Sunday, February 18, 2018

Night, fear blur witness accounts

MIAMI — At first, the howling in the dark sounded like a dogfight. Then came cries.

"Help! Help! Help!"

No one knows who cried out.

In a steady drizzle that February night, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were fighting for their lives — a fact that wasn't immediately clear to the witnesses in a case that has riveted the country. Details of that night emerged Thursday as the recorded and written accounts of the shooting at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community were released, although most witness names were blacked out.

The information gathered by police and other investigators, released publicly for the first time, offers a glimpse into the demeanor of Zimmerman immediately after he shot Martin. But no one really saw what happened, their views limited by the night and fear.

But there were no eyewitnesses to give a start-to-finish account of what happened.

One man peeked through his door. At first, he said, he thought the dispute was far away. But the yelling and fighting got louder and closer to his home. When he looked outside, he saw them fighting as if they were in mixed martial-arts combat.

Martin appeared to be on top.

"Hey, cut it out!" the witness said he yelled.

The two kept fighting. So he ducked inside to call 911.

And then, a shot. Zimmerman's 9mm handgun fired.

"It sounded like a rock hit a window," the witness said. "I've never heard a gunshot before."

He looked outside.

"The person that was actually on top at that point was laying in my grass, kind of in a sprawled position — not moving," he said. "And then I saw another person with his hands in the air."

That was Zimmerman.

Flashlights from neighbors began to illuminate bits of the night. Police were en route. Zimmerman stood over Trayvon.

"The gun's on the ground," Zimmerman said, according to the witness. "I shot this guy in self-defense."

They appear to be his first words after the shooting.

Another neighbor whose wife had been peering out intermittently shined his flashlight on Zimmerman.

"Man, I got blood on my face?" Zimmerman asked, the witness told police.

"Yeah, you got blood all over, man," the witness said he responded. "I looked over and he's got blood on the back of his head. You all right man?"

Zimmerman: "Ah, man this guy he was beating up on me so I had to shoot him." The witness asked what kind of gun Zimmerman shot.

"Did you use a 9 (mm) or a .40?" he asked.

Zimmerman: "I used a 9." Witness: "Did you call 911 yet?"

Zimmerman squatted down and, the witness said, he could see "blood on the back of his head, grass stains. And by that time I flashed my light down. And there was this kid face down in the grass."

"Can you please call my wife," Zimmerman reportedly asked him, the witness said in a follow-up interview a month later. "Let her know what happened."

The witness complied, called Mrs. Zimmerman and told her that her husband was handcuffed and being held in a shooting.

"Just tell her I shot somebody," the witness said Zimmerman told him.

One witness in the case, a girlfriend of Martin's, was on the phone with him, calling from South Florida.

"He said he is walking and this man is still following him behind in the car," she said. "He put his hoodie on.

"He just ran," she said. "I could hear the wind blowing."

She heard the confrontation.

"Why are you following me?" she said Martin asked.

She said she heard the voice of a man in response, asking: "What are you doing around here?"

Soon, the phone went dead.

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