Trayvon Benjamin Martin was a 17-year-old African American teenager from Miami Gardens, Florida, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida. An athletically-inclined teen with an eye towards aviation, Trayvon was highly interested in becoming a pilot. After national media focused on the tragedy, Zimmerman was eventually charged and tried in Martin’s death. A jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter in July 2013.
Trayvon Martin was born in Miami, Florida, on February 5, 1995, the son of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. At the time of the shooting, Fulton was a program coordinator for the Miami Dade Housing Authority, and Tracy Martin was a truck driver; they lived near each other in Miami Gardens. After his divorce from Sybrina Fulton in 1999, Trayvon’s father married Alicia Stanley who had two daughters from a previous marriage. They met when Trayvon was about three years old. Stanley and Martin’s father were together for about 14 years.
When Trayvon was nine years old, he saved his father’s life by pulling his father, who had been immobilized by burns to the legs, out of a fire in their apartment. Trayvon enjoyed sports video games. He washed cars, babysat and cut grass to earn his own money. His former football coach said he had been one of the best players on their football team, The Wolverines, which he played for from age 8 to 13. Trayvon’s former football coach described him as a shy youth, who always walked with his hoodie and headphones on listening to music.
Trayvon had wanted to fly or repair airplanes and in the summer of 2009 he enrolled in “Experience Aviation,” a seven-week program in Opa-locka, Florida, which introduced him to aviation. During the time Trayvon was enrolled in the program, it was run by Barrington Irving, the youngest person ever to fly solo around the world. Irving said Trayvon was a polite youth who enjoyed flying and had an interest in football. After Trayvon graduated from the program, he spent the next summer as a volunteer, helping out new students in the aviation program. According to his parents, Trayvon had hoped to attend the University of Miami or Florida A&M University.
When Trayvon started high school, his goal of playing professional football was put aside in favor of a career working with airplanes. Trayvon attended Carol City High School in Miami Gardens for his freshman year and most of his sophomore year, before he transferred to Krop High School in north Miami-Dade in 2011. While in his first year at Carol City, Trayvon attended classes in the mornings at the high school and then went to George T. Baker Aviation School for the rest of his school day. Trayvon’s ninth grade teacher, who taught him three classes of Aerospace Technology at the Baker Aviation School, said he was a normal student, well-behaved, who passed all his classes. According to another teacher at Carol City, math was his favorite subject, and she said she never saw Trayvon show disrespect.
Trayvon’s mother had him transferred to Dr. Michael M. Krop High School for his junior year. Fulton said that her son had average performance in school, and she transferred him because she thought Krop High School was better and she wanted a different environment for him.
Trayvon was visting his father in Sanford, Florida after receiving a ten-day suspension from Krop Senior High School. The suspension stemmed from the discovery of drug residue in Trayvon’s book bag. Martin said he took Trayvon to Sanford “to disconnect and get his priorities straight.” Trayvon had been to Twin Lakes several times before with his father, and sometimes played football with the children in the neighborhood. On the night of the shooting, Martin was out to dinner with his fiancée, Brandy Green, while Trayvon and Green’s son stayed at home, watching TV and playing video games. Trayvon went out, walking to a local 7-11 store where he bought Skittles for Green’s son and an Arizona-brand watermelon-flavored fruit juice drink.
In response to a rash of robberies and burglaries, the residents of the community established a neighborhood watch in September 2011. George Zimmerman, one of the residents, was selected as the program coordinator. Zimmerman regularly patrolled the streets and was licensed to carry a firearm. From August 2011 to February 2012, Zimmerman had called police several times to state he had seen individuals whom he had deemed as suspicious. All of the reported figures were Black males.
After returning from the store to the Twin Lakes neighborhood, Zimmerman spotted Trayvon. From his SUV, Zimmerman called the police department at 7:11 PM to report a “suspicious guy,” Trayvon, walking between homes and starting to run. The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to get out of his car and follow the “suspicious guy.” However, Zimmerman disregarded the instructions and pursued the teen. Moments later, there was an altercation between the two.
