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Last phone call may provide clues in Florida teen’s shooting death

A black teenager’s last phone conversation with his girlfriend before being shot dead in Florida shows that the suspected killer stalked the youth and killed him “in cold blood,” a lawyer representing the victim’s family said Tuesday.

It was the latest turn in a case that has raised allegations of institutional racism in Sanford, Fla., where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer in the gated community where the shooting took place. George Zimmerman has admitted shooting the unarmed teen with his 9-millimeter pistol, saying he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested.

The Justice Department said Monday that it would investigate the case, and the Seminole County state attorney, Norm Wolfinger, said Tuesday that a grand jury would meet next month to consider evidence. But with Zimmerman still walking free, civil rights activists and supporters of the teenager’s family say the response has been inadequate and has come far too late, especially given the phone records that have emerged.

They include the conversation detailed by a Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, at a news conference Tuesday. Crump described Martin phoning his 16-year-old girlfriend and telling her that someone was following him as he walked in the rain toward a relative’s home after buying candy at a nearby store.

“ ‘Oh, he’s right behind me, he’s right behind me again,’ ” Crump said Martin told his girlfriend, whose name was not released. She urged Martin to run; he told her he was “just going to walk fast.”

Seconds later, the girlfriend listened as Martin apparently exchanged words with his pursuer. “Why are you following me?” she heard him say, Crump told reporters. A man responded, “What are you doing around here?”

The girlfriend said the phone call ended abruptly after she heard what sounded like a scuffle, Crump said. The girlfriend did not hear a gunshot, but nearby residents did, and a flurry of calls to 911 followed.

“The dots have all been connected,” said Crump, arguing that the cellphone records would show that Zimmerman, who has been described as both Latino and white, was not trying to protect himself when he shot Martin. “Arrest this killer. He killed this child in cold blood.”

Zimmerman, who made 46 calls to 911 between January 2011 and Feb. 26, according to Seminole County records, often to report suspicious people in his gated community, has not made a statement, and there was no answer at the phone number linked to his Sanford address Tuesday.

But the account of Martin’s phone call with his girlfriend, and the transcript of Zimmerman’s own call to 911 in the minutes before the shooting, are evidence, Crump says, that Zimmerman had the teenager in his cross hairs — not the other way around.

If so, that would undermine police assertions that Zimmerman — who had a permit to carry the gun — was protected by Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground Law. It gives people the right to “meet force with force, including deadly force,” and does not require them to retreat if they “reasonably” believe they are facing death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman’s call to 911 made clear he was watching Martin for a while before the shooting.

“Hey, we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood and there’s a real suspicious guy.... This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the 911 operator.

“He’s just staring … looking at all the houses,” Zimmerman said in between answering questions from the operator about his location and the appearance of the person he was watching. “Now he’s coming toward me … something’s wrong with him. Yep, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is.”

Zimmerman then said the man began running, and he followed him, even as the operator told him sharply, “We don’t need you to do that.”

Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, insists his son is not racist.

“George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever,” Robert Zimmerman wrote in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel last week. In the letter, Zimmerman described media and other accounts of the killing as “totally inaccurate,” and denied his son had followed or confronted Martin.

At least two of the people who dialed 911 when the shooting occurred described a possible physical altercation before Zimmerman fired.

One woman described a “guy on top” of another; another said the two men “looked like they were wrestling each other.” All of the callers spoke of hearing a man screaming for help, and in one call, the sounds of a man’s wails can be heard in the background.

tina.susman@latimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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