SANFORD, Fla.—Mary Cutcher and Selma Mora were making coffee when they heard the whine outside their window. Coffee after work, after 7 p.m., was a routine. “I’ll drink it 30 minutes before I go to bed,” says Cutcher, a 31-year-old massage therapist. “It’s strong, Colombian coffee, too. Selma’s family’s from Colombia. It doesn’t keep me awake at all.”
The whine jolted them. Cutcher and Mora’s home shares a kind of alley with dozens of other houses in the Retreat at Twin Lakes. The kitchen window looks out into a grassy space where people can walk their dogs; there are baggies at either end of the alley, to encourage neighborly cleanup. When they heard the noise—“desperate, like aaaaaah, aaaaah”—they looked through the window blinds.
No visibility. Two more whines. The sound of a gun going off. The two women raced over to their patio and went outside.
“Zimmerman is standing over Trayvon’s body,” remembers Cutcher. (Like a lot of people, she uses the last name to refer to the killer and the uncommon first name to refer to the victim.) “He’s straddling him. He has his hands pressed on Trayvon’s back. I called out, ‘What’s going on over there?’ But he’s facing away from us, and even when he turns it’s not like we can see his facial features.”
Mora, who’s also 31, takes me to the patio on Thursday afternoon to share what they could and couldn’t see. The homes in the Retreat are connected, with small front yards and bigger, shared backyards. The problem, on the night of Feb. 26, was that it was dark and raining.
“Had it not started raining,” says Cutcher, “there would have been a ton of kids playing outside.”
The only real illumination on Zimmerman was a neighbor’s porch light, which, according to Mora, “is always on.” When you survey the yard, you’re looking at one of the least likely places to shoot somebody. The patch of grass that Martin died on is visible from at least 20 porches. Mora’s porch, for example, is only around 19 feet away.
Cutcher called 911. Zimmerman “gets off the body and is kind of pacing,” she remembers. “I see him take a couple of steps, and then he’s just sitting there, as if he’s thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ ”
Responses to the Martin killing can be mapped as concentric circles, different reactions that change with distance. The widest circle reached for thousands of miles, capturing the people far from Sanford who have unshakeable, predetermined views of what likely happened. A narrower circle encompasses the black communities in and around Sanford, who’ve added the killing to their bill of grievances against local law enforcement. There’s a tight circle around the wealthier parts of Sanford, where people want “justice” but want it to happen soberly and without racial politicking.
But the closer you were to that alley on Feb. 26, the more distance you have from the circus. You’ve got a two-part story. This is what I saw. This is how the cops didn’t deal with it.