seven witnesses against Zimmerman change their accounts
Several George Zimmerman witnesses change their accounts
By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel
5:51 p.m. EST, May 22, 2012
Evidence released last week in the second-degree-murder case against George Zimmerman shows four key witnesses made major changes in what they say they saw and heard the night he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
Three changed their stories in ways that may damage Zimmerman. A fourth abandoned her initial story, that she saw one person chasing another. Now, she says, she saw a single figure running.
They were reinterviewed in mid-March, after Sanford police handed the case off to State Attorney Norm Wolfinger. The case changed hands again when Gov. Rick Scott passed it on to a special prosecutor. Zimmerman was arrested April 11 on a charge of second-degree murder.
Here are the key ways in which their stories changed.
A young woman who lives in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community, where Trayvon was shot, was interviewed twice by Sanford police and once by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
She told authorities that she had taken out her contact lenses just before the incident. In her first recorded interview with Sanford police four days after the shooting, she told lead Investigator Chris Serino, “I saw two guys running. Couldn’t tell you who was in front, who was behind.”
She stepped away from her window, and when she looked again, she “saw a fistfight. Just fists. I don’t know who was hitting who.”
A week later, she added a detail when talking again to Serino: During the chase, the two figures had been 10 feet apart.
That all changed when she was reinterviewed March 20 by an FDLE agent. That time, she recalled catching a glimpse of just one running figure, she told FDLE Investigator John Batchelor, and she heard the person more than saw him.
“I couldn’t tell you if it was a man, a woman, a kid, black or white. I couldn’t tell you because it was dark and because I didn’t have my contacts on or glasses. … I just know I saw a person out there.”
A young mother who is also a neighbor in the town-home community never gave a recorded interview to Sanford police, according to prosecution records released last week. She first sat down for an audio-recorded interview with an FDLE agent March 20, more than three weeks after the shooting.
During that session, she said she saw two people on the ground immediately after the shooting and was not sure who was on top, Zimmerman or Trayvon.
“I don’t know which one. … All I saw when they were on the ground was dark colors,” she said.
Six days later, however, she was sure: It was Zimmerman on top, she told trial prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda during a 21/2-minute recorded session.
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“I know after seeing the TV of what’s happening, comparing their sizes, I think Zimmerman was definitely on top because of his size,” she said.
This witness lived a few feet from where Trayvon and Zimmerman had their fight. On the night of the shooting, he told Serino he saw a black man on top of a lighter-skinned man “just throwing down blows on the guy, MMA-style,” a reference to mixed martial arts.
He also said the one calling for help was “the one being beat up,” a reference to Zimmerman.
But three weeks later, when he was interviewed by an FDLE agent, the man said he was no longer sure which one called for help.
“I truly can’t tell who, after thinking about it, was yelling for help just because it was so dark out on that sidewalk,” he said.
He also said he was no longer sure Trayvon was throwing punches. The teenager may have simply been keeping Zimmerman pinned to the ground, he said.
He did not equivocate, though, about who was on top.
“The black guy was on top,” he said.
He is important because he talked with Zimmerman and watched the way he behaved immediately after the shooting, before police arrived.
After this neighbor heard gunfire, he went outside and spotted Zimmerman standing there with”blood on the back of his head,” he told Sanford police the night of the shooting.
Zimmerman told him that Trayvon “was beating up on me, so I had to shoot him,” the witness told Serino. The Neighborhood Watch captain then asked the witness to call his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, and tell her what happened.
In two subsequent interviews about a month later — one with an FDLE investigator and one with de la Rionda — the witness described Zimmerman’s demeanor in greater detail, adding that he spoke as if the shooting were no big deal.
Zimmerman’s tone, the witness said, was “not like ‘I can’t believe I just shot someone!’ — it was more like, ‘Just tell my wife I shot somebody …,’ like it was nothing.”
Those witnesses are likely to be interviewed at least once more before Zimmerman’s trial. Defense attorneys in Florida routinely question witnesses under oath as they prepare for trial.