Supporters of Fla. shooter fearful of speaking out

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Trayvon Martin’s supporters pack churches, swarm rallies and wear hooded sweat shirts in solidarity while friends and family of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed teen to death, remain largely out of sight. The few that have defended Zimmerman did so reluctantly, most fearing public backlash.

Zimmerman, 28, has gone into hiding. His version of what happened on the rainy night of Feb. 26 has only trickled out from police and his attorney. Zimmerman said he was pursuing the 17-year-old Martin because he was acting suspicious. He said he lost sight of the teenager and Martin attacked him as he headed back to his sport utility vehicle.

Zimmerman told police he fired in self-defense and was not charged, touching off widespread public outrage and protests across the country.

Martin’s supporters believe race played a role in the shooting. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

“The family has had death threats, the father and mother, George has had death threats. Anything related to George is a target,” said Miguel Meza, who identified himself as Zimmerman’s cousin.

George Hall, a retired Presbyterian minister, said he was Zimmerman’s neighbor for 20 years in Manassas, Va., until about 2001. Hall said Zimmerman and his brother attended church, and he wrote a recommendation for Zimmerman for a police academy in 2004.

“Their parents taught them to treat everybody with respect. I’m tired of hearing about this race thing. It could be an element in it … but I never would have thought of him as being a racist. His father was in the Army and was a white American and his mother was Peruvian. That makes him 50 percent Peruvian. A lot of stuff I hear, it irks me because people are drawing their own conclusions with very little evidence.”

Meza spoke only briefly to an Associated Press reporter over the phone. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had talked to Zimmerman since the shooting, but he said other relatives are afraid to comment publicly, even though they think he is being treated unfairly.

“The media has been quick to demonize George, but Trayvon Martin was no angelic boy walking,” Meza said.

Zimmerman’s attorney, Craig Sonner, has said in more than one interview that his client’s nose was broken during the fight with Martin.

The Orlando Sentinel has reported that Martin grabbed Zimmerman’s head and banged it several times against the sidewalk. Sonner said the gash on the back of Zimmerman’s head probably was serious enough for stitches, but he waited too long for treatment so the wound was already healing.

Zimmerman said he began crying for help; Martin’s family thinks it was their son who was crying out. Witness accounts differ and 911 tapes in which the voices are heard are not clear. A statement from Sanford police said the newspaper’s story was “consistent” with evidence turned over to prosecutors.

Martin was at least 6-feet, several inches taller than the 5-foot-9 Zimmerman. Meza said Martin was not the child he appears to be in photos flashed across television and newspapers.

George was in a fight for his life,” Meza said.

Martin’s supporters, which include a host of outspoken celebrities and civil rights leaders who have appeared on television for the past two weeks, don’t believe Zimmerman’s story. They want him arrested and prosecuted, and his parents think their son is being painted in a negative light by a police department leaking information to the media.

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