- Associated Press - Thursday, March 29, 2012

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 who have defended Zimmerman have done 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 Martin was acting suspiciously. 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 police did not arrest him, 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,” Hall said. “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.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if Meza 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 father in an interview airing Wednesday night on WOFL FOX 35 in Orlando reiterated what his son’s attorney, Craig Sonner, has said about the confrontation with Martin. Robert Zimmerman, 64, said the teen confronted his son when he got back to his car that day. When his son started reaching for his cellphone, Martin “was punching him in the nose, his nose was broken and he was knocked to the concrete.”

He said Martin, “continued to beat George, and at some point, George pulled his pistol and did what he did.”

The Orlando Sentinel, citing anonymous sources, has reported that Martin grabbed Zimmerman’s head and banged it several times against the sidewalk. A statement from Sanford police said the newspaper’s story was “consistent” with evidence turned over to prosecutors.

George Zimmerman said he began crying for help, which his father said his family believes after listening to the 911 tapes. 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.

Martin was at least 6 feet tall, 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.

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