Revelations From the Zimmerman Affidavit

The case will likely hinge on the testimony of one key witness: the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin as it all happened.

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Reuters

And on the 45th day we finally learned something.

From the short "Affidavit of Probable Cause -- Second Degree Murder," made public late Thursday by state prosecutors, we now know that Florida believes that George Zimmerman was chasing after Trayvon Martin just before he shot the unarmed teenager to death. This means we know that Florida officials believe that Martin was, indeed, talking on his cellphone with a friend at the time of the altercation. It means we know that officials do not believe Zimmerman's reported story that Martin attacked him from behind.

It means, in turn, that prosecutors and police believe that Martin's friend, the young woman on the other end of that fateful phone call, is credible and will be believed by both judge and jury. It means the prosecutor believes that this testimony can help overcome the state's stout self-defense law. And it also means that a case about race will ultimately become a "he said, she said" story when Zimmerman and his attorneys move to dismiss the charge against him based upon Florida's "Stand Your Ground" justifiable homicide law.

From the affidavit:

During the recorded [911] call Zimmerman made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighborhood. Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated "these assholes, they always get away" and also said "these fucking punks."

During this time, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening. The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn't know why. Martin attempted to run home but was followed by Zimmerman who didn't want the person he falsely assumed was going to commit a crime to get away before the police arrived. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and followed Martin. When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him. Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin who was trying to return home.

This is the case, folks. Right here in these words. Right here on the first day of the rest of Florida Circuit Court Judge Jessica Recksiedler's life. If she believes the narrative offered by Martin's friend, it would be virtually impossible for her to rule that Zimmerman is immune from prosecution. You don't need to be a judge to know that you can't be "standing your ground" if you are, at the same time, pursuing the man you will ultimately claim to have killed in self-defense. The law is designed to protect people who are attacked, not protect them from prosecution if they attack.

We don't know much today about the young woman on the other end of that phone call. But we sure will by the end of the evidentiary hearing, likely held by Judge Recksiedler sometime this summer or fall, which will determine whether Zimmerman's case will go to a jury. If Florida prosecutors follow the narrative the police have charted with their probable cause affidavit, this woman will be the centerpiece of the second-degree murder case. No matter how the case turns out, her likely testimony -- "Trayvon told me he was running away"-- will be dynamite.

And it will also provide Zimmerman's lawyer and the judge with a challenge. How far will the defense go in attacking the credibility of the young witness? How far will Judge Recksiedler go in allowing such a cross-examination? Surely she will not allow the young woman to be put on trial. But just as surely, she must allow Zimmerman's lawyer to zealously defend a client who is facing a life sentence. Add to that mix the possibility of the confrontation being televised under Florida's sunshine laws and you have the possibility of excruciating drama.

Angela Corey likely has other evidence she will use to buttress the testimony of Martin's friend. But the case against Zimmerman right now looks to stand or fall on the strength of the allegation that Martin was running away from conflict with the neighborhood watch captain. We know that these "Stand Your Ground" laws are successful in blocking prosecutions often because the best witness against the defendant is the person the defendant has killed. This time, perhaps, it will be different. This time, the police and prosecutors are telling us with their affidavit, the deceased will have a tribune inside that courtroom.

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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