AFRICANGLOBE – After Chris Serino, the Sanford police detective who led the investigation into the murder of Trayvon Martin, wrote the most important police report in the case, he revised it at least four times.
And he made at least one huge change: He initially said George Zimmerman should be charged with second-degree murder, then changed course and recommended a charge of manslaughter, according to a prosecutor and new list of evidence.
Serino made all those revisions to the report summarizing his findings during one five-hour stretch on March 13, according to a newly released evidence list.
In the first two drafts, according to Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda, Serino wrote that he had probable cause to recommend a second-degree-murder charge. Then, over the next hour, he changed the report twice more and in his final version wrote that the evidence supported the lesser charge.
One of Serino’s supervisors, Sanford police Capt. Bob O’Connor, said in a July 3 interview that everyone in Serino’s chain of command agreed with the investigator’s conclusion. Serino’s direct supervisor, then-Sgt. Randy Smith, also signed the final version.
Each version was turned over to defense attorneys Tuesday, although they have not yet been made public. That should happen in the next few weeks.
Zimmerman, the Neighborhood vigilante, is free on $1 million bail, awaiting trial on a charge of second-degree murder. He says he acted in self-defense when he killed the unarmed teen Feb. 26 after calling Sanford police and describing him as suspicious.
Prosecutors say 29-year-old Zimmerman is guilty of profiling a 17-year-old whom he assumed was about to commit a crime, following him and committing murder.
Zimmerman Case: Cop Did What He was Told
The new evidence list shows that on March 13, the day Sanford police surrendered the case to the Office of Seminole-Brevard State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, Serino went to great lengths to polish and revise the final report.
It was a time of extraordinary pressure on the department. National civil-rights leaders were accusing Sanford officers of racism and sloppy police work.
There were rallies and marches in Sanford and across the country, and political leaders were pressuring the department to make an arrest.
But police did not have enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman, they said at the time and have repeated ever since. Former police Chief Bill Lee Jr. and other seniorofficers said that would have been a violation of his civil rights, so their solution: dump it on Wolfinger.
For the state attorney to take over the investigation, however, police had to file the right paperwork, Lee wrote in an email to reporters in July.
That includes a charging recommendation, Lee wrote, and as lead investigator, that task fell to Serino.
He did what he was told, according to O’Connor. Just above Serino’s signature, the veteran investigator wrote, “I believe there exists probable cause for issuance of a capias charging George Michael Zimmerman with manslaughter.”
O’Connor told reporters in July, “Basically, the implied order was, ‘Get it out the door’… We wrote up what we had, the context of what we had … with the understanding that there was still insufficient evidence for the State Attorney to charge.”
On Tuesday, de la Rionda handed the much-revised Serino report to defense attorneys, saying he had received it recently from Serino’s attorney, Jose Baez, who advised them that it would likely help Zimmerman.
It’s not clear, however, that it will.
Wolfinger was in charge of the investigation less than two weeks when Gov. Rick Scott handed it over to Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, the elected state attorney in Jacksonville.
Her investigators, helped by agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, re-interviewed old witnesses, found new ones, collected crime lab reports and arrested Zimmerman April 11 on a charge of second-degree murder.
They came up with their own probable-cause affidavit, and the following day Seminole County Judge Mark Herr signed off on it.