Thursday, March 22, 2012

Anderson Cooper transcript March 21, 2012: Trayvon Martin case

Anderson Cooper covered the Trayvon Martin murder case on March 21, 2012. Here is the full transcript.


Aired March 21, 2012 - 22:00 ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight with breaking news, a major new development in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Florida. It is unfolding tonight as people here in New York put on hoodies like the one he was wearing and marched through the streets of Manhattan. They want to know why a teenager armed with nothing deadlier than Skittles, iced tea and a phone is dead.

But George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer, who admittedly pursued, apparently confronted and fatally shot Trayvon is a free man. Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton, are at the rally tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trayvon was your typical teenager. Trayvon did the typical teenager things. George Zimmerman took Trayvon's life profiling him. My son did not deserve to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We're going to -- I interviewed the parents earlier today. We will play part of that interview tonight.

Now, in a moment, a Florida legislature who co-sponsored the law who defends it, but doubts George Zimmerman's claim he fired in self- defense. And also something that may factor into a federal civil rights investigation. Allegations that George Zimmerman uttered a racial slur while on the phone with 911. We have enhanced the audio. You can decide for yourself though. We will play uncensored in a moment.

But, first, the breaking news that happened just moments ago in Sanford, Florida, where David Mattingly joins us live.

David, Sanford city commissioners passed a no-confidence motion in the local police chief. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean anything?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this was a no-confidence vote.

They voted 3-2 in no confidence in the city's police chief, Bill Lee. This is really a nonbinding vote, but it demonstrates to the police chief that he no longer has the support of the city commission here. And what it is saying is that they are now going to be looking into more details, they're not going to make a decision right away.

It doesn't mean that the chief is fired. But they are going to be looking into -- deeply into his handling of this killing of Trayvon Martin. And the chief has only been in office less than a year now. He does not have the support right now of the current mayor of the city, Jeff Triplett.

I watched the mayor earlier today, as he was sitting side by side with leaders of the NAACP as people who live here were coming forward, telling stories about how for years that they have had problems with the police force here. He said at that time that there's going to be a lot of work to do to correct some of these problems. And tonight might have been the first step that he was talking about -- Anderson.

COOPER: David, let me ask you about the investigation. Because are the local police there and they have been criticized by the family of Trayvon Martin, obviously, the attorney for that family, but are the local police still investigating this or because the FBI and Justice Department are investigating, because there's going to be a grand jury, have they taken over the investigation? Do we know?

MATTINGLY: The investigation itself is relatively over in terms of what the police are doing, but it's still open in case something else comes up or someone else comes forward to give them more information.

They're still leaving it open in that respect. But have turned everything over that they have to the state's attorney and that state's attorney is looking at it and they're going to be calling a grand jury in April to look over the evidence they have to decide if they're going to come out with any charges with anyone involved in this case.

COOPER: All right, David Mattingly, I appreciate the breaking news update. Thank you.

Pressure has been building obviously on the local police there for days. The questions as David mentioned center on how fully did police in Sanford, Florida, investigate George Zimmerman and his claim of self-confidence in accordance with the Florida's deadly force law? Or did they just take his word on it? his family says the cops are covering up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY MARTIN, FATHER: They actually are trying to sweep our son's death under the rug. Trayvon was a person. You know, he wasn't just a statistic. He was loved by his family. He was loved by his friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, they, the family, the protesters tonight, the NAACP and others believe that the police took Zimmerman's claim at face value and left it at this. Recall that Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee said before Florida and the Justice Department launched their own investigations -- quote -- "We don't have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense."

Why wasn't Zimmerman tested for drugs or alcohol, whereas the dead teenager, Trayvon Martin, was tested? What if anything did police know about George Zimmerman's long record of phoning in nuisances and suspicious people or his arrest in 2005 for scuffling with an undercover police officer?

He entered a pretrial diversion program allowing him to keep his record clean and that might have been missed. What about Zimmerman's call to 911? Now, critics say his own words should have been evidence enough to form probable cause that he was pursuing Trayvon Martin and not acting in self-defense.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: Are you following him?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, FLORIDA: Yes.

