George Zimmerman

Feds to sift through evidence in Zimmerman case

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother Photo / AP - Orlando Sentinel Gary W. Green, PoolMIAMI (AP) – The Justice Department will sift through trial testimony, interviews and other evidence during what is likely to be a months-long investigation into whether George Zimmerman violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights when he shot the black teenager.

The key to charging Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, lies in whether evidence exists that he was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin, who was 17 when he was shot during a fight with Zimmerman in February 2012. And while Martin’s family has said the teen was racially profiled, no evidence surfaced during the state trial that Zimmerman had a racial bias.

Former Miami federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein says it will likely be months before a decision is made on whether to bring charges.

Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges after claiming he fired his weapon in self-defense only after Martin attacked him. No evidence surfaced in the trial that Zimmerman had a racial bias, and his friends and family have repeatedly denied he harbored racial animosity toward blacks. Florida did not use its own hate crime laws against Zimmerman.

Legal experts say the FBI and prosecutors will go back through the interviews done before the state case began; look at all the forensics such as crime scene records and medical reports; and review the state’s witnesses to see if any who did not testify might have important information.

However, investigators are not limited to existing evidence; they can pursue new evidence and conduct new interviews as they see fit. For instance, federal investigators could look more closely at Zimmerman’s past for any evidence of racial bias.

“They are going to need to do a thorough vetting of the facts. It takes time,” said Lauren Resnick, a former prosecutor who obtained a guilty verdict in a 1991 New York hate crime case involving the stabbing death of an Orthodox Jew. Those defendants had been acquitted in state court.

The lone juror in the case who has spoken publicly – known only as Juror B37 because their identities have not been released – said Monday that she did not believe Zimmerman followed Martin because the teen was black.

Still, supporters of the Justice Department filing civil rights charges say additional evidence could exist in the federal investigation that didn’t come up in the state prosecution of Zimmerman, possibly even witnesses who have not previously been interviewed or did not come up in the state case.

“They have a separate set of evidence they’re looking at,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They might have additional witnesses that were never called upon by the state. I think they will make the best decision that is possible in this case and they will pursue what they think is legally possible.”

Several civil rights groups, including the NAACP, are demanding that the Justice Department bring federal charges against Zimmerman, and there have been numerous protests around the country about the outcome of the Florida trial.

During a news conference Tuesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton acknowledged there are hurdles. But he said there remains a fundamental question of “does Trayvon Martin and the Trayvon Martins of this country have the civil right to go home?”

He added: “… we have some experience on how to deal with hurdles and we see that as part of our strategy.”

Beyond the exact language of the law itself, the federal probe must navigate between sensitive racial and political issues that arose when Zimmerman initially wasn’t charged in Martin’s killing.

“Many people simply cannot process how an unarmed teenager is killed, and yet no one is held criminally accountable for his death,” said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.

Resnick said a federal jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had a racial motive when he began following Martin and that he did not act in self-defense when he fired his gun.

“There remains the serious challenge that prosecutors still have to prove the racial motive,” she said.

Zimmerman could get life in prison if charged and convicted under federal hate crime laws.

Generally, the Justice Department is reluctant to get involved in cases that have already been tried before a state jury, in part because of concerns about double jeopardy.

Perhaps the best-known example where federal prosecutors did intervene was the case of four police officers acquitted after a California state trial in the beating of motorist Rodney King, which triggered deadly riots in the Los Angeles area in 1992.

Two of the four officers were convicted in federal court of violating King’s rights, but that case differs from Zimmerman’s because they were acting as sworn law enforcement officials, not as a private citizen claiming self-defense.

In contrast, the Justice Department declined to prosecute New York Police Department officers after they were acquitted in the 2006 shootings of three men including Sean Bell, who was fatally wounded the morning of his planned wedding. The short Justice Department statement – issued in 2010, four years after the shooting – simply said there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

“Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” the department said in the Bell case.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech Monday that the Justice Department probe will “continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law.” He made no mention of race, gave no timetable for completion of the investigation.

Source: AP

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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LegalBrief says:

Feds aren’t like the State of Fla. they don’t cave to pressure. In reality they have bigger fish to fry. Our country is under constant threat of terrorism and other outside threats. If you’re in America they pretty much figure you’re pretty damn lucky. You could be in a country where there are no freedoms. In the real world and people who observe natural evolution of life know, even among nature there is a constant struggle. Man tends to forget he is of the animal kingdom and even 2 of any animal will argue, fight and kill if need be, even if they are siblings. No one is exempt …even Christ lost his temper and no man can compare themselves in the slightest way to God

Kelly says:

Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. I am hoping people figure out that all this is doing at this point is dividing black and white people even further. White people will tire of being accused of racism. White people will get sick of having to worry about if anything they do can be construed as racism or a civil rights violation. Eventually this one case in one little Florida town is going to completely destroy race relations. I was of the opinion that we had come a long way in the past 50 years, and I suppose we have. We have made it so that white people are afraid to have anything to do with black people. It’s sad really.


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