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Michael Smerconish Headshot

Tale of the Trayvon Martin Case 911 Calls

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Pending the outcome of some voice analysis, there is arguably enough evidence in the 911 tapes to warrant the arrest of George Zimmerman in connection with the Feb. 26 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The voice testing is needed to determine if Zimmerman uttered a racial slur while in pursuit of Martin, and which of the two can be heard crying out for help during their altercation in Sanford, Fla.

Here are seven observations about Zimmerman's 911 call to police, and one point about the neighbors' calls:

First, Zimmerman began his call by saying, "We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood." I'd like to know if that is true. And it strikes me as peculiar that he did not identify himself immediately. The Orlando Sentinel reports that, in the last 15 months, Zimmerman had called the Sanford police 46 times. So why not begin this latest call by saying, "Hey, it's me, George Zimmerman, from the neighborhood watch?" Wouldn't a neighborhood watch volunteer want the police to know who he was? If not, why not?

Second, he never offered anything concrete to justify a request for police assistance. He first told the police operator that the teen he was watching is "a real suspicious guy." Then he said he "looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs, or something." Well, what exactly was it about Martin that raised Zimmerman's suspicions? "It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about," he said. But walking in the rain with your eyes open isn't by itself nefarious. Maybe that's why Zimmerman then took it up a notch.

Third, having offered a litany of nonspecific concerns, Zimmerman calmly tried to portray Martin as an aggressor: "He's just staring, looking at all the houses. Now just staring at me." That was followed by: "Now he's coming toward me." Then, the more menacing: "He's got his hand in his waist band." Finally: "Something's wrong with him. Yup, he's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands, I don't know what his deal is."

Fourth, Zimmerman seeks a form of complicity from the operator that was not reciprocated. He mutters, "These a-, they always get away." To his credit, the operator did not react. Instead, he continued to solicit locational information from Zimmerman.

Fifth, Zimmerman seems to make a racist statement. After he reports that "he's running," the door to his truck can be heard opening. If Martin were running, that is hardly the behavior of a confrontational individual against whom deadly force need be used. And the blogosphere is on fire with conjecture that Zimmerman called Martin a "coon." I raised the audio of that part of the tape, and it sure sounds like he said that. If it's confirmed, that statement alone should provide sufficient probable cause to indict Zimmerman for a hate crime.

Sixth, Zimmerman ignores the operator's advice. After he departs from his truck to pursue Martin, Zimmerman's breathing is audibly labored. The operator hears that, and asks, "Are you following him?" Zimmerman replies, "Yep." The operator responds: "We don't need you to do that." This would seemingly have been another natural opportunity for Zimmerman to say, "I'm a neighborhood watch volunteer." Instead, he softly says, "OK." Then, the continued sound of his breathing suggests he was still pursuing Martin.

Seventh, Zimmerman was willing to report his name and phone number, but strangely stopped short when asked for his address. Asked if he lived in the area, he again said nothing of his neighborhood watch role. He gave part of his address, and then stopped. He said, "Oh, crap, I don't want to give it out loud, I don't know where this kid is at." Instead, he tells the operator to have the police who arrive on the scene to "call me and I'll tell them where I'm at."

Then there are the calls from neighbors who heard the ensuing altercation. Florida law provides that there is no duty to retreat so long as the person using deadly force "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself." On at least one of the 911 calls logged by neighbors, a man is heard crying in distress just before the fatal gunshot is audible. Who was it, Zimmerman or Martin?

If a voice analysis shows it to be Zimmerman, that will suggest he was justified in using deadly force, that he was crying for help and restraining himself before drawing his gun.

If, however, it is Martin crying out for help, Zimmerman's ability to cloak himself in "stand your ground" will evaporate, and that identification will appropriately lead to his arrest.

Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.