George Zimmerman's father: My son is not racist, did not confront Trayvon Martin
10:42 p.m. EST, March 15, 2012|By Rene Stutzman
, Orlando Sentinel
The Sanford Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin
, an unarmed black teenager, did not instigate the encounter but has received death threats and moved out of his home, his father told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday.
George Zimmerman, 28, has not been arrested, something that has put him and the Sanford Police Department
at the center of a firestorm. Critics say Trayvon, who was visiting family from his home in Miami, was a victim of racial profiling.
Zimmerman's father, 64-year-old Robert Zimmerman
of Lake Mary
, delivered a one-page letter to the Sentinel on Thursday, saying that the depiction of his son in the media has been cruel and misleading.
George Zimmerman is Hispanic and grew up in a multiracial family, the statement says.
"He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever ...," the letter says. "The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth."
The letter does not provide details about what happened Feb. 26 on a walkway in the gated community where George Zimmerman lives and where Trayvon was visiting. But it does challenge one basic assumption of the family's lawyers: that Zimmerman's intent when he got out of his sport utility vehicle was to confront Trayvon after calling police to report a suspicious person.
"At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event became public, and I hope that will be soon," the letter said, "everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media."
Police have released little information about what happened that night and no details about how Trayvon and Zimmerman came to be face to face.
No one disputes that Zimmerman called police from his SUV, then left it and encountered Trayvon on foot as the teenager returned from a 7-Eleven candy run.
Before an officer arrived, Trayvon and Zimmerman got into a fight, according to police, and witnesses heard one or both calling for help, and Zimmerman shot Trayvon once with a 9 mm handgun.
Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense. Police found blood on his face and the back of his head as well as grass on the back of his shirt.
That jibes with what Cheryl Brown's teenage son witnessed while walking his dog that night. Thirteen-year-old Austin stepped out his front door and heard people fighting, he told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday.
"I heard screaming and crying for help," he said. "I heard, 'Help me.' "
It was dark, and the boy did not see how the fight started, in fact, he only saw one person, a man in a red shirt — Zimmerman — who was on the ground.
The boy said he is not sure who called for help. After a moment, his dog escaped, and he turned to catch it and a few seconds later heard a gunshot, he said.
"When I heard the shot, the screaming stopped," he said.
He then rushed inside and told his sister to call police.
In his letter, Robert Zimmerman wrote that what happened that night was "tragic … and very sad for all concerned. The Martin family, our family and the entire community have been forever changed."
George Zimmerman has not talked publicly about what happened, his father said, because that's the advice police gave him. Both Zimmerman families have moved out of their homes, at least temporarily, Robert Zimmerman said, because they've received death threats.
Police on Tuesday turned the case over to the State Attorney's Office, saying they did not have evidence to justify George Zimmerman's arrest on a charge of manslaughter.
Prosecutors will now likely spend several weeks studying the case before making a decision on whether to charge Zimmerman.
Sanford police Chief Bill Lee Jr. told the Sentinel on Thursday night that he has invited the U.S. Department of Justice and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the investigation.
"It's an open book," Lee said. "If they want to look at what we did and how we did it and what information we have, they're welcome to it."
The FDLE has received a letter from the State Attorney's Office asking agents to review the case, spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.
Sanford police on Thursday also challenged a WFTV-Channel 9 report, in which Mary Cutcher said police largely ignored her even though she told them, "I know this was not self-defense. There was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling."
Police said they twice tried to interview her without success, and the third time, she wrote a very short sworn statement for her roommate that was consistent with Zimmerman's account.
More than 400 people gathered Wednesday at a Sanford church, where black community leaders and Baltimore evangelist Jamal Bryant again demanded that Zimmerman be arrested.
Some of Trayvon's family members are expected to be a news conference this morning called by Orlando attorney Natalie Jackson, who is representing the family.