Later released video footage of Trayvon shopping for treats at 7-11 showed no criminal or aggressive behavior. In later interviews, it was revealed that Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend when he was spotted by Zimmerman. She stated that Trayvon noticed that he was being followed by someone and thus began to run, with the two soon losing contact with each other via Trayvon’s earpiece. Trayvon and Zimmerman, whom it is believed never identified himself as part of a community watch, encountered each other in circumstances that have remained mysterious and conflicted, with someone calling out for help multiple times in a short time span. The confrontation ended with Zimmerman shooting the unarmed teenager in the chest. Trayvon died less than a hundred yards from the door of the townhouse in which he was staying.
An officer arrived on the scene at 7:17 p.m. He found Trayvon dead and Zimmerman on the ground, bleeding from wounds to the head and face. The officer then took Zimmerman into custody, who claimed he shot Trayvo in self-defense. Zimmerman was shortly released with no charges filed.
Trayvon’s father learned of his son’s death after filing a missing persons report with the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Following Trayvon’s death, rallies, marches and protests were held across the USA. In March 2012, hundreds of students at his high school held a walkout in support of him. An online petition calling for a full investigation and prosecution of Zimmerman garnered 2.2 million signatures. The media coverage surrounding Trayvon’s death was greater than that of the 2012 presidential race, which was underway at the time. A national debate about racial profiling and stand your ground laws ensued, and the governor of Florida appointed a task force to examine the state’s self-defense laws. Trayvon’s life was scrutinized by the media and bloggers who examined the digital footprint he had left behind. On social media, the name “Trayvon” was tweeted (mentioned in posts to Twitter web feeds by users of the service) more than two million times in the 30 days following the shooting. More than 1,000 people attended the viewing of his remains the day before his funeral, which was held on March 3, 2012 in Miami, Florida. He was buried in Dade-Memorial Park (North), in Miami.
Trayvon’s parents, upset that an arrest had not been made in their son’s death, got legal representation. Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney from Tallahassee, Florida took their case pro bono and retained Natalie Jackson, an attorney familiar with Sanford and Seminole County who specialized in women’s and children’s cases, to help with Trayvon’s case. On March 5, Jackson asked Ryan Julison to help as well. A publicist, Julison initially approached several national media contacts about covering the shooting. Over the next few days and weeks, the national media started reporting on the shooting, including: Reuters, CBS This Morning, ABC World News and CNN.
At a White House press conference in March 2012, President Obama was asked about the Trayvon’s shooting, and said, “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon and I think they [his parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves.”
In June 2012, Trayvon’s parents and members of the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign, delivered a petition with 340,000 signatures to the Citizen Safety and Protection task force asking for changes to the Stand-your-ground law in Florida. The task force eventually recommended against repealing the statute, saying that Florida residents had a right to defend themselves with deadly force without a duty to retreat if they feel threatened.
Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012, with additional information coming to the media’s attention that made the case even more highly charged. The trial began on June 24, 2013, after the selection of an all-female jury. The following month, on July 13, 2013, the six-member jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges.
Later in the year, Zimmerman was charged with domestic aggravated assault, among other charges, after having allegedly choked and aimed a gun at his girlfriend. The woman opted not to pursue the charges. Zimmerman was arrested again in early 2015 on another charge of aggravated assault.
The Trayvon Martin Foundation was established in March 2012, with the goal of increasing awareness about the effect of violence on families while scrutinizing racial and gender crime profiling.
February 26, 2012 – George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, calls 911 to report “a suspicious person” in the neighborhood. He is instructed not to get out of his SUV or approach the person. Zimmerman disregards the instructions. Moments later, neighbors report hearing gunfire. Zimmerman acknowledges that he shot Martin, claiming it was in self-defense. In a police report, Officer Timothy Smith writes that Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of the head.
February 27, 2012 – Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, files a missing persons report. Officers with the Sanford Police Department visit Tracy Martin. He is able to identify Trayvon Martin’s body using a photo.
March 8, 2102 – Investigators receive a fax from the Altamonte Family Practice containing the medical records identifying the injuries sustained by Zimmerman on the night of the shooting: Open wound of scalp, without mention of complication; nasal bones, closed fracture; assault by other specified means.
March 12, 2012 – Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee says that Zimmerman has not been charged because there are no grounds to disprove his story of the events.
March 13, 2012 – Sanford Police Department’s homicide detective Christopher Serino recommends Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter.
Zimmerman “failed to identify himself” as a concerned citizen or neighborhood watch member on two occasions that night. Serino reports that he thought Zimmerman’s head injuries were “marginally consistent with a life-threatening episode, as described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force were deployed by Trayvon Martin.”
