About that photo of George Zimmerman’s bloody and “broken” nose… part 1
This photo of George Zimmerman has now been introduced as evidence in his trial. At least two witnesses have already testified that it offers a “fair and accurate” representation of how Zimmerman appeared after Trayvon Martin was shot, but before the paramedics attended to him. This worries me, and I have to wonder if these folks are looking closely, or possibly even lying.
I believe this photo has been altered via digital photo-editing software to make Zimmerman’s injuries appear more serious than they actually were.
In this post, I will discuss the visual elements of the picture that have led to my conclusion. In a follow-up post, I will discuss what may, or may not, happen around this photo at trial. Finally, a third post with deal with more digital photo geek tech stuff relating to evidence of manipulation.
Normally, I don’t engage in conspiracy theories. I mean, history tells us that conspiracies of various sorts do happen often enough, but almost all of the conspiracy theories that float through public discussion are based on wild speculation, wishful thinking, a highly questionable cherry-picking of supporting evidence, and a blind eye to telling counter-evidence… This is especially true of the various CTs that have floated through the blogosphere on both sides of the Martin/Zimmerman case.
Yet I find myself presenting an analysis of this photo that necessarily evokes a very troubling conspiracy. I’ve sat on my thoughts about this for a long time, in the hopes that some authoritative commentary would appear that resolves the questions in my mind. That has not happened.
Let me say up front that I am not a medical professional, and my knowledge of facial injuries is limited to that of a moderately well-educated lay person who has done some additional Internet research on facial anatomy. I would like nothing more than for a physician who really knows this stuff to comment on my analysis, and tell me whether they think I’m on to something, or I’m totally off the mark, and explain why in either case.
On December 3rd, 2012 the Defense in the George Zimmerman case released this color photo of Zimmerman taken the evening the defendant shot and killed Trayvon Martin. According to official State documents, the photo was taken by Officer Michael Wagner of the Sanford Police at 7:31PM on the evening of February 26, 2012. Zimmerman had been taken into custody by SPD officer Timothy Smith, handcuffed and placed in the back seat of Smith’s squad car. Zimmerman had not yet been seen by the paramedics, who would later clean up and dress his wounds. Wagner took the photo with his personal iPhone4. According to the records, he took the phone home, uploaded the photo to his computer, erased it from the phone, and then forgot that he had it. He claims he only remembered having the photo some three weeks later when the investigators on the case mentioned that they had no pictures of Zimmerman’s injuries before he was attended to by the EMTs. On March 18th, 2012, Wagner turned the photo over to the investigators via email.
A poor quality Black and White version of the picture had been included in the Prosecution’s first evidence dump in May of 2012, going by largely without notice.
However, when the color version shown above was released, the blogosphere soon issued forth a good number of comments opining that the picture had been “Photoshopped,”. I was initially more than skeptical of these claims, especially since most of what these posts pointed to as evidence of manipulation could easily be explained by the camera angle, lighting, or the characteristics of the cell-phone camera with which it was taken.
But then a post by Tzar on the Frederick Leatherman Law Blog drew my attention to the contours of Zimmerman’s nose in the photo. There’s something about the nose that just doesn’t look right. I began to look at the appearance of the nose in more detail. I wound up concluding that it could not appear as it does here without the photo having been doctored.
This is not a trivial matter. Although the photo was released to the public by the Defense, it had been given to them by the Prosecution. Thus, the only persons who had had access to the photo before it’s initial passage from the State to the Defense team, the only persons who would have been in a position to alter it, are members of the Sanford Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the States Attorney’s office. As such, if the photo has indeed been manipulated, then some public official has been tampering with evidence in a criminal investigation, not for the sake of securing an unjust conviction, but in an attempt to aid the accused in beating the rap. Serious shit, to say the least.
To my eye, the primary evidence of falsification comes from comparing this photo to other photos of Zimmerman that were taken by a police photographer at the Sanford Police Station around 11:20PM on the might of the shooting
Here is how Zimmerman appears in one of those photos for comparison.
Below are the noses from the two photos placed side by side. The Wagner nose is on the left, the SPD nose on the right.
