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Zimmerman said Martin assured him he was going to kill him

Published: Friday, June 22, 2012

Updated: Friday, June 22, 2012 11:06


MIAMI - Three days after George Zimmerman killed an unarmed teenager and went home free, he had a predicament: The lead detectives investigating the shooting seemed to no longer believe his story.

Sanford Police Detective Chris Serino told Zimmerman in a series of interviews that day that he was a "good guy," but that there were holes in his story, including minor injuries that did not match the beating he said he received at the hands of a "child" who carried candy.

Zimmerman repeatedly told police that Trayvon Martin sucker-punched him, tried to suffocate him and bashed his head into the concrete to the point it felt his "head was going to explode." He said Martin tried to take his gun from him before saying: "You're going to die tonight, motherf ...."

But Serino wondered why Zimmerman's skull wasn't fractured, why he didn't know the street names of a tiny neighborhood where he'd lived for three years and why he had no defensive wounds on his hands. Serino got him to acknowledge what Martin's parents and lawyers have said all along: that Zimmerman got out of his car that night not so much to check for an address to give police, but to find out where the teen went.

"That was a kid with a future, a kid with folks that care. Not a goon," Serino said. "In his mind's eye, he perceived you as a threat. He has every right to defend himself."

Tapes released Thursday of questioning between Zimmerman and Sanford police underscore a sharp contrast between the public statements made by the Sanford Police Department the weeks following Martin's killing and the conversations that went on internally. They offer the first glimpse of a man who told detectives that he takes medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and who at one point became the most controversial man in America. The interrogations also reveal that detectives were troubled by a man with a history of inserting himself into law enforcement matters who did not have the training to determine what a "suspicious" person should look like.

Zimmerman detailed a harrowing night when he said a stranger accosted him for no reason and allegedly threatened to kill him. At least twice witnesses failed to come to his aid. One of the first things Zimmerman said to Detective Doris Singleton: The bad guys always get away.

Hinting that Zimmerman had left something out of his account, Serino asked over and over why Martin would have been so enraged as to deck a perfect stranger. Zimmerman, he suggested, had chased him.

"You wanted to catch him. You wanted to catch the bad guy, the f. . . -g punk who can't get away," Serino said, referring to words Zimmerman used on his call to police.

At one point, Zimmerman answered: "I wasn't following him; I was just going in the same direction he was."

Serino retorted: "That's following."

Zimmerman is facing a second-degree murder charge for the killing. The arrest came six weeks after the shooting and a short time after a widely criticized investigation was handed over to other agencies. Despite Serino's misgivings _ and the detective's recommendation that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter _ Sanford Police publicly stated that there was no probable cause to make an arrest, so the politically charged case was handed over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara on Thursday posted statements _ eight on audio, two on video and one written _ in which Zimmerman gave police his version of the night's events. The tapes show he was calm, sometimes dazed, and neither upset nor remorseful. He was consistent in his account that a "suspect emerged from the darkness" and punched him so hard in the nose that he fell.

Just a day after the shooting, Zimmerman cooperated with police and returned to the gated community as they shot video of him re-enacting the fight. He described where he first saw Martin, how he followed after him and how Martin set upon him and tried to seize his gun.

Martin, he said, "wailed" on his head so hard it felt like he was being hit with bricks. Zimmerman said he grabbed the gun first and "fired one shot," causing Martin to kind of sit back and say: "You got me. You got it."

Zimmerman indicated that he didn't realize Martin was shot at this point, though it was point-blank range.

"I didn't think I hit him," Zimmerman told police during the re-enactment. "I thought he was just saying: 'I know you have a gun now. I heard it. I give up.'"

That night Zimmerman gave a detailed verbal statement to a police official who used voice-analyzing software to help determine the veracity of his statements.

The videos mark the first time the public can see and hear how Zimmerman described the lead-up to his confrontation with Martin and what led him to shoot the Miami Gardens teen on that rainy evening at a gated community in Sanford. They show him on the day after the killing wearing two mid-sized butterfly bandages on the back of his hand and a bandage between his eyes.

Two days later, a police video showed he wore a much larger bandage.

On the tapes released Thursday, Zimmerman said Martin "appeared out of nowhere."

"You got a problem?" Zimmerman said Martin asked. In another statement, he phrased it, "You got a problem, homie?"

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