911 OPERATOR: OK. We don't need you to do that.

ZIMMERMAN: OK.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the final question centers on another phone call, one that was taking place literally at the same time between Trayvon and his girlfriend.

What if anything did police know about that? Did they even check Trayvon's phone records or contact his girlfriend? Well, the Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump says they have not spoken with her. She gave Crump a sworn affidavit.

She says this about her final conversation with Trayvon -- and I quote -- "He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on, said he lost the man." She went on to say -- quote -- "I asked Trayvon to run and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run."

She said the man caught up to Trayvon -- quote -- "Trayvon said what are you following me for? And the man said, what are you doing here? Next thing I hear is somebody pushing and somebody pushed Trayvon because the headset just fell."

What if anything did police know about that account which would in addition to the 911 call seem to cast some doubt on George Zimmerman's claim of self-defense? That's just one of the many questions that the marchers tonight have, that Trayvon Martin's family certainly have and have had for weeks.

As you saw a moment ago, Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton, are here in New York tonight. I spoke with them on my daytime syndicated program, "Anderson," which the interview is going to air tomorrow. Also with two neighbors who were at the scene when Trayvon Martin was shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The eyewitnesses have said they believe, some of them believe it was your son calling out for help, no one saw him directly doing it or saw -- could say 100 percent for sure. You have heard the 911 call where you hear somebody calling out help. Do you believe that is your son's voice?

FULTON: Yes, I do. I believe that's Trayvon Martin. That's my baby's voice. Every mother knows their child and that's his voice.

COOPER: And the fact that if that's true, and he called out for help, what does that tell you?

MARTIN: He was afraid for his life. He saw his death coming. He saw his death coming. The screams got more franticer. And at that second that we heard the shot, the screams just completely stopped. He saw his death. He was pleading for his life.

COOPER: So you're saying if it was Zimmerman who was screaming for help, that might have continued after the shot, but the fact that after the shot there was no more screaming for help?

MARTIN: No more screaming whatsoever. It went completely silent.

COOPER: When you both went outside, you saw George Zimmerman where and where was Trayvon Martin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was out the door first. When I came out the door, I saw him basically straddling him. He had, you know, feet on either side of his body and his hands -- at the time I didn't know -- was on his back. And...

COOPER: Trayvon was face down?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trayvon was face down. Once he got off of the body, we could see his face was down in the grass. So at the time that he was holding his back, I didn't know if he was trying to help him, hold the wound or he wasn't -- Selma (ph) had asked him several times, three times, what's going on? Is everything OK?

And each time he looked back, but he didn't say anything until the third time he just said just call the police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We will have the complete interview on my daytime show tomorrow.

Last week George Zimmerman's father told "The Orlando Sentinel" the family is receiving death claims and he calls claims that his son pursued Trayvon Martin "lies." Meantime, a longtime friend, Frank Taaffe, is defending the George Zimmerman he says he knows.

I spoke to him late yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, Mr. Taaffe, you know George Zimmerman. What is he like?

FRANK TAAFFE, NEIGHBOR OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: George Zimmerman was a very congenial, amiable, admirable person. He was very, very kind to everyone in our community.

And I really appreciated and so did the rest of our residents in our neighborhood that he stepped up and took over the position as neighborhood watch captain to ensure the safety of all the residents in our community.

COOPER: You say he actually stopped a potential burglary at your house a couple of weeks ago before the shooting?

TAAFFE: That is correct.

COOPER: And were you surprised that he was carrying a gun? Were you aware he carried a gun?

TAAFFE: I was extremely shocked to the fact that he was carrying a gun, yes.

COOPER: What shocked you? How did it shock you?

TAAFFE: The lethal weapon. It wasn't George. As I said, he was a very congenial, amiable man. The use of a lethal weapon, a deadly lethal weapon, as the .9-millimeter that he used, was very shocking to me. It didn't just fit -- it didn't fit the person.

COOPER: Have there been burglaries in your neighborhood? Is what -- what's the neighborhood like?

