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Zimmerman trial spotlights police interviews

Prosecutors play tapes of suspect detailing shooting

Police officer Doris Singleton on Monday displayed a copy of a photo of the complex where the shooting took place.

Joe Burbank/Pool

Police officer Doris Singleton on Monday displayed a copy of a photo of the complex where the shooting took place.

SANFORD, Fla. — Jurors in the George Zimmerman trial on Monday listened to a series of police interviews with detectives growing more pointed in their questioning of the neighborhood watch volunteer’s account of how he came to fatally shoot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Prosecutors played audio and video tapes of the interviews that Zimmerman had with Sanford police investigators Doris Singleton and Chris Serino. In an early interview, just hours after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting, Singleton recounted that Zimmerman noticed a cross she was wearing and said: ‘‘In Catholic religion, it’s always wrong to kill someone.’’

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Singleton said she responded, ‘‘If what you’re telling me is true, I don’t think that what God meant was that you couldn’t save your own life.’’

But in an interview several days later, Singleton and Serino suggest Zimmerman was running after Martin before the confrontation. They also ask the neighborhood watch volunteer why he didn’t explain to Martin why he was following him. The officers insinuate that Martin may have been ‘‘creeped out’’ by being followed.

‘‘Do you think he was scared?’’ Singleton asked Zimmerman in one video interview.

Under cross-examination at the trial, though, Serino said Zimmerman seemed straightforward in his answers and didn’t show any anger when talking about Martin. Serino said the increasingly pointed questioning was a tactic known as a ‘‘challenge interview’’ where detectives try to break someone’s story to make sure they’re telling the truth.

Zimmerman has said he fatally shot the teen in self-defense because the Miami-area black teenager was banging his head into the concrete sidewalk behind the townhouses in a gated community.

The increasingly pointed questioning was a tactic known as a ‘challenge interview.’

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Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. The state argued during its opening statement that Zimmerman profiled and followed Martin in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight. He has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race, as Martin’s family and their supporters have claimed.

In his first interview at the police station, Zimmerman said he saw Martin walking through his neighborhood on a dark, rainy night while Zimmerman was driving to the grocery store. He told Singleton that he didn’t recognize Martin and that there had been recent break-ins at his townhouse complex.

‘‘These guys always get away,’’ Zimmerman told Singleton, a statement similar to one that prosecutors have used previously to try to show that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with the burglaries and his encounter with Martin was a breaking point.

Zimmerman told the police officer that he lost track of Martin and got out of his truck to look for a street name he could relay to a police dispatcher.

When the dispatcher suggested Zimmerman didn’t need to follow Martin, Zimmerman started to head back to his vehicle. At that point, Zimmerman said, Martin jumped out of some bushes and punched him, and he fell to the ground.

Zimmerman said that Martin began hitting his head against the sidewalk as Zimmerman yelled for help, and that Martin told him, ‘‘You’re going to die tonight.’’

With Zimmerman’s shirt and jacket pushed up during the struggle and his holstered gun now visible, he thought Martin was reaching for his firearm. Zimmerman told the officer that he shot Martin, and that the teen said, ‘‘You got me.’’

In a written statement, which Singleton read in court, Zimmerman refers to Martin as ‘‘the suspect.’’ Singleton said it didn’t appear that Zimmerman showed any anger when talking about the teen. Prosecutors must show that Zimmerman acted with ill will or a depraved mind in order to get a second-degree murder conviction.

Zimmerman also acted surprised when Singleton told him Martin was dead.

‘‘He’s dead?!’’ Singleton recalled Zimmerman saying, before he lowered his head toward the table in the interrogation room.

Earlier Monday, prosecutors called FBI audio expert Hirotaka Nakasone to focus on the issue of who was screaming for help on 911 calls during the confrontation. Jurors were played the 911 calls several times last week.

The recordings are crucial pieces of evidence because they could determine who the aggressor was in the confrontation. Martin’s family contends it was the teen screaming, while Zimmerman’s father has said it was his son.

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