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Feds to sift through evidence in Zimmerman case

By Curt Anderson

AP Legal Affairs Writer

LAST UPDATED: 01:27 a.m. HST, Jul 17, 2013

MIAMI » 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. 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.

In a speech Tuesday to an NAACP convention in Orlando, Attorney General Eric Holder said "I am concerned" about the Zimmerman case and pledged the Justice Department will conduct a thorough review.

"While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take," he said.

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.

Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in Orlando and Shaquille Brewster in Washington contributed to this story.

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hikine wrote:
The big question is why did Zimmerman carried a gun while he followed Martin's movement and confronted him? If Zimmerman would have just waited for the law enforcement to arrive this wouldn't have happened. Martin's background shouldn't have played in this trial now labeling him as a pot head which had nothing to do with the incident. And why were all the jurors women?
on July 16,2013 | 12:36PM
localboieastside wrote:
Like MLK once said..... It is the character not the color of your skin of whom you will be judged. If the court viewed Zimmerman's background then so should Martins'. Do some research on Martin's background .. probably it would shock you. As for jurors... The State felt it was advantageous since women would have more sympathy for losing their son and both side agreed to it.
on July 16,2013 | 01:42PM
OldDiver wrote:
Zimmerman has a history of having a TRO placed on him by his girlfriend. He was also arrested for getting into a physical confrontation with police. This is the history of Fox News new choir boy.
on July 16,2013 | 05:11PM
false wrote:
Zimmerman was tried under the stand your ground law while Martin was held to the law before Stand your Ground was enacted. Before Stand your Ground one must make every effort to run. Only if that failed and you believed your life was in danger did you have the right to use a weapon. Under Stand your Ground law one can be the aggressor and kill if things turned around and the aggressor felt their life was threaten. In other words Treyvon Martin who initially ran could have legally shot Zimmerman to death if he felt his life was threaten. Treyvon through was held to the law previous to Stand your Ground and was faulted for not running away.
on July 16,2013 | 01:53PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Zimmerman was not tried under the stand your ground law. He claimed and was defended on the basis of self defense as defined by Florida law. Stand your ground law had nothing to do with this case.
on July 16,2013 | 04:25PM
OldDiver wrote:
The Stand Your Ground Law is the excuse used to find him not guilty.
on July 16,2013 | 04:29PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Wrong. Stand your ground was not used by the defense. The went with Florida's self defense statute.
on July 16,2013 | 04:43PM
OldDiver wrote:
Wrong, the prosecution had it's closing arguments restricted by the Judge based on the Stand Your Ground law.
on July 16,2013 | 05:08PM
Pacej001 wrote:
The stand your ground law was not applied to the Zimmerman case. Zimmerman elected to defend himself based on the state's self defense statutes.
on July 16,2013 | 05:32PM
kahuku01 wrote:
OD: Please, did you take the time to watch the trial in its entirety? Pacej001 has repeatedly told you that, Stand Your Ground" was not used by the defense and you keep on insisting. This is how people like you state your own version as to what took place during the trial and come to a conclusion of your verdict based on hearsay. Get the facts first before you put your mind and mouth in gear, otherwise refrain from saying anything.
on July 17,2013 | 05:34AM
mitt_grund wrote:
However, juror B-37 appears to have disregarded the charge to follow jury instructions, and in her interview clearly indicates she applied the "stand your ground" concept in her judgment of Zimmerman. Appears despite her claims to the contrary, she had a preconceived verdict since Zimmerman was her kind of person. She couldn't relate at all to the black witnesses because as she noted they have their own way of life and beliefs, i.e., not her kind of people.
on July 17,2013 | 03:56AM
honopic wrote:
If you're going to try and convince us that you understand the "Stand Your Ground" law, you might want to start by spelling the victim's name correctly. Otherwise, the rest of your post is suspect.
on July 17,2013 | 06:49AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
a better question is why there were no black people on the jury. lots of black people in florida.
on July 16,2013 | 03:35PM
64hoo wrote:
now that's a stupid comment if you would have been paying attention you would see that women jurors all but one was white. so there was blacks on that jury. watch before you make dumb comments
on July 16,2013 | 11:16PM
honopic wrote:
Where does it state that the non-white juror was black? She may have been Latino, or Asian or Native American, for all we know.
