George Zimmerman's defenders say there was a life-and-death struggle the night Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin while patrolling his gated Florida community, and a published report confirmed by police says Zimmerman told investigators he was returning to his vehicle when Martin struck him from behind. NBC's Ron Allen reports.
Updated at 9:47 p.m. ET: Thousands of people streamed through the streets of Sanford, Fla., on Monday to demand that authorities prosecute the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin one month ago.
The protesters were on their way to a special meeting of the City Commission at the town's Civic Center that began at 5 p.m. ET, where members were to hold a hearing on the killing of Martin, who was unarmed, by George Zimmerman, 28, a self-described neighborhood watch volunteer.
The shooting of Martin, who was black, by Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, has led to similar rallies across the country. Martin's family has made multiple media appearances pushing for Zimmerman's arrest.
Tracy Martin, the young man's father, addressed the hearing Monday, accusing police of trying to "sweep another dead black male under the rug."
To loud cheers and applause, Tracy Martin said Zimmerman "needs to be arrested. He needs to be put on trial. He needs to be given a sentence by a jury of his peers."
Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, said her heart was broken.
“I’m not asking for anything," she said. "I know I cannot bring my baby back. But I’m sure going to make changes so that does not happen to another family.”
The speakers included Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC-TV's "PoliticsNation," Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Corrine Brown, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.
Rep. Jackson Lee gave a legal case for the city or for the state of Florida to arrest George Zimmerman. Rev. Sharpton fierily demanded an arrest, while Rev. Jackson drew parallels between Martin’s death and that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black teen who was beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
As thousands of people gathered in Sanford, Fla., demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, his parents maintained he was trying to get away from George Zimmerman, despite claims that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense. NBC's Ron Allen reports.
Ben Crump, the attorney for Martin’s parents asked, “Who made the decision for whatever reason to not do a background check on George Zimmerman who had just shot and killed Trayvon Benjamin Martin? But yet saw fit to do a background check on this dead child on the ground.
Crump continued: “Number two, who was the officer who made the determination not to do a drug and alcohol analysis on George Zimmerman who had just shot an unarmed teenager with a bag of Skittles but yet found it appropriate to order drug alcohol analysis of Sabryna and Tracy’s son?”
Tracy Martin said he was anguished at "the slander of my son," referring to leaked details of Zimmerman's account of the shooting to police, which suggested that Trayvon Martin initiated the incident, and news reports revealing that the younger Martin had been suspended from his high school for possessing an empty marijuana bag.
"We consider ourselves strong black parents and we take pride in our kids," Tracy Martin said, pounding his fist in the air for emphasis. "We're not asking for an eye for an eye. We're asking for justice, justice, justice!"
Although toxicology tests on Martin's body are pending, a spokesman for his family confirmed to NBC News that Martin was suspended for 10 days from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami for possession of an empty marijuana baggie.
Zimmerman's account emerged for the first time Monday in a report by The Orlando Sentinel. Quoting unidentified "law enforcement authorities," the Sentinel reported that Zimmerman told police that Trayvon Martin knocked him down with a single punch and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times before the shooting — an account that police said witnesses have corroborated.
Accompanied by their attorney, Ben Crump, right, Trayvon Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, passionately addressed the Sanford, Fla., City Commission on Monday.
Zimmerman said he was walking back to his SUV when Martin approached him from behind, according to the Sentinel's report, which Sanford police confirmed Monday afternoon.
The two exchanged words before Martin decked him with a punch to the nose and began beating him, Zimmerman told police. He said he then shot Martin in self-defense.
Witnesses said they heard someone cry out in distress, some of them telling NBC News and other news organizations that it was Martin. But police sources told the Sentinel their evidence indicated it was Zimmerman.
One witness told police he saw Martin pounding Zimmerman on the ground. This witness was certain it was Zimmerman who was crying for help, the Sentinel reported.
When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and had a swollen lip and bloody lacerations to the back of his head, the newspaper reported. Police said Zimmerman wasn't badly injured and didn't seek treatment until the next day.
ABC News reported separately that Zimmerman told police that Martin also tried to take his gun.
In a statement, Sanford police said the Sentinel's report was "consistent with the information provided to the State Attorney's office by the police department." It did not address the ABC report.
Zimmerman's attorney, Craig Sonner, has said he could invoke Florida's "stand-your-ground" law, which provides significant leeway for people to use deadly force if they feel their lives are in danger.
Meanwhile, Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, told ABC News that means "the state must go forward and be able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. ... So it makes the case in general more difficult than a normal criminal case."
The information about Martin's three suspensions from high school also appeared to complicate the case.
Crump, the family lawyer, called the disclosures an attempt to assassinate Martin's character.
"Very clearly, whatever Trayvon Martin was suspended for had absolutely no bearing on what happened on the night of February 26," he said, adding that Martin "wasn't suspended for anything violent or criminal."
"If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, it's still completely irrelevant," Crump said.
As the City Commission hearing approached, there were these other developments:
- The Smoking Gun, a website that tracks criminal cases and document filings, reported Monday afternoon that Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, filed two applications last week for trademarks on her late son's name.
Fulton is seeking marks for the phrases "I Am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon," according to filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In both instances, Fulton is seeking the trademarks for use on "digital materials," namely, CDs and DVDs featuring Trayvon Martin," and other products.
- Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte announced that Capt. Darren Scott would serve as interim police chief during the investigation, NBC station WESH of Orlando, Fla., reported. Police Chief Bill Lee stepped aside last week as criticism over the lack of an arrest mounted across the country.
Following is the full text of the statement Monday confirming The Orlando Sentinel's report by the Sanford, Fla., Police Department:
The information in the article is consistent with the information provided to the State Attorney's office by the police department.
"We do not condone these unauthorized leaks of information," said City Manager, Norton Bonaparte, Jr. "Acting Chief Scott will be doing an internal investigation within the Sanford Police Department as this type of action compromises the integrity of the law enforcement agency which has pledged to uphold the law".
Mr. Bonaparte stated that disciplinary action including possible termination will be taken against anyone found to have leaked the information.
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