At first it seemed stunningly simple: the case was about race. A burly white man shot and killed an unarmed fresh-faced black teenager in a gated Florida community. Simple it seemed and, after much public outrage and clamour, the initial decision not to charge George Zimmerman was reversed.
Except it was never simple, and a new layer of complexity has been added every week since the fateful February 26 encounter between the 16-year-old Trayvon Martin and the self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain at the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes, north of Orlando.
Mr. Zimmerman, 28, wasn’t white; he was Hispanic and Mr. Martin, despite widely circulated photos of him as a 12-year-old, was tall – taller than the gun-toting watch captain. Witness accounts differed and Mr. Zimmerman’s account of self defence – ridiculed at first – seemed to be bolstered by medical evidence of a fight that ended with a close-range gunshot with the shooter lying on his back and the victim astride him.
Amid intense media scrutiny the case evolved from race to guns; specifically Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law that makes shooting someone okay even in a public place if the shooter feels threatened, to money and – now – even sex has tainted the bizarre Zimmerman saga.
The latest twist involves an unnamed woman who volunteered to police shortly after the shooting that Mr. Zimmerman had, she claimed, molested her for a decade, starting when she was six and he was eight.
While the sexual activity seems to have consisted mostly of groping and may not be legally actionable, so-called Witness 9 also said that the Zimmerman family didn’t like black people.
So, maybe, the case is about race again.
Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers tried to keep Witness 9’s sworn statements out of the public record, arguing they had nothing to do with the second-degree murder charge Mr. Zimmerman is facing.
But the judge ruled Witness 9’s statement was part of the public record, as were more than 150 taped telephone calls Mr. Zimmerman made from his jail cell. It was in some of those calls to his wife that Mr. Zimmerman revealed he had far more money than he had told the judge under oath. The stash consisted of donations to a website set up to collect funds for his defence by supporters. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been pledged and Mr. Zimmerman seems to have, at least, contemplated fleeing with the money.
Unamused, Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester revoked Mr. Zimmerman’s bail, ordered him back to jail and then – after leaving him there for a couple of weeks to contemplate the seriousness of being less than frank with the court – set much stiffer terms and a higher bond while he awaits trail.
Meanwhile, FBI investigators ordered in by the Obama administration when the public fury was at its peak last spring, have probed the allegations that Mr. Zimmerman was a racist and the shooting was a hate crime.
So far, no hard evidence has emerged to back the most incendiary element in the whole case. On the contrary, former co-workers and neighbours told investigators that Mr. Zimmerman wasn’t racist and had African-Americans among his circle of friends. One Florida investigator called Mr. Zimmerman, who had long aspired to be a police officer, “overzealous” with a “little hero complex,” but found no evidence that race was a factor in his decision to follow Mr. Martin.