DOJ's Trayvon Probe Still "Open" As Thousands Urge Civil Rights Charges For Zimmerman
After Trayvon Martin's supporters mourned Saturday's not-guilty verdict, hundreds of thousands have turned to the Department of Justice to urge the feds to make a second attempt to convict George Zimmerman of civil rights violations.
The DOJ has confirmed that its inquiry into the case remains open, but mass public support or not, federal charges could be even more difficult to prove in court than a second-degree murder case.
The feds opened an investigation in the weeks after local authorities declined to charge Zimmerman for killing the 17-year-old from Miami, and even though a special prosecutor ended up filing second degree murder charges they never closed that probe.
Martin's supporters turned in a big way to the DOJ after a jury returned a not-guilty verdict late on Saturday.
A petition written by the NAACP and posted to MoveOn.org has already garnered almost a half-million signatures at last check.
"The most fundamental of civil rights -- the right to life -- was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin," the petition reads. "We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation."
Late yesterday, the DOJ acknowledged that it was considering its options in the case.
"We have an open investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin," the feds say in a statement. "(We will) continue to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial. Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction."
Public support or not, that last line is the key takeaway because federal prosecutors only have a few civil rights statutes available in a case like Martin's killing.
Federal prosecutors ended up filing charges against LAPD officers in the Rodney King beating after a jury found the cops not guilty, but they used a statute that applies to law enforcement officers -- which, whatever Zimmerman may have thought of himself, wouldn't apply here.
The best fit might be the federal hate crimes statutes. But if a Sanford jury wasn't convinced that Zimmerman shot Travon in part because of his bias against African Americans, what chance would federal prosecutors have to make that same case?
"To bring a federal civil-rights prosecution against Zimmerman, the attorney general would essentially be second-guessing the state jury's verdict as opposed to vindicating a different or broader federal interest," defense attorney Scott Srebnick tells the Herald.
Martin's parents are also considering filing a wrongful death civil suit against Zimmerman, but would have to overcome the bar of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives immunity in civil cases to shooters.
That raises the other option for Martin's supporters going forward: Channeling their energy into killing Stand Your Ground, the law at the heart of the case. Several petitions aimed at changing the law are also circulating, including this one with 40,000 signatures.