MIAMI/ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - FBI interviews with dozens of friends, coworkers and neighbors of George Zimmerman found no evidence that the accused murderer of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was a racist, according to new documents released on Thursday.
The reports from the FBI were among a new collection of evidence, including crime scene photos, bank surveillance videos and other documents, that were released by Florida’s state attorney’s office in the racially charged case.
Zimmerman, a 28-year-old who is white and Hispanic, is charged with second-degree murder in the February 26 shooting death of Martin, a 17-year-old black teen.
A neighborhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman claims he killed Martin in self defense after the unarmed youth attacked him and slammed his head into the sidewalk during a confrontation in a gated community in the central Florida city of Sanford.
He is currently living in an undisclosed safe house after being released on $1 million bail last week.
FBI agents investigating whether race was a factor in the shooting spoke with Sanford police officers, Zimmerman’s bosses and colleagues, friends, neighbors and others to determine if he had ever shown any racial prejudice.
In one interview detailed in the evidence, Sanford Police Detective Christopher Serino, the lead investigator in the Martin case, told the FBI he did not believe Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was motivated by race.
“Serino believed that Zimmerman’s actions were not based on Martin’s skin color (but) rather based on his attire,” according to a report.
Serino told investigators that members of local gangs, who called themselves “Goons,” frequently wore “hoodies,” or hooded sweatshirts, and he believed Zimmerman “took it upon himself to view Martin as acting suspicious.”
Martin was wearing a hoodie and returning from a convenience store when Zimmerman called a 911 dispatcher and said the teen looked suspicious and then followed him.
Serino described Zimmerman as “overzealous” and having a “little hero complex.” He submitted a report to Sanford police officials and the state attorney’s office saying there was sufficient probable cause to arrest and charge Zimmerman with manslaughter.
Martin’s killing drew national attention after police and prosecutors initially declined to arrest and charge Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law and his claim that he used deadly force because he believed his life was being threatened.
The documents do not provide any blockbuster evidence but include additional details about the shooting and more insight into Zimmerman’s personal life.
A former law enforcement officer who said he taught Zimmerman how to shoot told investigators that Zimmerman told him he made eye contact and yelled for help when two neighbors came outside at different times during the scuffle, according to the evidence.
The claim that Zimmerman made eye contact with neighbors shortly before shooting Martin is at odds with statements released so far by prosecutors.
Many witnesses told investigators it was too dark to identify the two people wrestling on the ground or to determine who was on top or on bottom or who was yelling for help.
The name of the former law enforcement officer was blacked out in his statement, but the person was described as a Zimmerman friend and former Seminole County deputy.
The witness, who was interviewed by agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI, said he was called to the scene the night of Martin’s killing by Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, and waited with her at the police department while Zimmerman was questioned.
The witness also accompanied Zimmerman when he recreated the shooting for police and a subsequent police interrogation.
The person said that at the time of the shooting, Zimmerman was “estranged” from his mother and father and other members of his family, according to a report.
Zimmerman’s ex-fiancee described what she called his complicated family life to investigators.
His mother, a native of Peru, would frequently talk about “marrying into white families in order to improve one’s status,” the woman, who was not named, told agents.
The former fiancee also described brutish behavior by Zimmerman, including kicking her dog in the stomach during a physical fight, occasional road rage and retaliating against his mother by turning off her home’s electricity and locking the electrical box.
The ex-fiancee told the FBI that Zimmerman arranged several dates with her in 2010 and 2011 before she found out he was married to his current wife, Shellie.
Two weeks after the shooting, Zimmerman contacted a gun seller with whom he had done business before, according to the statement of another unnamed witness.
The witness stated that Zimmerman wanted to purchase a new firearm because “his life is in danger and he needs more guns.”
On April 11, when Zimmerman was charged by a special prosecutor, he drove a rental car to turn himself in Jacksonville, Florida.
Law enforcement agents who retrieved Zimmerman’s belongings from the car found a handgun inside and three magazines of ammunition, according to a report.
Editing by David Adams and Todd Eastham