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Zimmerman is unlikely to face federal charges

By David G. Savage & Richard A. Serrano

Tribune Washington Bureau

LAST UPDATED: 07:34 a.m. HST, Jul 17, 2013

WASHINGTON » George Zimmerman is unlikely to face federal charges for killing black teenager Trayvon Martin because it would be difficult to prove he acted out of racial bias, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.

Four years ago, Congress adopted a stronger federal hate crimes act to empower federal prosecutors to go after violent crimes of bias. Since then, the Obama administration has won convictions against more than 140 defendants who chose their victims because they were gay, disabled or members of racial or religious minorities.

But a successful federal prosecution of Zimmerman would require clear evidence that he set out to attack the unarmed Martin because he was black.

Although that is exactly what many Americans see in the fatal shooting of the 17-year-old, it can be very hard to prove in court, legal experts said. So far, prosecutors have not shown evidence that Zimmerman acted out of racial bias.

“I’d be very, very surprised if we took it,” said one federal civil rights prosecutor, speaking anonymously because no decision had been made. “It’s a very tough, tough case to sell” because of the lack of witnesses.

“The difficult element would be proving racial motivation beyond a reasonable doubt,” said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos, a former civil rights attorney in the Obama administration. “In most of these (hate crime) cases, you have someone who had made racial statements or you have a group who goes looking to attack a person based on their race.”

But in the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin, “no one else was there who could testify about the motivation,” he said.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at the NAACP convention in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday: “We are mindful of the tragic and unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin last year — in Sanford, just a short distance from here.”

He reiterated that federal prosecutors have an “open investigation” into the shooting. “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.

Holder said laws such as Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, which allow someone who feels in danger to respond with violence without retreating, must be “examined” because they eliminate “the common-sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely.”

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has called on Holder and the Justice Department to prosecute Zimmerman on a hate-crime charge.

“It is clear George Zimmerman’s bias played a major role in the events that led” to the shooting, Jealous said. He noted that Zimmerman had made dozens of calls to police, “disproportionately about young men of color who he thought were suspect.” He also noted that Zimmerman said on the night of attack, “These punks always get away with this.”

Jealous agreed the law requires evidence of racial bias. “We believe there was enough evidence to satisfy that standard,” he said.

Some advocates also have called for charging Zimmerman with violating Martin’s civil rights. But a civil rights count is limited to defendants who act “under color of law” — that is, wielding government authority.

One such example involved four Los Angeles police officers who were acquitted in 1992 in the beating of motorist Rodney King. Federal officials later charged them with violating King’s constitutional rights; two officers were convicted. Zimmerman was not a police officer when he got out of his car to pursue Martin.

The 2009 hate crimes act was named for Matthew Shepard, a young Wyoming man who was brutally beaten and left to die because he was gay. The law made it a federal crime to “willfully cause bodily injury to any person” with a weapon or explosive device “because of” the person’s race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.

In early July, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the law as constitutional. That ruling came in the case of three white supremacists who had abducted a developmentally disabled Native American and brutally abused him, including branding a swastika on his skin with a hot coat hanger. Two of the men were sentenced to 8½ years in prison, while the third received a lesser sentence.

Professor Bagenstos was the deputy to the Justice Department’s civil rights chief, Thomas Perez, during Obama’s first term. He said a successful prosecution would require more evidence than has come to light.

“Unless there is significant new evidence, I’d say it would be unlikely the department would bring a hate-crimes charge,” Bagenstos said. “It would be very difficult to win, and they don’t bring charges they don’t think they can prove.”

