As jury selection begins today in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, Florida prosecutors and defense attorneys are bracing for a heated court battle that is likely to be as emotional as it is high profile.
George Zimmerman, 29, is facing second-degree murder charges for the Feb. 26, 2012 killing of high school student Trayvon Martin at the Sanford, Fla., gated community where Zimmerman and Martin’s father lived. The neighborhood watch volunteer has admitted to shooting Martin, 17, but claims he acted in self-defense.
A key part of the prosecution’s case will likely be a recording to police dispatchers in which Zimmerman said that he was going to pursue Martin, despite being advised to the contrary. Special prosecutor Angela Corey, who is leading the state’s case, has insisted that if Zimmerman had adhered to the dispatcher’s advice and let police handle the situation, there would have been no conflict.
Prosecutors will also likely use audio recordings from 911 calls placed by neighbors at the time of the incident as a key part of their evidence against Zimmerman, who worked as an insurance underwriter at the time. Muffled screams can be heard on the calls. Prosecutors say the voice is Martin’s; the defense contends that it is Zimmerman’s. Additional statements from neighbors who overhead the confrontation could also be used as evidence.
A likely centerpiece of the defense’s case will be photographs taken of Zimmerman after the conflict showing bruises and cuts that they insist are consistent with his statement that he was attacked, thrown to the ground and punched repeatedly by Martin. Zimmerman has said the fight started when he saw a suspicious-looking stranger walking through the complex. At the time of the confrontation, Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, which later came to symbolize the racial tensions at the heart of this case.
What remains unclear is whether Zimmerman will take the stand at the trial or whether his defense will invoke Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” statute, which allows the use of lethal force against a significant threat. The defense waived its right to a hearing on the statute in April.
Perhaps the most intriguing piece of evidence will come in the form of testimony from “Witness 8,” Martin’s girlfriend. She was on the phone with Martin when he was walking from a convenience store to his father’s home and spotted Zimmerman. A recording of their conversation reveals that the two were talking when Martin said that he saw someone following him. The sound of a struggle begins, and the call cuts off. The girl has previously said that Martin was afraid and tried to walk away, not knowing who was following him until he decided to face Zimmerman.