March 14, 2012 – The case is turned over to the Florida State Attorney Norm Wolfinger.
March 15, 2012 – In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s father, writes that George has been unfairly portrayed as a racist, and that George is Hispanic and grew up in a multiracial family.
March 16, 2012 – Authorities release seven 911 calls from the night of the shooting. In one of the 911 recordings, Zimmerman, against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, follows Martin. In one of the recordings, a voice screams “Help, help!” in the background, followed by the sound of a gunshot.
March 19, 2012 – The Justice Department and the FBI announce that they have launched an investigation into Martin’s death.
March 20, 2012 – A lawyer for the Martin family, Benjamin Crump, holds a news conference, telling reporters that Trayvon was on the phone with his 16-year-old girlfriend at the time of the shooting. The girl, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she heard someone ask Martin what he was doing and heard Martin ask why the person was following him, according to Crump. The girl then got the impression that there was an altercation in which the earpiece fell out of Martin’s ear and the connection went dead.
March 21, 2012 – CNN analyzes one of the tapes of Zimmerman’s call to dispatch, in which he is purported to have used a racial slur against blacks. The results are inconclusive.
March 22, 2012 – A petition on Change.org calling for the arrest of Zimmerman, created by the parents of Trayvon Martin, surpasses 1.3 million people.
March 22, 2012 – Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announces he is stepping down “temporarily” as head of the department, which has been criticized for its handling of the fatal shooting.
March 22, 2012 – Florida Gov. Rick Scott announces he is appointing Angela B. Corey of the 4th Judicial Circuit as state attorney in the investigation, replacing Norman Wolfinger, state attorney for Florida’s 18th District, which includes Sanford.
March 23, 2012 – President Barack Obama speaks out publicly for the first time on the growing controversy over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, saying that the incident requires national “soul-searching.”
March 24, 2012 – A handful of members from the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) offer a $10,000 reward for the “capture” of George Zimmerman.
March 26, 2012 – Exactly one month after Trayvon Martin’s death, rallies take place in cities across the country, including Sanford, where the City Commission holds a town hall meeting on the incident and its aftermath. Martin’s parents speak at the meeting.
March 28, 2012 – Zimmerman’s father, Robert, appears on television and says that Martin threatened to kill Zimmerman and then beat him so badly Zimmerman was forced to shoot.
March 29, 2012 – Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., appears on CNN and says medical records will prove that his brother was attacked and his nose was broken by Trayvon Martin before he fatally shot the teen.
April 2, 2012 – FBI agents interview Martin’s girlfriend, the 16-year-old girl who, phone records show, was on the cell phone with him shortly before the fatal confrontation.
April 3, 2012 – Zimmerman’s legal adviser, Craig Sonner, says that criminal defense lawyer Hal Uhrig will represent Zimmerman and that Sonner will serve as co-counsel if the case proceeds.
April 7-8, 2012 – George Zimmerman launches a website warning supporters about groups falsely claiming to be raising funds for his defense. The site includes a link through which donations can be made to pay for Zimmerman’s lawyers and living expenses.
April 9, 2012 – Prosecutor Angela Corey announces that she will not present the case to a grand jury.
April 10, 2012 – Attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner announce that they have lost contact with Zimmerman and no longer represent him.
April 11, 2012 – Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder. His new lawyer, Mark O’Mara, tells CNN that Zimmerman has turned himself in.
April 18, 2012 – Seminole Circuit Court Judge Jessica Recksiedler, who was assigned to Zimmerman’s case, approves a motion to disqualify herself from the criminal case because her husband works as a CNN legal analyst.
April 18, 2012 – It is announced that Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. will take over George Zimmerman’s case.
April 20, 2012 – Zimmerman’s bond hearing is held. Judge Lester sets Zimmerman’s bond at $150,000. During the hearing, Zimmerman apologizes to the family of Trayvon Martin for the loss of their son.
April 23, 2012 – Zimmerman is released on bail at 12:05 AM. Later in the day, Zimmerman enters a written not guilty plea and waves his right to appear at his arraignment.
May 8, 2012 – Judge Kenneth Lester accepts Zimmerman’s written plea of not guilty.
