A Florida shooting has mushroomed into a national conflagration of race, guns, and justice. A chronological look at how the case exploded
This article — originally published on March 29, 2012 — was last updated on July 17, 2012. Scroll down for the latest updates.
The February shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old staying at a gated community in Sanford, Fla., was a minor local news story for weeks before exploding into the national media. Since then, the killing has both fascinated and repulsed the nation, touching on all sorts of cultural and racial issues, and becoming nightly fodder on the cable news shows. Here's a look at what happened and when in this complicated, still-unfolding tale:
February 26, 2012
While certain details remain a matter of heated disagreement, here's what we know: Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, 28, was driving his SUV though his Orlando-area neighborhood (known as the "Retreat at Twin Lakes") when he called 911 to report "a real suspicious guy," a "black male" walking around. That was Martin, heading back to the house where he was staying after a 7-Eleven run. Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a can of iced tea, a bag of Skittles, and his cellphone. Zimmerman followed Martin, and the two engaged in some sort of altercation. One of the two men cried for help before Zimmerman fired one shot into Martin's chest. Zimmerman was brought to the police station, pleaded self-defense, and has remained free since.
February 27, 2012
Police release the names of Martin and Zimmerman, who is identified as "the man who fired the gun"
March 8, 2012
After the shooting fails to win much attention, Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, create a petition on Change.org calling for Zimmerman to be prosecuted
March 9, 2012
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton demand that police release the 911 recordings from the night of their son's death
March 13, 2012
Sanford police wrap up their investigation and turn the case over to State Attorney Norman Wolfinger
March 14, 2012
Witness Mary Cutcher tells a local TV station that police had only taken a cursory statement from her, adding, "I know this was not self-defense"
March 16, 2012
Police release 911 calls Zimmerman and others made on the night of the killing. Zimmerman says he's monitoring a "real suspicious... black male," and disregards the 911 operator telling him not to chase after Martin. The case gains national media attention, with much of the debate centered on Florida's controversial "stand your ground" gun law, which lets residents use deadly force against a threat when they feel their lives are in danger.
March 19, 2012
The FBI and U.S. Justice Department say they're going to open an investigation into the killing. Older Zimmerman 911 tapes are released, revealing that he has a history of flagging "suspicious," often black, youths. State Attorney Wolfinger's office announces a grand jury investigation. A 16-year-old friend of Martin's recounts a cellphone conversation she had with him the night he died that lasts until right before the fatal shooting (as phone records confirm); she says Martin was creeped out by the strange man following him, and tried to get away from him.
March 21, 2012
Sanford's city council votes "no confidence" in Police Chief Bill Lee. Hundreds of people attend a "Million Hoodie March" in New York City to demand justice for Martin. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Zimmerman has a short legal record of violent encounters and money problems.
March 22, 2012
Lee steps down "temporarily," saying his continued presence is a "distraction" in the case. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) takes State Attorney Wolfinger off the case, assigning a special prosecutor.
March 23, 2012
President Obama makes his first public comments on the case, saying Martin's parents are right to expect that all Americans consider the case with the seriousness it deserves, adding as a personal coda: "You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." Fox News' Geraldo Rivera draws outrage for suggesting that Martin's supposedly criminal-looking "hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was." Thousands attend a second "Million Hoodie March" in Philadelphia.
March 24, 2012
The liberal site ThinkProgress sees the start of a "sustained effort to smear Trayvon Martin" through "false" or "irrelevant" attacks in conservative media outlets and selective leaks from the Sanford police. A fringe group, the New Black Panthers, offers a $10,000 reward for the "capture" of Zimmerman, "alive, not dead or harmed."
March 26, 2012
Sanford police sources leak details of Zimmerman's side of the case, which they say witnesses corroborate: Allegedly, Martin knocked Zimmerman down with a punch to the nose, smashed his head on the ground, and tried to take his gun. Also leaked: Martin had been suspended from school over an empty marijuana baggie, suspected theft, and graffiti.
