A trove of documents was released tonight in the Trayvon Martin case. The big headline is that the police report prepared a month after the incident said it was “ultimately avoidable” if George Zimmerman never got out of the car. That’s legally irrelevant, as I’ll explain later.
First, the autopsy and other findings, summarized by The Orlando Sentinel:
The evidence — released by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey’s office late Thursday — includes a photocopy of a picture taken of George Zimmerman at the scene of the shooting. In it, he has a bloody nose.
Sanford Officer Michael Wagner pulled out his personal iPhone, he wrote in his report, and shot a photo of Zimmerman’s bloody nose. It appeared to him, Wagner wrote in his report, that Zimmerman’s nose was broken.
“I also saw that the back of Zimmerman’s head was also bloodied,” Wagner wrote.
Wagner downloaded the photo to his computer but never forwarded it to anyone else, he wrote, not until March 18, when he got word that the agency could find no photos of Zimmerman taken at the scene
Trayvon’s autopsy report is included in the released documents. In it, there is a diagram that shows the gunshot wound was approximately 3/8 inches across, and the “stippling,” powder burns that come as a result of a gunshot, was approximately 2 inches in diameter.
The burns are important because they prove the gun was fired from a very close range.
FDLE firearms expert Amy Siewert examined Trayvon’s gray sweatshirt and gray hoodie and wrote this about the gunpowder burns: “Both holes displayed residues and physical effects consistent with a contact shot.”
Translation: The gun was touching Trayvon’s clothing when Zimmerman pulled the trigger.
The bullet went through his heart, according to the report. The Volusia County medical examiner’s office pulled from Trayvon’s body one lead bullet core and two fragments, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab report. The report also showed a small “abrasion” on one finger on the other hand.
The autopsy report says there was THC — the active chemical found in marijuana — in Trayvon’s blood and urine.
Based on this description it doesn’t appear that Zimmerman “executed” Martin as some of the inflammatory rhetoric claims, unless there are details as to bullet trajectory which would indicate the shot was from above (indicating Zimmerman no longer was on the ground).
It’s legally irrelevant that the encounter could have been avoided if Zimmerman stayed in his car. The Stand Your Ground law talks about initiating physical contact in a very specific way (emphasis mine):
776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Getting out of the car, in itself, is not provoking the use of force. The prosecution would have to show Zimmerman started the fight, not merely that he was in a place he has a right to be.
Even so, Zimmerman would have had legal protection even if he initiated contact if the counter-force were deadly or threatened serious bodily harm and there was not way to escape. There would be a fact issue if, as some reports say, Zimmerman were on the ground being beaten.
These nuances will be lost in the media blitz, and you will hear how Zimmerman must be guilty because he got out of the car.
Again the caution, we know some more facts, but not all the facts.