which would decide whether Zimmerman should face charges; she could charge him without the grand jury’s review; or she could decide not to bring the case before the panel and not charge him.

Norm Wolfinger, the prosecutor who recused himself from the case, had planned to convene a grand jury to review the case April 10.

It is also unclear when the Justice Department will make its decision.

Q: What is George Zimmerman’s racial and ethnic background?

A: Zimmerman’s father is white, and his mother is Hispanic.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Many questions in shooting of Trayvon Martin