Sunday, January 21, 2018

Without slur, what will George Zimmerman's words mean in Trayvon Martin case?

ORLANDO — Despite what some people think they heard, prosecutors say George Zimmerman did not utter a racial slur in his call to 911 on the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

The disputed words on the recording turned out to be "these f------ punks," prosecutors said in an affidavit filed Thursday in support of the second-degree murder charge brought against the neighborhood watch volunteer in the Feb. 26 slaying of the unarmed black teenager.

In yet another passage in the affidavit that caught the attention of those watching the racially charged case, prosecutors said Zimmerman "profiled" Martin just before the shooting. The document did not elaborate, and a spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey on Friday refused to explain it.

Legal experts warned that "profiling" does not necessarily mean "racial profiling." "Profiling" is a common law enforcement practice of using a set of facts and circumstances to determine whether someone may be committing a crime. Police typically look at a person's behavior and appearance, as well as other factors.

In the Martin case, Zimmerman told a police dispatcher: "This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something." He said the teenager had his hand in his waistband and was walking around, looking at homes in the gated community in Sanford, which had had several break-ins in the past year.

"When we see the word 'punks' and we connect that to the word 'profile,' I don't think that is compelling proof that it's racial profiling," said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who is now in private practice. "This guy appeared to Zimmerman to meet the profile of a criminal."

He added: "Whether you're white, black or Hispanic. You have a hoodie. You're walking around."

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said the affidavit supported his contention that race wasn't a factor.

"Presumably, they've looked at all the evidence and haven't determined anything that would support a racial component," O'Mara said Friday.

Zimmerman, 28, has claimed self-defense, telling police that Martin attacked him as he was walking back to his truck. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

Florida defense attorney Randy McClean said Zimmerman's use of the word "punks" and his profanity in describing Martin may help Florida prosecutors make the case that Zimmerman was the aggressor.

"It begs the question of who was the most likely aggressor," McClean said. "A teenager walking home . . . or the person who believes the teenager he is observing is a 'f------ punk,' an 'a--h---' and getting away with something."

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the department is conducting its own investigation and refused to comment on Corey's findings.

At a brief hearing Friday, the judge overseeing the case, Jessica Recksiedler, said she might have a conflict of interest since her husband works with a lawyer who was first approached by Zimmerman's family to represent Zimmerman. That lawyer, Mark NeJame, also is working as a CNN legal analyst on the case.

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