TAAFFE: I have lived at Twin Lakes since 2006, July 2006. In the last 15 months, Anderson, we have experienced eight burglaries, one which was perpetrated during the daylight hours.

Most -- the majority of the perpetrators were young black males.

COOPER: And when -- I mean, when you reflect on what's happened and what we know about and obviously a lot isn't known, what do you think?

TAAFFE: This was a perfect storm. You had a neighborhood that was experiencing extremely high tension, anxiety, and with the burglaries everybody was at -- pardon my phrase -- we were at DEFCON 5.

COOPER: I guess a lot of people believe race played a factor in this. From what you know about George Zimmerman, do you believe race played a factor?

TAAFFE: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Why do you feel so strongly about that?

TAAFFE: George is not a racist. He was just performing his duties as watch captain. Whether it be African-American, Latino, Asian, or white, he would have done the same thing. He would have approached that person and just asked them, what's your business here?

And if he had just answered him and in an appropriate manner as, you know, I'm just here visiting, my mother's house is around the corner, and be up front and truthful, there wouldn't have been any problem.

COOPER: Well, Mr. Taaffe, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for being with us.

TAAFFE: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: All right. We're trying to give as many different perspectives of people in that community to you tonight.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Much more ahead on the killing of Trayvon Martin. New details. Did George Zimmerman use a racial slur when he called 911? We're going to play you the tape uncensored. You can decide for yourself. He says something under his breath. A lot of people believe it's a racial slur. We're going to play it for you. You can determine, and what's important about that, the reason we're doing that is because if it was a racial slur that might allow the federal government to bring charges based on what was in George Zimmerman's head based on him saying a racial slur.

So it has a very important legal role and could really influence what role the federal government has moving forward in this. So that's why we're going to play it for you. We're going to look at what role Florida's controversial stand your ground law also played in the shooting death of a young husband and father, another case that's raised a lot of questions. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Continuing our "Keeping Them Honest" reporting on the Trayvon Martin killing, the question of Florida's first in the nation deadly force law which takes away a duty for someone in jeopardy to retreat if possible and replaces it with the legal permission to stand your ground and use deadly force.

Nationwide, 21 states now have stand your ground laws. Since passing of the law violent crime in Florida has dropped, but to be fair it's also fallen nationwide. More significantly, justifiable homicide as in the kind that George Zimmerman is claiming and the Martin family is disputing, those have spiked in Florida. They have more than doubled since the stand your ground law passed in 2005.

Randi Kaye has another story tonight of a life cut short and a case still under way. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): When David James, an Iraq war veteran, escaped combat in the Middle East unscathed, his wife, Kanina, breathed a sigh of relief.

KANINA JAMES, WIDOW: I would worry about him, but I thought he would be safe here.

KAYE: She was wrong and now wants to know why Trevor Dooley, a 71-year-old retired bus driver, shot her husband in broad daylight, right in front of their 8-year-old daughter. Dooley says it was self- defense. Kanina James calls it murder.

K. JAMES: What person brings a gun to a park when there's children? I mean, he killed my husband. He could have just talked to him.

KAYE: Whether or not Trevor Dooley fired in self-defense is at the heart of this case. Also central to the this story is Dooley's defense, Florida's stand your ground rule, which allows a person to stand their ground and use deadly force if they fear someone could seriously harm them.

(on camera): Here's what witnesses say happened on that September Sunday in 2010 -- 41-year-old David James was playing basketball with his daughter here, when witnesses say Dooley who lived right across the street started yelling at a teenager who was skateboarding to get off the court.

That's when witnesses say James intervened.

(voice-over): James yelled back to Dooley, asking him to show where any signs said no skateboarding. Dooley then crossed the street to the park to confront James.

A tennis player at the park, Michael Whitt, testified things turned ugly when Dooley reached for his waistband. Whitt says James then lunged at Dooley. The two men struggled on the ground before James was shot, once through the heart. On the 911 call, Whitt is heard trying to help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear me? Sir, can you hear me? Sir, can you hear me? He's shot in the chest, ma'am.

911 OPERATOR: And he's not breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he's not breathing.

QUESTION: Mr. Dooley, what do you want to say about what happened?