on July 17,2013 | 06:53AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Are you just getting into this story? The story goes that Zimmerman was on his way to the grocery store, not purposefully looking for criminals when he happened to see T. You make it sound as though he armed himself and went looking for trouble. According to testimony, this wasn't the case. Jurors women? why not. Both the defense and prosecution had a cut at jury selection.
on July 16,2013 | 04:23PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
I think the trial showed that although GZ got out of his car, he did not confront TM. Remember the lost, silent 4 minutes? TM could have kept going on his way home. Instead HE confronted GZ and started to beat him. Hence the shot and claim and acquittal by self defense.
on July 16,2013 | 04:31PM
kahuku01 wrote:
You narrated it in 3 sentences. That was the whole case right there.
on July 16,2013 | 05:40PM
Grimbold wrote:
How come they still show the picture of a much younger Trayvon ? He was a strong muscle man size person. He caused this tragedy himself by deciding to knock a man to the ground and jumping on top of him , bashing in his face - all because he was mad about being verbally confronted. I congratulate Zimmermann for surviving this encounter without being sent to the hospital or dead. He deserves our support now because he is being hunted by ruffians and a racist government !
on July 16,2013 | 12:43PM
stingray65 wrote:
Grimbold, I second that!! He fired his gun while on the ground being beaten by Trayvon.. That was the evidents in court.
on July 16,2013 | 02:01PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
I suppose you think Deedy is innocent too since he was on the ground getting his a** kicked when he shot Elderts. Quite cowardly if you ask me for both Deedy and Zimmerman to shoot an unarmed person who thought they were engaging in a fist fight, not a gun fight.
on July 16,2013 | 03:51PM
false wrote:
What would you do if you were looking at the barrel of a gun being interrogated about your presence in your own neighborhood? How is it no one asks why Trayvon attacked Zimmerman? Zimmerman's story is only his interpretation and report. Why is he so believable?
on July 16,2013 | 03:18PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Isn't it obvious? Martin probably thought he was going to be jacked by an hispanic guy while walking in the wrong neighborhood. 17 year olds don't have the best judgement and little experience in these types of situations. He did what he thought he had to because this guy was stalking him. I bet money he would've run instead if he knew zimmerman was armed and florida law allowed people to kill someone if they punch you in the face.
on July 16,2013 | 03:56PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Read something! There's no evidence that Z had drawn his gun or that he interrogated T. Zimmerman is believable because of his injuries and the eye witness who saw T on top of him pounding him "MMA style " just before Z. fired his shot.
on July 16,2013 | 04:28PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Zimmerman might very well have killed him in self defense but he confronted an innocent black kid. The whole situation was completely avoidable, he should have let the police do the confronting. No doubt a black kid wearing a hood in a gated community seems out of place and quite suspicious if you're looking for criminals but considering zimmerman did not witness any crime by this kid, I think he went too far and should be found guilty of something. After all, the kid was innocent and only targeted because he was black and dressed like a hoodlum in a gated community.
on July 16,2013 | 03:47PM
Pacej001 wrote:
T was innocent right up to the moment he jumped Z. Following someone and asking a question (if that happened) isn't a reason to assault someone. Also, this community had had multiple robberies and a home invasion, primarily by black men. Further, there was no testimony or evidence that race was a factor in Z's actions and, after 35 interviews, the FBI couldn't find evidence of racial prejudice on Z's part.
on July 16,2013 | 04:32PM
kahuku01 wrote:
Yours is just hearsay. You've omitted the meat of the whole case and the reason Trayvon got shot.
on July 16,2013 | 05:45PM
pcman wrote:
IRT Pace on T jumping Z. The trial was about who beat on who. The evidence showed that T actually threw the first punch that caused Z to fall to the ground. Then T pounded Z's head on the concrete. Those thirty seconds were Z's need to pull his gun to defend himself. So the jury found Z not guilty. Nothing can change those facts. Either guy could have walked away but neither did. That was not a fact, just speculation because it did not happen.
on July 16,2013 | 09:05PM
South76 wrote:
Now the incompetent top prosecutor of the land is going to comb through the evidence the Florida prosecutor has gone through and bring a charge against a man who was found not guilty by his peers of killing another person. This was never a race issue until the lib media brought that race card....enough wasting our tax dollars on something that already been tried.
on July 16,2013 | 12:52PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