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loquaciousone wrote:
Eric Holder is a disgrace to the office of the Attorney General. He needs some investigating himself because of his questionable conduct in that office.
on July 17,2013 | 07:42AM
allie wrote:
He has been one of America's weakest AG's. No question . He should be replaced by a legitimate AG. Affirmative action costs a great deal...
on July 17,2013 | 07:54AM
jayz43 wrote:
Benjamin Todd Jealous of NAACP noted, "Zimmerman had made dozens of calls to police, disproportionately about young men of color who he thought were suspect.” This is laughable. Did this guy ever think that just maybe MOST of the suspicious young men WERE men of color?!
on July 17,2013 | 08:24AM
Can I please see a copy of our evaluation. Until I see a qualifed and quantified assessment by a professional in the field regarding AG's, I'm gonna have to pass on your assessment and file it under "Garbage" as the rest of your accusations, unqualified critiquing, and constant invalidated misuse of our English language.
on July 17,2013 | 01:49PM
loquaciousone wrote:
Can I please see a copy of our evaluation. ? Until I see a qualifed and quantified assessment by a professional in the field regarding AG's, what's the apostrophe for I'm gonna going to have to pass on your assessment and file it under "Garbage" as the rest of your accusations, unqualified critiquing, and constant invalidated misuse of our English language confusing use of words.
on July 17,2013 | 02:16PM
copperwire9 wrote:
Oh you're sooo clever.
on July 17,2013 | 04:01PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Sorry, I don't believe there will be any federal charges in this case. If there is, all the information on both individuals will be made public and the results will be a huge negative on Mr. Martin and his family. The race baiters have made this case in order to destroy two families for their own personal gains.
on July 17,2013 | 07:47AM
allie wrote:
agree...Zimmerman is a Latino who suspected the young man of thievery and then had to defend himself. Blacks need to stop the shibai and investigate and discuss why so much crime in America is committed by young black males. The Latino was not irrational in suspecting Trayvon. He used terrible judgment but too many blacks are causing crime way of proportion to their numbers.
on July 17,2013 | 07:56AM
Mythman wrote:
Factually, a factor in the comparatively larger amount of crimes by African Americans has to do with the way the economy drives them into activity which when things go wrong you cannot expect justice from when things go wrong in lawful activity. In other words, the criminal acts themselves produce more criminal acts since the police and courts and insurance adjusters are of no help when, say, someone rips off your drug stash - they become police, judge, jury and executioner. Also, they enforce their own style of anti trust law enforcement. It's an employment issue, which generates the issue of how to earn a living so as to be able to afford nice things and a nice home, car and travel, etc. It's not only an American problem.
on July 17,2013 | 10:57AM
loquaciousone wrote:
It's called pandering to public pressure. The FBI already investigated the Zimmerman's case and came to the conclusion that there was no race issue. Holder should have just said thank you but no thank you and shut the NCAAP and Shapeton up.
on July 17,2013 | 08:01AM
allie wrote:
agree..Obama has been very silly and weak. The public knows the facts: black young men, way out of proportion to their population, DO commit crimes. The Latino Zimmerman was wrong to do what the did but not irrational to suspect a young black man. Is that race profiling? Maybe but it is a rational response to very high crime rates among black men. But few blacks dare face the truth and hence are not on track to fix the problem. We have our own version of not facing realities out here.
on July 17,2013 | 10:11AM
pgkemp wrote:
thankyou 2
on July 17,2013 | 12:24PM
pgkemp wrote:
on July 17,2013 | 12:24PM
AhiPoke wrote:
If i'm not mistaken, I thought I heard that Zimmerman tutored a couple black kids prior to this incident. Also, isn't one of his neighbors a black person who testified on his behalf? Kinda hard to claim he hated blacks if all this is true.
on July 17,2013 | 08:01AM
loquaciousone wrote:
He also took a black girl to the prom.
on July 17,2013 | 08:17AM
Pacej001 wrote:
and he had a black business partner, and his great great grandfather was part black, and he frequently had black kids in his home growing up, and his community had 20% /- black residents.
on July 17,2013 | 05:14PM
JAFO wrote:
Bias, you only have to look to Washington and the Congressional Black Caucus!
on July 17,2013 | 08:06AM
PTF wrote:
The jurors have decided and the trial is over. Let's move on.
on July 17,2013 | 08:19AM
false wrote:
Best post in the past couple of days. Thank you.
on July 17,2013 | 08:54AM
pgkemp wrote:
i agree
on July 17,2013 | 12:24PM
stingray65 wrote:
PTF, I second that one!! More of those folks doing the demonstrations, does not even know half of the truth of the whole case.. Skin color got nothing to do with the shooting!! According the case during whole trial, Zimmerman was attached, down on the ground beat his head on the ground by the Black Kid, and he shoot him! Period, end to the story and the whole case.. He is Black, not African-American. He was born in United States.. If he was born in Africa like Barack Obama, therefore, he is African-American.
on July 17,2013 | 11:15AM
LanaUlulani wrote:

Well of course because it is not about race nor is it about Florida's Stand Your Ground law yet Obama and his henchmen tried to make it out to be. This resulted in some people taking it out on Trayvon Martin.