TREVOR DOOLEY, Florida: no comment.

KAYE: Dooley tells a different story that contradicts the witnesses. He says when he took the gun out of his right front pocket, James saw it and knocked him to the ground. At a hearing to get the charges dismissed, Dooley testified -- quote -- "He was choking me to death."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You agree you do not want to go to prison for killing David James, correct?

DOOLEY: I don't think I should.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no.

DOOLEY: No.

KAYE (on camera): Dooley's lawyer told us his client turned to walk away towards home and that James was the aggressor. He said Dooley did pull a gun, but didn't use it until he felt his life was threatened. He says the charges against his client should be dropped, given the stand your ground law.

(voice-over): Kanina James says her husband of 13 years had never been aggressive, that he was a gentle family man. She believes he was trying to protect himself and their daughter Danielle after he saw Dooley pull the gun.

K. JAMES: He loved Danielle so much. And that breaks my heart that Trevor Dooley took my daughter's best friend away from her. She will never have her daddy.

KAYE: Danielle's testimony about how and why the situation turned violent is key in a case that hinges on self-defense. Danielle, now 10, recalled how her father asked Dooley where the signs that said no skateboarding on the court.

DANIELLE JAMES, DAUGHTER: My dad got on top of him, so he could keep him down so he could get the answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were your dad's hands?

D. JAMES: On his arms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the man's arms?

D. JAMES: Yes.

KAYE: The little girl then recalled her father's last moments.

D. JAMES: I think the guy pulled out the gun then.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear anything?

D. JAMES: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you hear?

D. JAMES: Like when it shot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You heard a gunshot?

D. JAMES: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did your dad say anything then?

D. JAMES: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did he say?

D. JAMES: Call the ambulance. I have been shot.

KAYE: When Kanina James got there, her husband was already dead and her daughter was crying, asking, why isn't anyone helping my daddy?

Randi Kaye, CNN, Valrico, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So the stand your ground law may be at the heart of this case moving forward.

Let's take a closer look now at the controversial law. A short time ago, I talked with a Florida state legislator, a man named Dennis Baxley, who was a co-sponsor of stand your ground and also our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Representative Baxley, I know you don't want to get ahead of the grand jury and I totally understand the reasoning behind that. From what you know about the killing of Trayvon Martin, do you believe that the man who fired the gun, George Zimmerman, should be protected by the stand your ground law, a law that you were one of the co-sponsors of?

DENNIS BAXLEY, FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, the Castle Doctrine, this bill also referred to as stand your ground, has always been about protecting people from violent attack.

And there's nothing in this statute that provides for a person to be able to pursue and confront other people. So I think any individual is on very thin ice when they get outside the realm of that protection.

COOPER: Jeff, you wrote a column today essentially saying that the folks behind this law have a lot to answer for.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

Representative Baxley, let me ask you this question. Wouldn't Florida be a safer place under the old law, which said if you're carrying a gun in your pocket and you're on a public street and you get involved in a confrontation, you have a duty to step back and let the police handle it, instead of firing your gun yourself? Wouldn't Florida be safer with the duty to retreat?

BAXLEY: Well, in fact, Florida is not unique.

This very statute went to 26 more states after it left here, so we're really in line with about half the country or more. More than half the country. And, in fact, the difficulty with the duty to retreat is it's really a Monday-morning quarterback armchair situation, where you're saying a person could have done something different.

When you're in that moment, and you're under attack, you have to make a decision. Do you want to be the victim or do you want them to be the victim that's the perpetrator of this action against you? So I'm going to stand on -- I'm going to stand on the side of law-abiding citizens and say you have the right to defend yourself from harm.

COOPER: Were you surprised to hear that somebody in a neighborhood watch was carrying a weapon, was carrying a gun?

BAXLEY: I was, because from what I have heard about the crime watch programs, that typically that's not part of the scenario because of what could happen. So there's a lot of questions to be answered in that regard.

And there may need to be some legislation in the regard. But I would really hate to dilute the protection that we have provided law- abiding citizens to act in the interest of their families and themselves.