His "peers" is correct, 4 white women and 1 hispanic woman. In a case that was so racially charged, I don't understand why there weren't any black people on the jury. It just doesn't seem right.
on July 16,2013 | 03:59PM
Wonderful_World wrote:
The prosecutor had a choice too, they obviously chose not to select any black people.
on July 16,2013 | 04:20PM
pcman wrote:
IRT Wonderful on why no blacks. The prosecutor must have believed that this trial was not about race, even if the media, President and Ag made it so. The prosecutor probably felt I would be more beneficial to them to have mothers on the jury who would be able to identify with Trayvon's parents. However, the just stuck to the law, instead.
on July 16,2013 | 09:12PM
kahuku01 wrote:
Now your stereotyping! What does it matter if there were all black people on the jury? The sentence was based on the evidence and that is how the jury based their verdict on, not because the person is white or black.
on July 16,2013 | 05:51PM
Wonderful_World wrote:
I agree...and that same incompetent top prosecutor has not done anything for the dead border patrol agent. Is it b/c he was white?
on July 16,2013 | 04:17PM
alohacharlie wrote:
How often does the Justice Department in Obama's administration investigate the killing of white people? I would also like to know how much TV time this incident generated. How often do we see this much news media coverage of the killing of a white youth? No balance here.
on July 16,2013 | 01:06PM
false wrote:
You have things turned around. The murder of white's fill the news while the murder of black's don't even make the back page.
on July 16,2013 | 01:56PM
stingray65 wrote:
Also, why is it that this case made it on National TV, While there are more killing by shooting in Chicago than in Florida?
on July 16,2013 | 02:02PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Any reasonable person knows Zimmerman targeted this guy because he was black in a gated community. That's why all the news coverage.
on July 16,2013 | 04:01PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Well, that could have happened. However, there's nothing in the trial testimony that indicates that is what happened. Aside from that fact, the community is reported to have about 20% each of blacks and hispanics. Aside from the fact that there had been multiple robberies, a number by black men, targeting what could have been a resident would make no sense.
on July 16,2013 | 04:49PM
64hoo wrote:
simple it was because after the shooting Obama said if I had a son it would be like trayvon so naturally the news media went after this case because Obama ordered it. and the justice dept. used taxpayers money to form these protesting groups across the country 44 days before the trial, and remember the florida DA did not file charges because the evidence showed he shot in self defense it was dept. of justice who brought in a special prosecuter to try the case to no avail. what a waste of taxpayers money.
on July 16,2013 | 11:29PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
If Martin were white, he would very likely still be alive. Nothing for the news media to cover.
on July 16,2013 | 04:00PM
64hoo wrote:
wrong again.
on July 16,2013 | 11:33PM
false wrote:
Hope and change... we HOPE the white/hispanic man is found guilty. if not, we'll try and CHANGE the outcome. the newer fairer america.
on July 16,2013 | 01:27PM
stingray65 wrote:
You mean the six jury where not fair? How did you come up with that conclusion?
on July 16,2013 | 02:04PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
No blacks on the jury
on July 16,2013 | 04:02PM
64hoo wrote:
hes not white Hispanic hes black Hispanic zimmermans grandmother was black not white. study things before you make dumb comments.
on July 16,2013 | 11:32PM
frontman wrote:
This case should not have even gone to trial. Zimmerman protected himself from a drug smoking gansta wanta a be. Justice was served and the system worked. Move on as everyone has a right to protect himself with out worry of a black president trumping up more charges because the truth and laws were followed.
on July 16,2013 | 01:38PM
stingray65 wrote:
Justifiable homicide? Yes, It is a God giving right to protect yourself. Again, I wanted to have Concealed to Carry in State of Hawaii..So good citizens can protect ourselves!! Not just being a Target.
on July 16,2013 | 02:07PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
You want the right to shoot unarmed people too? If you're going to fight, fight like a man, not a pu**y.
on July 16,2013 | 04:04PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
You left out the part where zimmerman confronted and accused an innocent kid of being a criminal because he was black and wearing a hoodie in a gated community.
on July 16,2013 | 04:10PM
ufried wrote:
I smell a beer summit coming...
on July 16,2013 | 01:40PM
ufried wrote:
me tinks we needs a beer summit...
on July 16,2013 | 01:41PM
stingray65 wrote:
He carry a Gun because he can! That is the law in State of Florida..I would carry a GUN here in Hawaii if can !! But only law enforcement, Military and Drug Dealers can carry guns in State of Hawaii!!
on July 16,2013 | 01:58PM
honopic wrote:
