George Zimmerman in court(Getty Images)
By Yamiche Alcindor and Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, passed a lie detector test the day after the shooting - a fact some experts say may make it hard to get an unbiased jury and still leaves details of the incident unclear.
Florida prosecutors Tuesday released a written report that included results of a voice stress analysis - a lie detector test - with other reports and recordings. The release resulted from a court order after news organization argued that prosecutors had withheld information that should be public.
The material adds details to previously disclosed information and reveals inconsistencies in Zimmerman's accounts of his actions.
"It makes it harder for the state to get an impartial jury," said Randy Reep, a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville. "It certainly supports the Sanford police department's determination not to make an arrest."
Lie detector tests are not admissible in Florida courts, but it will be hard to find jurors who haven't heard of the results, he said.
Zimmerman faces second-degree murder charges over the shooting of the unarmed teen in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.
Police often use a lie detector test to guide an investigation, Reep said.
Zimmerman was asked nine questions, including two related directly to the shooting: "Did you confront the guy you shot?" the tester asked. "No," Zimmerman responded. "Were you in fear for your life, when you shot the guy?" the tester asked. "Yes," Zimmerman said. The examiner concluded that Zimmerman "told substantially the complete truth."
Ron Grenier, a former FBI agent and lie detector expert, said the voice stress analysis test is not as reliable as a polygraph test. Also, he said, it's unclear what the examiner meant by "confront." Further, such tests don't measure a person's state of mind or fear at some other time, he added.
"He may have convinced himself that he was in fear of his life, but whether or not he was is not definitive," Grenier said.
Zimmerman's responses would be more meaningful, he said, if he had been asked, "'Did Trayvon Martin attack you and knock you to the ground?' Or 'Was Trayvon Martin on top of you hitting you before you shot him?' "
Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent who teaches interviewing techniques at Saint Leo University, agreed. "You have to ask precise questions," he said. "You want to know at what point you feared for your life."
Some facts of the night remain unclear. A synopsis written by the lead police investigator, Christopher Serino, said Trayvon was walking in the direction of the house where he was staying with his father when Zimmerman followed him.
Serino said in his report that in one of Zimmerman's statements to police, he said he got out of his car so he could see where Trayvon was going and give that information to the dispatcher.
The report says that when the dispatcher asked him if he was following Trayvon, Zimmerman said, "Yes."
But he gave a different answer in his first recorded statement, he said he told the dispatcher, "I don't know. I don't know where he went."
In subsequent interviews, including a written statement to police that night and a walk through the scene of the shooting with police the next day, Zimmerman told police he only got out of his car to look for the name of the street.
The detective wrote that Zimmerman said he avoided speaking to Trayvon because he was afraid of him. But "later in the encounter," Serino wrote, "Zimmerman exited his vehicle, in spite of his earlier admission to investigators that he was afraid of Martin. ... His actions are inconsistent with those of a person who has stated he was in fear of another subject."