Prosecutors: Zimmerman did not use racial slur
Legal experts warned that "profiling" does not necessarily mean "racial profiling"
By Mike Schneider
ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite what some people think they heard, prosecutors say George Zimmerman did not utter a racial slur in his call to 911 on the night he shot Trayvon Martin.
The disputed words on the recording turned out to be "these f------ punks," prosecutors said in an affidavit filed Thursday in support of the murder charges brought against the neighborhood watch volunteer in the Feb. 26 slaying of the unarmed black teenager.
In yet another passage in the affidavit that caught the attention of those watching the racially charged case, prosecutors said Zimmerman "profiled" Martin just before the shooting. The document did not elaborate, and a spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey on Friday refused to explain it.
But legal experts warned that "profiling" does not necessarily mean "racial profiling." "Profiling" is a common law enforcement practice of using a set of facts and circumstances to determine whether someone may be committing a crime. Police typically look at a person's behavior and appearance, as well as other factors.
In the Martin case, Zimmerman told a police dispatcher: "This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something." Zimmerman reported that the teenager had his hand in his waistband and was walking around, looking at homes in the gated community in Sanford, which had had several break-ins in the past year.
"When we see the word `punks' and we connect that to the word `profile,' I don't think that is compelling proof that it's racial profiling," said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who is now in private practice. "This guy appeared to Zimmerman to meet the profile of a criminal."
He added: "Whether you're white, black or Hispanic. You have a hoodie. You're walking around."
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said the affidavit supported his contention that race wasn't a factor.
"Presumably, they've looked at all the evidence and haven't determined anything that would support a racial component," O'Mara said Friday.
Zimmerman, 28, has claimed self-defense, telling police that Martin attacked him as he was walking back to his truck. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
After the release of the 911 recording in mid-March, the belief that Zimmerman muttered a racial slur fed suspicions that the killing was racially motivated and stoked demands that the U.S. Justice Department bring civil rights charges. News organizations used audio technology to enhance the 911 call and try to figure out what he said.
Prosecutors did not explain how they reached their conclusion. But Harry Shorstein, who was Corey's predecessor as state attorney in Jacksonville, said her team probably relied on audio enhancing from the FBI or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Shorstein called such enhancing "an indefinite science." But Coffey said the fact that Corey inserted the exchange in the affidavit reflects her team's confidence that Zimmerman used the word "punks" and not the slur.
Legal experts cautioned that the affidavit, the full text of which is available here, is just a rough sketch of the prosecution's case and does not contain all the evidence. But Coffey said he did not see enough in the affidavit for the Justice Department to make a hate-crime case stick.
Nevertheless, Florida defense attorney Randy McClean said Zimmerman's use of the word "punks" and his profanity in describing Martin may help Florida prosecutors make the case that Zimmerman was the aggressor.
"It begs the question of who was the most likely aggressor," McClean said. "A teenager walking home ... or the person who believes the teenager he is observing is a `f------ punk,' an `ass----,' and getting away with something."
U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the department is conducting its own, separate investigation, and she refused to comment on the special prosecutor's findings.
At a brief hearing Friday, the judge overseeing the case, Jessica Recksiedler, said she might have a potential conflict of interest since her husband works with a lawyer who was first approached by Zimmerman's family to represent Zimmerman. That lawyer, Mark NeJame, also is working as a CNN legal analyst on the case.
Recksiedler asked the defense and the prosecution to submit their views on the potential conflict before a bail hearing next Friday.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press