The Wagner photo shows swelling on the right side of Zimmerman’s nose (the left side of the nose in the picture). This swelling is not present in the pictures taken at the police station. But let’s say for the moment that a swelling of this nature could have subsided back to normal over the course of almost four hours. But look at the bridge of Zimmerman’s nose, between his eyes and just below.
The structure of the human nose is made up of three different kinds of material.
The bridge, the top of the nose, is a thin layer of skin over the facial bones that form the front of the skull. You can feel this by pressing the bridge of your own nose. It’s solid bone under there. Below that, bone gives way to cartilage, forming the septum and the upper flare of the nostrils. The lower parts of the nostrils are really no more than skin and fat.
My problem with the Wagner photo, in a nutshell, is that it appears to show serious damage to the bones forming the bridge of the nose, and I cannot imagine that any displacement and deformation of actual bone could heal and return to normal appearance within 4 hours, at least not without major medical intervention.
It would be one thing if we were just talking about some sort of swelling here. But the bridge of Zimmerman’s nose is narrower in the Wagner photo than in the SPD photos. This cannot be explained by camera angle or lighting variations. Compare the right side of the nose bridge (again, the left side of the photos as you look at them here) in the side by side photos, starting from the position of the small wound toward the top right of the septum.
You may note that the wound seems to be in a different vertical position in the two photos. This is just a result of the pictures being taken from a different vertical angle in relation to the plane of Zimmerman’s face. What we’re looking for is how the wound relates to the slope of the nose from the top of the bridge down to the corner of the eye, the shape of the nose bridge, and it’s overall width.
The Wagner photo, and the photo on the right, were each taken with Zimmerman’s head turned just slightly to his right in relation to the lens, resulting in a bit of foreshortening on the right side of his face, making the fall-off of the right side of nose shorter than that of the left side. (Again, Zimmerman’s right is the left side of the picture as you look at it.)
Let’s look at the discrepancies one by one:
(1) In the screen-right photo, we can see a decent portion of Zimmerman’s nose ridge to the screen left side of the wound, and also see the side of his nose sloping down towards the corner of his eye. In the Wagner photo, the wound seems to be on the very screen-left of the nose ridge, and there is no visible sloping away towards the eye.
(2) Above the wound, in the Wagner photo, the nose bridge curves INWARD to such a degree that it’s edge is closer to the center line than the wound itself. This results in the bridge being dramatically narrower than it is in the other photo, as I’ve already mentioned.
(3) This curve also leads to the Wagner photo showing two dramatic changes of direction in the line of Zimmerman’s nose ridge, whereas this line is perfectly straight in the other photo.
(4) Note the relationship between the corner of Zimmerman’s right eye and the slope of the nose bridge in the Wagner photo as compared to the photo screen-right. In the right-hand photo, that slope goes right to the corner of the eye. In the Wagner photo, where there is no visible slope to speak of, we see some kind of circular fold of skin between the eye and the rising point of the nose.
Finally, here is a split screen of the two photos, showing the different width of the nose bridge. Due to different camera angles, camera perspectives, and focal lengths, the two heads can not be lined up exactly, but I’ve gotten the nose areas as close as i can, using the uninjured left edge of the nose (frame right edge) and the eyebrows as points of reference.
Again, I’m not a Doctor, but — if only from having had my own nose broken badly enough that I had restricted air flow through one nostril that had to be corrected by surgery — I still have some idea about the malleability (or lack thereof) of facial bones.
When I suffered my own broken nose (taking a charge in a pickup basketball game) I was in extreme pain and my schnoz bled like the proverbial stuck pig. Yet the only visible sign after the bleeding stopped was a small bump on the center of the nose ridgeline — apparent really only if you looked for it. I’ve had several friends suffer broken noses as well — including one guy who was sucker punched in a pickup game, had to go to the hospital, and wound up with a kind of facial cast over his nose as a result. And even this guy had nothing remotely like the degree of change in the shape of his nose depicted in the difference between the two photos above — and Zimmerman received no medical treatment for his nose between it appearing all out of whack at 7:31PM and back to normal at 11:20PM.
In sum, with my lay person’s understanding, I just do not see how these two photos can come from the same universe.