Here's a simple solution to your "problem" of not being allowed to carry a concealed weapon here in Hawai'i -- move to Florida. We'll all be better off that "good citizens" like you, who claim "God giving right" (sic) to protect yourself go to a place where you can legally do that. As for your ridiculous comment that "only law enforcement, Military and Drug Dealers" (really?) can carry guns in this state, that's blatantly false. Hunters, sportsmen and other law-abiding citizens with permits can possess and carry guns, just not concealed.
on July 17,2013 | 07:09AM
kennysmith wrote:
i can TELL YOU ALL THAT IF YOU KNOW A VOICE YOU CAN TRY IT YOUR SELF. try to scream?, i want you to have some one around a corner of a building. and see witch one you think it is?.
on July 16,2013 | 02:37PM
earlson wrote:
The feds should stay out of it even though Obama would like to do something for Trayvon. Zimmerman should not have placed himself in a position for this to happen but most of the protestors seem to ignore the evidence that Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman and hit him a few times. The jurors made the right decision under Florida law with the evidence that was presented to them. It's a tragedy that should not have happened and prosecuting Zimmerman for political reasons will not do anything to improve civil rights. The appropriate thing to do is to file a civil case against Zimmerman and go after him that way. Zimmerman is wrong for what he did but it was not murder under Florida law - if you want to blame someone, blame the prosecutors for overcharging and putting on a lousy case. They should have done better and gone after manslaughter from the start.
on July 16,2013 | 04:23PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
Obama, Jackson, Sharpton etal claim racism, however they are the very ones that are waving the race card.
on July 16,2013 | 04:33PM
kahuku01 wrote:
What's wrong with these people that are still protesting and now the federal government is getting involved. This case was handled in accordance with the judicial system, and Zimmerman was found not guilty. According to the judge, he was allowed to go free and excused from the court. In other words, the defense and Zimmerman won the case outright when the jury found him not guilty. Case closed. The black community are using racial animosity towards Trayvon by Zimmerman and will not accept Not Guilty, and will continue to push the issue until Zimmerman is charged and serve time in jail. Is this what we consider a democratic country especially when a person is tried for a crime through the proper judicial system and is found not guilty? Worse yet, when the federal government must get involved with this case because the blacks are not satisfied and must further investigate, for what? What an embarrassment for this country when the federal government won't come out and say, justice has been serve by the court system. Case closed and move on with your lives. The government is trying to play the role as the investigator, until things cool down so that this case won't trigger a riot throughout the country. How sad when people cannot accept a verdict by the court system. Was there a protest or demonstration when OJ Simpson was found not guilty when his ex white wife was murdered?
on July 16,2013 | 05:36PM
Anonymous wrote:
POPPYCOCK. That is , poppycock to all who are mentioning "Stand Your Ground" in the context of the Zimmerman trial. The fact of the matter is that the Florida version of that law DID NOT PLAY ANY ROLE in the Zjmmerman trial . Was there a lot of talk and chatter about it during the run up to the trial? Sure. But the Florida law says that people have "no duty to retreat" if they're attacked in a place where they have a right to be. Zimmerman's lawyer didn't need to rely on that law to defend him because his client never had the chance to retreat. Why not? Well, because of Zimmerman's injuries and a neighbor's testimony confirming that Martin was straddling him on top and beating him. So, was the defense's argument self-defense? Absolutely. Was it self defense because of the Stand Your Ground law? Absolutely not. Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/stand-your-ground-not-used-in-florida-2013-7#ixzz2ZGpnL3pJ
on July 16,2013 | 05:46PM
jussayin wrote:
Sounds political that the Justice Department is getting involved. More so with Obama saying things last year and recently.
on July 16,2013 | 06:51PM
Bdpapa wrote:
Why are they doing this? A jury of his peers has found him not guilty. Like it or not , move on.
on July 16,2013 | 07:52PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Zimmerman moved on. He'll be moving all around, going into hiding, for life.
on July 16,2013 | 09:13PM
hanabatadayz wrote:
not guilty..move on..the media is to blame for blowing up this story..nothing better to report
on July 16,2013 | 09:14PM
Kaluu wrote:
Didn't read all the commentary here. Just wanted to see if race attracted more than the usual number of comments for a crime story. Good indication that there's still a lot of racial hostility in the land of aloha. "O ka mea I aloha ole ana, aale ia I ike aku I ke Akua, no ka mea, aloha ke Akua."
on July 17,2013 | 07:06AM
Kaluu wrote:
P.S. That capital i was done by dumb computer which doesn't write Hawaiian.
on July 17,2013 | 07:07AM
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