COOPER: You don't believe the stand your ground needs to be rewritten in any way?

BAXLEY: No, I don't. I think there may be other legislation, but I would hate to diminish the fact that we have truly developed a policy that allows people to prevent bad things from happening to them and their families. And it's been successful.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, from your perspective, what raises questions to you about this?

TOOBIN: What raises questions is that it essentially gives private citizens the license to say, hey, I feel threatened, so I'm going to fire my gun. I think that is why we have a trained police force. That is not why -- that is not a safe situation, whether it's in...

(CROSSTALK)

BAXLEY: Well, here's the flaw. Here's the flaw with your analysis.

You know, one of my five children is a deputy sheriff and he says, dad, you need to be prepared. You need to carry a firearm in your vehicle because usually when we get there it's all over. We can't be everywhere that these things happen. And people are looking for -- we have a very high...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Representative, with all due respect to your son, isn't it true that most Florida law enforcement oppose this law?

BAXLEY: No, not at all. I can tell you I have had a lot of feedback from law enforcement officers telling me...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: I know you have feedback afterwards, but when it was before the legislature, Florida law enforcement opposed changing the duty to retreat because they think they're trained to use weapons and it's not a good idea to give private citizens a license to shoot when they feel threatened.

BAXLEY: That's not the opinion on the street, where this happens. They understand that...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Well, I know it's the opinion on one street in Orlando these days.

BAXLEY: You can be the victim of violence and you have to be prepared to take care of yourself and your family and you need to empower law-abiding citizens to be able to do that.

That doesn't mean we don't have great empathy. I will tell you right now, you know, I have spent 40 years in funeral service taking care of families and friends who have gone through just such tragedies. And my heart goes out to them and I offer the Martin family my sincere sympathy and condolence.

At the same time, we want to make sure we continue to protect other families who are the subject of an invasion and attack and they should be empowered to stop bad things from happening. They have. They did. And for that reason, I think the statute has been a success.

COOPER: Representative Baxley, I appreciate your time tonight. Jeff Toobin as well, thanks.

BAXLEY: Thank you. I appreciate your call.

COOPER: Well, still ahead tonight, did George Zimmerman use a racial slur moments before killing Trayvon Martin on that 911 tape? We have tried to clean up the background noise as much as possible on the recording. We are going to play it for you ahead without beeping out anything, so you can decide for yourself, because this is really crucial moving forward to whether or not the federal government gets involved and what they might charge George Zimmerman with if they choose to.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Updating our breaking news, the city of Sanford passing a no confidence vote in police chief Bill Lee this evening in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing.

Up close tonight, what George Zimmerman said or did not say in the 911 call that we made moments before he shot Trayvon Martin. Did he use a racist slur? There's a big debate raging over two words Zimmerman used in the call or may have used. Some hear an ugly racial insult and an expletive. Others hear nothing of the sort.

Now according to ABC News, the Sanford Police Department admitted that investigators missed a possible racist remark in the call. When CNN asked the Sanford Police Department about that agency report, here's what Sergeant David Morganstern told us.

Quote, "I said we didn't hear it. However, I'm not sure what was said. So I never said we missed a racist remark." He went on to say, quote, "I'm not sure what was said. I heard something, but again, not clear to what was said. I did not hear it until it was pointed out to me."

Now, before we tell you what the alleged slur is, we're going to let you listen for yourself with fresh ears and make up your own mind what you hear. For that, we enlisted the help of one of CNN's top audio engineers. We need to warn some of you, the language you're going to hear is offensive, but we're going to play it for you without bleeping anything, because it's evidence, and if we bleep it, you're going to have a harder time hearing what some believe is a racial slur.

Here's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is edit room 31 at CNN Center in Atlanta. This is one of the most sophisticated audio edit suites in the broadcast news business. Right here is Rick Sierra. He's our audio design specialist. He's one of the best audio experts in the business.

Rick, if you can, I have not listened to this portion of the 911 tape at all. I just want to hear it raw right now, if you can play maybe ten seconds before it and let's listen.