March 27, 2012
Other sources leak that the lead homicide investigator on the case, Chris Serino, didn't believe Zimmerman's story, said so in a Feb. 26 affidavit, and wanted to arrest him for manslaughter, but was stopped by Wolfinger.
March 28, 2012
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is escorted off the House floor for wearing a hooded sweatshirt, in violation of the chamber's no-hat policy. ABC News releases video footage showing Zimmerman in the police office after the killing, with no signs of bruises, a broken nose, or other head wounds.
March 29, 2012
Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, makes his first public comments on the case, claiming that Martin beat his son and threatened to kill him. Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., also publicly defends his brother and backs up their father's claims. The family says they have received death threats. Director Spike Lee apologizes for tweeting an address that he mistakenly believed belonged to Zimmerman's parents. Comedian Roseanne Barr apologizes for tweeting their actual address.
March 31, 2012
The Orlando Sentinel reports that an audio analysis of a 911 call shows that Zimmerman did not cry out for help moments before Martin was shot, as he had reportedly claimed. Black civil rights leaders join thousands in a march through Florida calling for Zimmerman's arrest.
April 1, 2012
Geraldo Rivera apologizes to Martin's parents, saying, "I never intended to hurt your feelings." Martin's parents accept the apology.
April 2, 2012
ABC News revisits the video of Zimmerman in the police office, and says enhanced footage shows what could be a "gash" or a "mark" on the back of his head, possibly corroborating the allegation that Martin had attacked him. Zimmerman's lawyer says the suspect is willing to come out of hiding and surrender to authorities if charged in Martin's death.
April 3, 2012
A record 2.2 million people have signed the Change.org petition calling for Zimmerman's arrest.
April 4, 2012
Pew Research reports that the Trayvon Martin controversy is the nation's top news story for a second week in a row — with 30 percent of Americans saying they are following the case more closely than any other story.
April 5, 2012
Florida lawmakers convene a task force to investigate the state's controversial "stand your ground" gun law, which has made it difficult for prosecutors to charge shooters like Zimmerman who claim self-defense.
April 9, 2012
Angela Corey, the special prosecutor handling the case, nixes a planned grand jury hearing for Zimmerman. Analysts speculate that the unexpected move means Corey is confident she has enough evidence to charge Zimmerman without grand jury approval.
April 10, 2012
Zimmerman launches a website — TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com — seeking donations and thanking supporters. Hours later, his attorneys publicly dump him in a bizarre press conference, saying that Zimmerman has gone rogue by contacting Corey and Fox News host Sean Hannity while not responding to his own lawyers' calls and texts.
April 11, 2012
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, rather than a lesser manslaughter charge, and faces a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted. While he awaits trial, Zimmerman is held at an undisclosed Florida jail. His new lawyer, Mark O'Mara, says he will plead not guilty.
April 12, 2012
Trayvon Martin's mother tells NBC's Today show that she believes the shooting was "an accident." "I believe that it just got out of control and [Zimmerman] couldn't turn the clock back," she says. Zimmerman appears in court in Sanford for the first time, where Judge Mark Herr clears the way for the case to be heard by a trial judge.
April 16, 2012
Reuters reports that Zimmerman's neighbors saw him with bandages on his head and nose the day after Martin was killed. Gov. Rick Scott denies claims that political pressure was the main reason Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. Zimmerman moves to disqualify trial Judge Jessica Recksiedler over a conflict of interest, after Recksiedler reveals that her husband works with a lawyer whom Zimmerman had approached for possible legal representation. A group of media outlets files a motion for the court to make available records — such as police and autopsy reports — that were sealed by Herr.
April 17, 2012
The influential conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pushed for the enactment of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, says it will limit its scope to economic issues after several big companies withdraw their support for the group.
April 23, 2012
Zimmerman is released from a Florida jail on a $150,000 bond.
April 30, 2012
Zimmerman's defense lawyers launch an unconventional social media campaign, drawing both praise and criticism. The defense team pledges that it will not use its new website to comment on "the character of Trayvon Martin, his family, or his supporters."
May 1, 2012
Zimmerman's 2005 MySpace page is unearthed. On it, Zimmerman makes disparaging comments about Mexicans, briefly references his other brushes with the law, and refers to his former wife as his "ex-hoe."