May 15, 2012 – A medical report by George Zimmerman’s family doctor, taken a day after the February 26 shooting, shows Zimmerman was diagnosed with a fractured nose, two black eyes and two lacerations on the back of his head.
June 1, 2012 – Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. revokes Zimmerman’s bond and orders him to surrender within 48 hours after the prosecution argues that Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, misrepresented their finances when Zimmerman’s bond was originally set in April.
June 3, 2012 – At 1:45 PM, Zimmerman surrenders to authorities and is taken into custody at the John E. Polk Correctional Facility in Seminole County.
June 12, 2012 – George Zimmerman’s wife Shellie is arrested and charged with perjury.
June 18, 2012 – Audio of six phone calls between Zimmerman and his wife Shellie are released, along with bank statements.
June 20, 2012 – Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee is officially fired.
June 25, 2012 – Zimmerman’s attorney files a motion requesting a “reasonable bond” be set for Zimmerman’s release from jail.
July 5, 2012 – The judge sets Zimmerman’s bond at $1 million.
July 6, 2012 – Zimmerman is released from jail after posting the required 10% of the $1 million bond ($100,000).
July 13, 2012 – Zimmerman’s legal team files a motion requesting Judge Lester step down from the case. The motion claims Zimmerman cannot get a fair trial because Lester used “gratuitous, disparaging” language in the previous week’s bail order.
July 18, 2012 – Zimmerman, appearing on Fox News “Hannity” show, does his first television interview since the shooting. He says he would not do anything differently.
August 9, 2012 – A photo of Trayvon Martin’s body and George Zimmerman’s school records are mistakenly released by prosecutors. Special Prosecutor Angela Corey’s office issues a statement asking reporters to “please disregard and do not use the information contained in the initial e-mail. It was inadvertently attached.”
August 13, 2012 – George Zimmerman appeals Judge Lester’s refusal to recuse himself with the Fifth District Court of Appeals.
August 29, 2012 – A Florida appeals court grants Zimmerman’s request for a new judge, saying Judge Kenneth Lester’s remarks in a bail order put Zimmerman in reasonable fear of a fair trial.
August 30, 2012 – Judge Debra Nelson is assigned to replace Judge Kenneth Lester in the case of George Zimmerman.
December 7, 2012 – Zimmerman sues NBC Universal for allegedly editing the 911 call he placed on the night of the tragic event. He states in the lawsuit that NBC unfairly made it appear that “Zimmerman was a racist, and that he was racially profiling Trayvon Martin”.
February 9, 2013 – The Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation hosts a “Day of Remembrance Community Peace Walk and Forum” in Miami. It takes place four days after what would have been Martin’s 18th birthday.
March 5, 2013 – Lawyer Mark O’Mara decides against seeking a pretrial Stand your Ground immunity hearing for George Zimmerman citing lack of preparation time.
April 5, 2013 – Martin’s parents settle a wrongful-death claim against the homeowners association of the Florida subdivision where their son was killed.
April 30, 2013 – George Zimmerman waives his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing. Zimmerman’s attorneys decide they will instead try this as a self-defense case. If Zimmerman had had a pretrial immunity hearing, a judge would have ruled whether his actions were protected under the “stand your ground” law. If the judge had ruled in favor of Zimmerman, it would have meant that no criminal or civil trial could proceed.
May 28, 2013 – Judge Debra Nelson rules on several motions brought by the defense. Nelson rules that Trayvon Martin’s familiarity with guns, his marijuana use, and fights he may have been in cannot be brought up in Zimmerman’s trial. She also denies a request to take the jury to the crime scene. Nelson, however, rules that jurors will remain anonymous and will be referred to by numbers only.
June 20, 2013 – An all-female jury is selected.
June 24, 2013 – The trial begins with opening statements.
July 13, 2013 – The six woman jury finds George Zimmerman not guilty. They had three choices: to find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder; to find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter; or to find him not guilty. The jurors deliberated for more than 16 hours total, including 13 on Saturday alone.
August 28, 2013 – Shellie Zimmerman, wife of George Zimmerman, pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge of perjury. Prosecutors said Shellie Zimmerman lied when she told a judge during an April 2012 bond hearing for her husband that the family was indigent.
February 24, 2015 – The U.S. Justice Department announces that no federal civil rights charges will be brought against George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in February 2012.