Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog.
The Orlando Sentinel is reporting today that three more witnesses have changed their stories in the Zimmerman case.
She originally told the police she saw one person chasing another person, who was about 10-12 feet ahead, up the sidewalk between townhomes in the direction of the T-intersection with another sidewalk that connects Twin Trees Street with Retreat View Circle (this is very close to the location where Zimmerman shot Martin). She now says that she only saw one person running. She originally said she could not identify either individual because it was dark and she had taken her contacts out before it happened. That part of her story remains the same.
She changed her story when John Batchelor of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement interviewed her on March 20th.
Witness 12 is a young mother who did not give a recorded statement to the Sanford Police. The Orlando Sentinel reports,
During that session [with an investigator of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on 3/20/2012 when she gave her first recorded statement], she said she saw two people on the ground immediately after the shooting and was not sure who was on top, Zimmerman or Trayvon.
“I don’t know which one. … All I saw when they were on the ground was dark colors,” she said.
Six days later, however, she was sure: It was Zimmerman on top, she told trial prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda during a 2 1/2-minute recorded session.
Since she saw the two individuals after the shot was fired, and we know that Trayvon Martin was shot, we can infer that she must be right. Zimmerman was on top.
She explained that the person on top was definitely bigger than the person on the bottom and when she saw pictures of them on TV after the shooting, she realized Zimmerman was the guy on top because he is much bigger than Martin (he’s 2 inches shorter but 42 lbs heavier).
Witness 13 did not so much change his story as provide added detail. He originally told the police that he went outside his townhome when he heard a shot and saw Zimmerman standing there “with blood on the back of his head.”
Zimmerman told him that Trayvon “was beating up on me, so I had to shoot him,” the witness told Serino. The Neighborhood Watch captain then asked the witness to call his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, and tell her what happened.
In two subsequent interviews about a month later — one with an FDLE investigator and one with de la Rionda — the witness described Zimmerman’s demeanor in greater detail, adding that he spoke as if the shooting were no big deal.
Zimmerman’s tone, the witness said, was “not like ‘I can’t believe I just shot someone!’ it was more like, ‘Just tell my wife I shot somebody…’ like it was nothing.”
I have already reported on Witness 6 who changed his story from Trayvon Martin “just throwing down blows on the guy, MMA-style,” which is mixed martial arts, to it looked like a wrestling match with Trayvon attempting to restrain or pin down Zimmerman, who was below him. He also changed his story from Zimmerman calling for help to not being certain who was calling for help because he could not see their mouths in the dark.
What does this mean?
Witness 6 is the only person who claimed to have seen Zimmerman calling for help, other than Zimmerman, of course. Other witnesses say it sounded like a young boy pleading for help.
He also is the only witness who supported Zimmerman’s claim that Trayvon was hitting him, although Zimmerman mostly claimed that Trayvon was bashing his head against the sidewalk.
Witness 6′s recantation hurts Zimmerman’s case badly.
Witness 12′s identification of Zimmerman being on top after the shot hurts Zimmerman because he told the police was on the bottom fighting for his life when he shot Trayvon.
Another witness, who saw the shooting from her upstairs bedroom, said the heavier built man was on top when the shot was fired and he stood up and walked 10 -20 feet away after the shot. She is one of several witnesses who say that the cries for help were uttered by the boy, not the heavier built man.
Definitely looks like Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is evaporating.
What Will The Defense Do?
Defense counsel can confront each witness with their earlier statement and argue that law enforcement improperly influenced them to change their testimony. Maybe they did and maybe they did not, but I imagine they are going to claim otherwise and the emerging forensic evidence is not consistent with self-defense, as I predicted it would not be.
If any member of law enforcement was improperly influencing witnesses it was Sanford PD’s Chris Serino, who was telling witnesses that Zimmerman was the person calling for help. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he probably was relying on Witness 6′s statement, but that was extremely unprofessional.
Now that Witness 6 has recanted that part of his testimony, no one except Zimmerman is claiming that he was the person shouting for help.
EDIT: In the section titled, What does this mean, I changed Witness 2′s to Witness 12′s “identification of Zimmerman being on top after the shot hurts Zimmerman because he told the police was on the bottom fighting for his life when he shot Trayvon.” I corrected my error.