Fla. Teen's Shooter Still Free; Lack Of Evidence Cited

The Seminole County State Attorney's Office in Florida declined to issue an arrest warrant for George Zimmerman, who shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Until now, it was the Sanford Police Department that had claimed there was insufficient probable cause.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

New revelations are calling into question some details in the case of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The unarmed teenager was killed last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida. Well, since then, the police in Sanford have maintained they couldn't arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman, on the night of the shooting because there was no probable cause. Now, there are reports that at least one officer on the scene thought otherwise. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: For weeks, Trayvon Martin's family and their supporters have demanded police arrest George Zimmerman, and they've asked a question: Why wasn't he arrested on the night of the shooting? Now, there's new information that on February 26th, investigators actually wanted to arrest and charge Zimmerman.

The Miami Herald reports the new state prosecutor assigned to the case, Angela Corey, told them police went to the state attorney with a legal request for charges to be filed. ABC News reports that the state attorney then in charge, Norman Wolfinger, told lead investigator Chris Serino not to press charges because there wasn't enough evidence for a conviction.

According to ABC, Serino filed an affidavit the night of the shooting saying he wasn't convinced by Zimmerman's version of the incident.

In an interview that will air tomorrow on NPR's TELL ME MORE, the lawyer representing Trayvon Martin's family, Benjamin Crump, spoke to host Michel Martin, who's no relation to the Martin family. Crump said this is one more sign police botched the investigation.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: What it tells me, and it's important, not just that he wanted to arrest him for manslaughter, Michel, but he also said - this is the lead investigator, the person that night who heard Zimmerman's account and looked and observed and took in all the scene and the evidence and said he did not find George Zimmerman, this armed vigilante's story, credible.

ALLEN: This contradicts what Sanford police have said about the investigation and their decision not to charge Zimmerman. The man formerly in charge of the investigation, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, stepped down last week. But earlier this month, he tried to explain why, on that night in February, after police gathered evidence and interviewed witnesses, Zimmerman wasn't charged with a crime.

BILL LEE: In this case, Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense. Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him.

ALLEN: But new information suggests the decision wasn't so clear-cut. The initial report filed by police in the early morning hours of February 27th is available on the city of Sanford's website. In the offenses section, the investigating officers listed the incident as homicide, negligent manslaughter, unnecessary killing to prevent unlawful act.

Yesterday, Sanford acting police chief, Darren Scott, was asked why, despite that finding, the police decided not to arrest Zimmerman. Scott gave the standard answer he's given to all questions about the investigation.

DARREN SCOTT: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I asked the lawyer. (Unintelligible).

SCOTT: I appreciate that. But again, that's still part of the investigation, the ongoing process. So I won't discuss anything from that.

ALLEN: Later, Sanford city officials elaborated in a written statement. They said the manslaughter designation was done to help keep track of different categories of crime and for record keeping. The new information suggests the manslaughter designation on the initial report reflected a finding backed by at least one police officer but rejected by the prosecutor. Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy, says the new information doesn't make him feel any better.

TRACY MARTIN: It worsens it because we wouldn't have to go - we wouldn't have been put through so much grief, so much strain on our lives had they just simply did the right thing.

ALLEN: Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, met last week with the new prosecutor assigned to the case, Angela Corey. Tracy Martin says he came away with a little more hope. He also said he doesn't blame the whole Sanford Police Department for what he feels has been an improper investigation. There are some decent police in that department, he says, that don't deserve to be labeled. Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.

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