George Zimmerman heard the message loud and clear: Don’t follow Trayvon Martin.
In a statement he gave to police the same night he shot and killed the unarmed teen, Zimmerman wrote that he was returning to his vehicle after a police dispatcher told him over the phone to stop pursuing Martin.
“The dispatcher told me not to follow the suspect and that an officer was in route,” Zimmerman wrote in the statement, which was released to the public for the first time on Thursday morning. “As I headed back to my vehicle, the suspect emerged from the darkness and said ‘you got a problem?’”
Florida prosecutors who later charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder have a different take. In an affidavit filed in April, special prosecutor Angela Corey wrote that Zimmerman kept following Martin through the gated community despite being told to stop.
“Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home,” the affidavit said. “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.”
The discrepancy is key in the case against Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty and claims he was acting in self defense the night of Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.
Prosecutors have painted Zimmerman as the aggressor, a wannabe cop who saw a teen walking through his neighborhood and immediately believed the situation looked suspicious. They say he was a vigilante who took matters into his own hands rather than waiting for police.
Zimmerman, meanwhile, has portrayed himself as a man who was simply watching out for his neighborhood on the night of the shooting. He says he was the victim of an out of control teen who tried to kill him and who he was forced to shoot to save his own life.
Yet none of the evidence or witness statements that have been made public to date demonstrate with any clarity what happened immediately before the killing. None of it proves either Zimmerman’s or the prosecution’s version of what happened in those fatal few moments.
No witnesses have stepped forward publicly to say that they saw the shooting itself or even how the confrontation began, and authorities haven’t pointed to any evidence proving Zimmerman ignored the police dispatcher who was telling him to stop.
The statement released on Thursday morning represents the most complete version of Zimmerman’s side of the story that has been made public so far. It was accompanied by audio and video recordings of police interrogations with him after the shooting, including a daytime reenactment where he walked investigators through the scene of the killing.
Zimmerman wrote that the teen punched him, knocked him to the ground and then got on top of him before slamming his head into the sidewalk beneath them.
“The suspect told me to ‘shut the fuck up’ as I tried to sit up right,” Zimmerman wrote. “The suspect grabbed my head and slammed it into the concrete sidewalk several times…My head felt like it was going to explode.”
He said at some point he thought Martin was reaching for a gun, which Zimmerman had holstered at his side. The teen allegedly told him, “You gonna die tonight mother fucker.”
“I unholstered my firearm in fear for my life as he had assured me he was going to kill me and I fired one shot into his torso,” Zimmerman wrote. “The suspect sat back allowing me to sit up and said ‘you got me.’”
The release comes after Zimmerman’s credibility has crumbled in recent weeks.
Investigators uncovered evidence they say proves Zimmerman and his wife used code words and unusual bank transactions to try to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars from authorities while claiming they were too poor to pay a high bond amount to get him out of jail.
Prosecutors used the revelations to charge Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Zimmerman, with perjury for lying to the judge in the case.
The revelations also angered Judge Kenneth Lester Jr., who ordered Zimmerman back to jail after allowing him to walk free just weeks before. In his order, the judge wrote that the evidence against Zimmerman was “strong” and that the defendant’s credibility was in trouble.
“He has now demonstrated,” Lester wrote, “that he does not properly respect the law or the integrity of the judicial process.”
Zimmerman remains in jail while he awaits trial, which his attorneys have said could take place next year.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com