Feds to probe killing of black teen

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY CHUCK NEUBAUER

Fed­eral and state prose­cu­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed black Florida teenager by a neigh­bor­hood crime watch vol­un­teer in a case that has pro­voked a na­tional out­cry.

Florida State At­tor­ney Norm Wolfin­ger said Tues­day he will con­vene a grand jury April 10 in the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school stu­dent fa­tally shot Feb. 26 in a gated com­mu­nity in San­ford just north of Or­lando, while walk­ing from a con­ve­nience store.

On Mon­day, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said it also would in­ves­ti­gate the shoot­ing by neigh­bor­hood watch cap­tain Ge­orge Zim­mer­man, 28, who said he acted in self-de­fense. San­ford po­lice said they have not ar­rested Mr. Zim­mer­man be­cause un­der Florida law they can­not dis­prove his claim of self-de­fense.

The fed­eral and state in­ves­ti­ga­tions come af­ter the vic­tim’s fam­ily and pro­test­ers raised ques­tions about the San­ford po­lice’s han­dling of the case. Po­lice have de­scribed Mr. Zim­mer­man as white. His fam­ily said he is His­panic and not a racist.

On Tues­day, Ben­jamin Crump, the Martin fam­ily lawyer, charged that the teenager was on the phone with a girl­friend un­til mo­ments be­fore he was killed. He played a record­ing of his in­ter­view with the girl who said Trayvon told her he was be­ing fol­lowed. She said she heard Trayvon ask a stranger “Why are you fol­low­ing me?” fol­lowed by an­other man ask­ing “What are you do­ing around here?”

Mr. Crump said the girl lost con­tact with Trayvon be­fore he was shot.

“She ab­so­lutely blows Zim­mer­man’s ab­surd self-de­fense claim out of the water,” the lawyer said, adding that Mr. Zim­mer­man should be ar­rested im­me­di­ately.

On record­ings of the 911 calls by neigh­bors, there is a voice call­ing for help just be­fore the gun­shot. That per­son has not been iden­ti­fied, but the Martin fam­ily thinks it is the teenager. Po­lice think it is Mr. Zim­mer­man.

Mr. Zim­mer­man could not be reached for com­ment. A tele­phone num­ber listed for him has been dis­con­nected.

His fa­ther, Robert Zim­mer­man, said in a let­ter to the Or­lando Sen­tinel that his son “would be the last to dis­crim­i­nate for any rea­son what­so­ever.” He said the me­dia por­trayal of his son as a racist “could not be fur­ther from the truth.”

In an­nounc­ing his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mr. Wolfin­ger said he shared the de­sire of the Martin fam­ily and the com­mu­nity to “ac­cu­rately col­lect and eval­u­ate all the facts sur­round­ing the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.” He urged the public to re­main pa­tient, adding that it was “en­ti­tled to no less than a thor­ough, de­lib­er­ate and just re­view of the facts.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Civil Rights Di­vi­sion and the FBI said they would con­duct “a thor­ough and in­de­pen­dent re­view” of the ev­i­dence and take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion. The depart­ment noted, how­ever, that it had to “prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt that a per­son acted in­ten­tion­ally and with the spe­cific in­tent to do some­thing which the law for­bids.”

“Neg­li­gence, reck­less­ness, mis­takes and ac­ci­dents are not pros­e­cutable un­der the fed­eral crim­i­nal civil rights laws,” the depart­ment said.

The San­ford Po­lice Depart­ment said it turned over an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the state at­tor­ney’s of­fice that is fair, com­plete and not racially mo­ti­vated. Sgt. Dave Mor­gen­stern said that, based on the ev­i­dence, the depart­ment could not dis­pute Mr. Zim­mer­man’s claim of self-de­fense.

Un­der Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, peo­ple who feel they are be­ing threat­ened are al­lowed to stand and de­fend them­selves with­out re­treat­ing.

Mr. Zim­mer­man was pa­trolling the gated Re­treat at Twin Lakes com­mu­nity in his SUV when he called 911 af­ter see­ing Trayvon walk­ing through the neigh­bor­hood. Con­cerned about re­cent break-ins, he de­scribed the teenager to the 911 dis­patcher as a “real sus­pi­cious guy . . . up to no good or on drugs or some­thing.” He asked that a po­lice of­fi­cer be sent to the scene when Trayvon started to run.

Record­ings of the call show the dis­patcher told him not to fol­low the teenager, but Mr. Zim­mer­man — car­ry­ing a li­censed 9mm hand­gun — did any­way. Trayvon was killed a few min­utes later, shot in the chest.

Trayvon had bought Skit­tles and an iced tea at a con­ve­nience store and was walk­ing back to the house of his fa­ther’s girl­friend when he was shot.

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