It is NOT Trayvon Martin's fault that Obama, Holder, and the Biased LIberal Media are dumb......

Thus do not take it out on Trayvon Martin.

on July 17,2013 | 08:27AM
lee1957 wrote:
Stand your ground is completely irrelevant to this issue, had nothing to do with the shooting.
on July 17,2013 | 11:50AM
MakaniKai wrote:
Holder and Barry will not let this go! Speaks volumns on their character.......and MLK said to judge on that not da color of da skin! AMEN.
on July 17,2013 | 08:31AM
false wrote:
was O.J. investigated for violating Nicole Simpson's civil right or even human rights?
on July 17,2013 | 08:52AM
lee1957 wrote:
He was convicted in a civil trial, but that was brought by the Goldman family and not the DoJ.
on July 17,2013 | 11:51AM
false wrote:
Indeed he was but did the DOJ investigate him for violation of civil rights?
on July 17,2013 | 01:06PM
kahuku01 wrote:
This is a sad situation when it becomes a one sided circus. It seems everything is about whether Zimmerman uttered any "racial slur" during this whole ordeal so that the feds would be able to charge him for a hate crime. A former civil rights attorney in the Obama administration said, "in most of these (hate crime) cases, you have someone who had made a racial statement. The confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin, "no one else was there who could testify about the motivation." However, from the gist of his quote, there was a witness (Jentel) on the phone while Zimmerman was following Martin. During the conversation, Martin said to Jentel, "I am being followed by this creepy white cracker." If this is not a racial slur than I don't what anyone would call this. By saying those words, Martin had made a racial statement especially when it was previously stated by a former civil rights attorney. Maybe, this is the reason, Martin didn't continue walking to his destination and elected to hide and confront Zimmerman after that precious 4 minutes went ticking by while Zimmerman was looking for Martin. Was a hate crime committed by Martin by confronting Zimmerman, because of what Martin had said to Jentel? There's always two sides to a tragedy and just focusing on Zimmerman makes it one sided. Also, the defense never mention the character and background history of Martin or why he was suspended from school, but the prosecutors mentioned Zimmerman's character. This after the verdict fiasco has become a one sided circus. How sad for the feds to put their nose in this non-racial case.
on July 17,2013 | 09:02AM
MakaniKai wrote:
According to Miss Jentel it is permissable to say "Crack -A" vs. "Cracker" Agree this has become a big fat circus.
on July 17,2013 | 09:33AM
kahuku01 wrote:
But yet it's not acceptable to say the N word with -a versus with -ro?
on July 17,2013 | 09:51AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Ms. Jentel is the perfect example of the phrase, "It's better to be thought a fool then to open ones mouth and remove all doubt".
on July 17,2013 | 10:09AM
allie wrote:
It would be nice if angry blacks and white liberals would face the real issue: Black males commit way too many crimes. The Latino Zimmerman is, of course, not at all white. But he exercised poor judgment but was not at all irrational to suspect Trayvon. Trayvon is, in part, the victim of the bad, and well earned, reputation young black males have on the mainland.
on July 17,2013 | 10:15AM
Denominator wrote:
The blacks are now trying for two sets of laws. Just like affirmative action established a separate criteria for them. They want laws that apply to whites to not apply to them in them in the same way. They say there are too many blacks in jail and they mean blacks should not be judged by the "whiteman" laws.
on July 17,2013 | 12:07PM
cojef wrote:
The judge forbade the defense from introducing Trayvon Martin's background since he was not being tried. The main stream media did not do their homework by not disclosing the data since it distracted from their agenda to further ferment the racial clash.
on July 17,2013 | 11:07AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Even though I don't agree with the verdict....I accept it nevertheless... the jurors heard testimony, saw foresenic evidence and apply it to Florida's law and returned a verdict....thats the way the system works...on the other hand the federal goverment should stop trying to meddle in local affairs just because they don't agree with the verdict....Its time to move on....
on July 17,2013 | 10:57AM
HD36 wrote:
It was obviously not a race based murder but a case of self defense. Good think he was half hispanic.
on July 17,2013 | 11:49AM
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