May 15, 2012
Prosecutors release a summary of evidence in the case against Zimmerman, which includes 50 possible law enforcement witnesses as well as 28 civilian witnesses, including Trayvon Martin's brother, mother, and father, as well as two of Zimmerman's friends and Zimmerman's father.
May 16, 2012
A medical report says that Zimmerman sustained a fractured nose and two black eyes during his confrontation with Trayvon Martin.
May 17, 2012
Martin's autopsy is leaked, showing that the teenager had trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, in his blood, cuts on his knuckles, and had been shot at close range, no more than 18 inches away. Released police interviews with friends and coworkers paint Zimmerman as confrontational and prone to racist remarks. The New York Times details a long "series of missteps — including sloppy work" — by the Sanford police.
May 18, 2012
Two new recordings are released: In one, a witness tells police he saw the middle of the struggle between Martin and Zimmerman, and "the black guy was on top"; in the other, Martin's girlfriend tells prosecutors that she heard Trayvon say "get off, get off" in the moments before his cellphone went dead.
June 1, 2012
A judge revokes Zimmerman's bond after prosecutors learn that Zimmerman's wife may have lied to authorities about their family's finances. The prosecution also discovers that Zimmerman holds two passports, leading them to worry that he might flee the country.
June 3, 2012
Zimmerman reports to the police and returns to jail, where he will remain while his lawyer fights for a new bail hearing
June 12, 2012
Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, is arrested on one count of perjury for allegedly lying to the judge about her's and her husband's finances. She is taken to jail, and released shortly thereafter on a $1,000 bond.
June 18, 2012
The court releases transcripts and audio recordings of jailhouse conversations between Zimmerman and his wife Shellie, in which the couple talk about how much they love each other, purchasing bulletproof vests, and discreetly moving money into personal bank accounts. Speaking in poorly concealed code (they referred to PayPal as "Peter Pan"), George explains to Shellie how to move cash garnered through donations into another bank account so they can claim to be virtually "penniless," and thus unable to post bail.
June 21, 2012
Lawyers for George Zimmerman release a series of videos, audiotapes, and written statements that he gave to the police on the day after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. In Zimmerman's account, he says that Trayvon provoked him, punched him, and wouldn't stop beating him until he was forced to shoot in self-defense.
July 6, 2012
Less than 24 hours after a judge sets George Zimmerman's bond at $1 million, the shooter ponies up $100,000 (with the backing of $1 million in collateral), and is released from jail. Zimmerman must stay in Seminole County and will be electronically monitored. He is forbidden from obtaining a passport, going to the airport, or opening a bank account, and has a curfew every night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
July 12, 2012
A Florida state attorney releases a 284-page FBI report on the case, which says that Zimmerman "had a pattern of calling authorities about criminal activities and safety issues in the neighborhood."
July 16, 2012
In taped recordings released by the Florida State Attorney's Office, a woman identified as Witness #9 alleges that Zimmerman molested her as a child. The unnamed woman, who is reportedly two years younger than Zimmerman and was not a witness to the February shooting, says her family was friends with Zimmerman's family, and that the alleged assaults began when she was 6 years old. Zimmerman's attorney fought to block the release of her claims, arguing that they are not relevant and that it would only "serve to reignite and potentially enhance the widespread public hostility toward Mr. Zimmerman."
Sources: ABC News (2) (3), Associated Press (2) (3), Bloomberg, CBS News (2), (3), Christian Science Monitor, CNN (2), The Daily Beast, Global Post, GZlegalcase.com, Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald (2), (3) Mother Jones, New York Times, Orlando Sentinel (2) (3) (4) (5), Politico, TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com, Reuters (2) (3), Scribd/Change.org, Talking Points Memo, Think Progress, USA Today (2)
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- Fact Sheet: The George Zimmerman police tapes: 6 revelations
- Opinion Brief: Should prosecutors drop the murder charges against George Zimmerman?
- Controversy: The disturbing shooting targets featuring Trayvon Martin