The investigation into the killing of Florida teenager Travyon Martin took another turn on Monday when authorities revealed never-before-seen sex abuse allegations against the teen’s killer, George Zimmerman.
As part of a huge release of information, prosecutors disclosed that a woman came forward in March to say that Zimmerman sexually abused her off and on for years, beginning when they were both children and continuing until she was 19. Following the release, Zimmerman’s attorneys said the woman is his cousin. She has told authorities he is about two years older than her.
It’s unclear how seriously investigators took her allegations or whether they even looked into them further after taking her statement. Before now, there was no mention of sexual abuse amid the mountains of evidence released to the public.
In court filings in recent weeks, both the prosecution and defense discussed the woman’s statements in vague terms, referring to her only as “Witness #9” or “W9” but offering no hint that her allegations were sexual in nature.
Zimmerman’s attorneys fought to keep the woman’s allegations secret, saying they had nothing to do with the second-degree murder case against their client and would only incite the public against him. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and claimed he shot Martin in self defense.
Prosecutors, however, kept the door open to calling her to testify in the future, saying her statements “may be extremely relevant in cross-examination and/or rebuttal.”
On Friday, the judge ordered the statements to be made public.
Now, prosecutors have released audio recordings of the woman’s March 20 interview with investigators. In it, she can be heard crying as she recounts years of what she said was sexual abuse by Zimmerman while they were growing up together.
“This is the first time in my life that I’m not afraid of him,” she told the investigators.
The woman’s name was edited out of the recordings before their release. So were other parts of the conversation that could identify her, including the names of places where some of the sexual contact allegedly took place.
She said the abuse started when she was 6 years old and Zimmerman was 8. Zimmerman is now 28. The incidents happened when her parents sent her to visit Zimmerman’s parents, she alleged.
The woman said her family was living in Orlando, Fla., after having moved there from Louisiana. Zimmerman grew up in Virginia and moved to the Orlando area after high school. The woman never mentions Virginia in the edited version of the recording, but some of her answers about where the incidents took place were clearly cut out, presumably to protect her identity.
The woman frequently referred to Zimmerman as “Georgie” and said the abuse began while they were watching TV when she was sleeping over at his parents’ house.
“He would reach under the blankets and try to do things,” she said. “And I would try to push him off but he was bigger and stronger and older.”
She said the incidents continued throughout their teens, including when she visited him after he moved to the Orlando area. The latest incident happened, she said, when she was 19. She went over to his house hoping Zimmerman had changed. She ended up running out of the house when he began to massage and kiss her.
“Georgie always made himself look so good. He just sucked up to my dad and he was like the son you never had,” she told investigators. “He was different behind closed doors with me.”
What might be even more damaging to Zimmerman, however, is that the woman also told investigators she believed he was biased against black people. She said he was raised to distrust black people and that Zimmerman’s mother was overtly racist.
That could be a key for prosecutors, who have said Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, profiled and confronted the black teen leading up to the killing.
“Now that this statement is part of the public record, the defense will vigorously defend Mr. Zimmerman against the allegations,” Zimmerman’s attorneys wrote on their website late Monday. They said they plan to file “reciprocal” evidence in the case.
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