RICK SIERRA, CNN AUDIO DESIGN SPECIALIST: OK.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, SHOOTING SUSPECT: ... down towards the entrance of the neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Which entrance is that that he's headed towards? ZIMMERMAN: The back entrance. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): You may not have heard the moment in question, because it was so quick.

(on camera) How long does that portion last that everyone is talking about?

SIERRA: A second, 18 frames.

TUCHMAN: Eighteen frames, so that's about 1.6 seconds?

SIERRA: Correct.

TUCHMAN: So let's listen to it like ten times in a row if we can.

SIERRA: OK.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): What we're listening for is the racial slur "coons." It follows the "F" word. Some people say they hear it. Others say they don't.

ZIMMERMAN: Fucking coons. Fucking coons. Fucking coons.

TUCHMAN (on camera): It's certainly a lot clearer when we listen to it this way.

SIERRA: Correct.

TUCHMAN: Is there anything else we can do with that audio to make it even clearer?

SIERRA: Well, you can -- I already did a little bit of boosting at 2.2 kilo hertz and at 4.6. It's boosting the high end of the voice.

TUCHMAN: Sounds like the power of the flex capacitor.

SIERRA: That's right.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): What Rick has done is lowered the bass.

(on camera) So why is it that you want to get rid of the low end of the audio, the bass of the audio?

SIERRA: To minimize the noise.

TUCHMAN: To minimize this. That takes away the noise and allows us to hear the voice more clearly.

SIERRA: That's correct. I'll boost it up a little bit more there. And we'll give it a shot here.

ZIMMERMAN: Fucking coons, fucking coons. Fucking coons. Fucking coons. Fucking coons. TUCHMAN: That does sound a little clearer to me. You know, it sounds like this allegation could be accurate, but I wouldn't swear to it in court. That's what it sounds like to me.

SIERRA: Yes. Very difficult to really pinpoint what he's saying.

TUCHMAN: Rick, can we play just that second word, what we think the second word is and hear if it sounds any different?

SIERRA: OK.

ZIMMERMAN: Coons. Coons. Coons. Coons.

TUCHMAN: I mean it certainly sounds like that word to me, although you just can't be sure. That sounds more like the word than using it with the -- before that.

SIERRA: That's correct.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Only George Zimmerman knows if he used the slur, but he's not talking. So the phone call, like so much in this case, remains a mystery.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's fascinating to hear it isolated like that. Let us know what you think on Twitter -- @AndersonCooper -- right now.

Let's talk about why this is so important, whether or not he used that slur. Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is joining us on the phone right now. Jeff, legally, why does this matter?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via phone): It's extremely, extremely significant because the federal government is not allowed to prosecute just your ordinary, everyday murder. Two people fighting on the street is not a federal crime.

However, if one person shoots another based on racial hostility, racial animus, that does become a federal crime. And if, very shortly before the murder, Zimmerman used this racial epithet to refer to the person he ultimately shot that very much puts it within the FBI and the Justice Department's ambit of a case that they can prosecute.

COOPER: We know on the 911 tape he already said -- he used the word "a-holes" and then said, "They always get away." We don't know what he meant by "they" in reference to Trayvon Martin.

The other thing I want to ask you about, which we're getting a lot of response to on Twitter. We had a person who used to be on Neighborhood Watch, who knew George Zimmerman, who was defending him, who was surprised he was carrying a gun, who said had Trayvon Martin simply answered George Zimmerman's question about what are you doing here, none of this would have happened. A lot of response on Twitter is, why should anybody have to ask -- answer a question of some guy who, you know, has no real authority to ask that question? Is there any responsibility that somebody has to answer a question from some Neighborhood Watch guy?

TOOBIN: Well, in the United States of America, you don't even have to answer a police officer under the Fifth Amendment. You have the right to remain silent, as everybody knows.

But you certainly don't have the -- any obligation to answer some guy who's calling himself the Neighborhood Watch officer. And most importantly, if you refuse to answer or, even if you answer inappropriately, we don't have the death penalty for failing to answer.

So the idea that Trayvon's inappropriate answer is somehow justification for George Zimmerman to shoot him dead on the street is completely preposterous.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, appreciate you calling in. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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