March 20, 2012 / 5:17 PM / 5 years ago

Phone call sheds new light on Florida killing - lawyer

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The case of a black teenager shot dead by a white neighborhood watch captain who has not yet been arrested will go before a grand jury beginning April 10, Florida prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The office of state prosecutor Norm Wolfinger made the announcement as the victim's family lawyer said 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was on his cellphone with a girlfriend, giving her a chilling, minute-by-minute account of what was happening, in the moments before he died.

Martin was unarmed and the case, which has been in the national media spotlight since the release of 911 emergency tapes last week, has fueled widespread public outrage.

The family lawyer, Ben Crump, said the girlfriend's testimony shed new light on the killing and would show that neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was black.

"This confirms that Trayvon Martin was killed only because he was a young black man who was profiled by Zimmerman," Crump told Reuters.

Phone records show the girl, who Crump would not identify because she is a minor, had been talking to Martin off-and-on all day, and can provide convincing evidence that he was behaving normally, Crump said.

"Her call connects the dots to completely destroy what Zimmerman said (to the police) about 'this kid was up to no good,'" Crump said. "This kid was simply trying to walk home and get out of the rain while he talked to his little friend. And that's all he was doing. He was completely innocent."

Martin was walking home from a convenience store, where he went to buy snacks on February 26 shortly before the NBA All-Star basketball game, when Zimmerman spotted him. Zimmerman called Sanford Police to report a suspicious person in the neighborhood, then followed Martin despite the police dispatcher telling him not to.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced Monday that they had opened an investigation into the shooting.

Police have declined to arrest Zimmerman, and turned the case over to prosecutors, because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, enacted in 2005 and now in effect in about 20 other states.

The law provides a shooter with wide latitude to claim a killing was in self defense.

Crump said Martin got off the phone with the girl for a few minutes because it started to rain and he was running to get under shelter.

The two reconnected via cellphone for the last time at 7:12 p.m. for four minutes. Police say they arrived at the scene at 7:17 to find Martin dead, Crump said.

The girl told Crump that Martin told her he was being followed and that she had encouraged him to run.

"She knew details about what went on because he was telling her," Crump said.

He said the girl heard the initial confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman.

"Trayvon said, 'Why you following me, man?'" and Zimmerman said, 'What are you doing here?'" Crump said.

He said the girl could tell by Martin's voice that he was then pushed. She thinks Martin's cellphone headset came off and then the call was disconnected, Crump said.

He said that when she called back, the girl did not get an answer and knew nothing else until she heard of her friend's killing on the news.

The girl was so traumatized after learning what happened that she was unable to attend Martin's wake and had to be hospitalized, Crump said.

Editing By Tom Brown and Bill Trott

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