Justice Department to look into the case to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman
Anger over the acquittal of a U.S. neighbourhood watch volunteer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager continued on Monday, with civil rights leaders saying mostly peaceful protests will continue this weekend with vigils in dozens of cities.
The Justice Department said it is looking into Trayvon Martin’s death to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, who is now a free man. His lawyer has told ABC News that Mr. Zimmerman will get his gun back and intends to arm himself again.
The key to filing civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman lies in whether evidence exists that he was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin. Mr. Zimmerman’s parents, Gladys and Robert Zimmerman Sr., told ABC News that their son isn’t racist and that they don’t know if their son will ever be able to return to a normal life.
President Barack Obama and numerous celebrities have expressed sorrow at the verdict. The civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton said on Monday that his organisation will hold vigils and rallies in 100 cities on Saturday in front of federal buildings.
A jury on Saturday found the 29-year-old Mr. Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. Mr. Zimmerman has said he shot the 17-year-old in self-defence in a nighttime confrontation in his gated community in Sanford, Florida, where Martin was visiting family.
The February 2012 shooting drew national attention when Mr. Zimmerman wasn’t arrested for weeks, and the case has continued to raise questions over race and self-defence gun laws.
Jurors were told that Mr. Zimmerman was allowed to use deadly force when he shot the teen not only if he actually faced death or bodily harm, but also if he merely thought he did.
A juror in the trial said on Monday that the actions of Mr. Zimmerman and Martin both led to the teenager’s fatal shooting, but that Mr. Zimmerman didn’t actually break the law.
The woman known as Juror B37 told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Mr. Zimmerman made some poor decisions leading up to the shooting, but that Martin wasn’t innocent either.
“I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into,” said the juror, who is planning to write a book about the trial. “I think they both could have walked away.”
The juror said Sanford Police Detective Chris Serino made a big impression on her, because he would have been accustomed to dealing with murders and similar cases. He would have known how to spot a liar, and yet he testified that he believed Mr. Zimmerman, the juror said.
Legal analysts agreed that Mr. Serino’s testimony was a blow to the state’s case.
The juror was not impressed by the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, who was talking with Martin by cellphone moments before he was fatally shot by Mr. Zimmerman in February 2012.
“I didn’t think it was very credible, but I felt very sorry for her,” the juror said. “She didn’t want to be there.”
The juror said she believed Mr. Zimmerman, who she referred to as “George,” had a right to defend himself.
“I have no doubt George feared for his life,” the juror said.
Juror B37 also outlined to CNN the process she and the other five jurors went through in their deliberations. Based on an initial vote, three including B37 were in favour of acquittal, two wanted manslaughter and one wanted second-degree murder. She said the jury started going through all the evidence, listening to tapes multiple times.
“That’s why it took us so long,” B37 said.
When they started looking at the law, the person who initially wanted second-degree murder changed her vote to manslaughter. Then they asked for clarification from the judge and kept going over it again and again. B37 said some jurors wanted to find Mr. Zimmerman guilty of something, but there was just no place to go based on the law,
B37 said jurors cried when they gave their final vote to the bailiff.
“I want people to know that we put everything into everything to get this verdict,” said the juror, who appeared to become emotional during the interview.
“We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards,” she said. “I don’t think any of us could ever do anything like that ever again.”
Martin Literary Management announced on Monday that it is representing B37 and her husband, who is an attorney. The names of the jurors have not been released, but during jury selection it was disclosed that B37 works in an unspecified management position and has two adult children.
In a statement, Martin Literary said the book would focus on what it is like to be sequestered and why B37 felt she had no choice but to acquit Mr. Zimmerman. The agency said it is approaching several publishers.
In a separate interview, Ms. Jeantel was asked by CNN’s Piers Morgan whether she thought race was a factor in Zimmerman’s decision to follow Martin prior to their fight.
“It was racial,” she said. “Let’s be honest. Racial. If he were white, if Trayvon was white and he had a hoodie on, what would happen?”
Mr. Morgan played back a recording of the juror’s comments about Ms. Jeantel’s education level and speech, and the witness said it made her sad and angry. Ms. Jeantel, who is African-American, said she also had a feeling that the jury would return a not-guilty verdict.
“They’re white,” she said of the jury at one point. “Well, one Hispanic. But she’s stuck in the middle. I had a feeling it was going to be a ‘not guilty.’”
With many critics angry over Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal, his freedom may be limited. He may also face civil lawsuits from Martin’s family.
“He’s going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life,” his brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr. told CNN.
No White House intervention
Mr. Obama called Martin’s death a tragedy for America. It was a rare statement from the president on a case that doesn’t directly involve the federal government.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said Mr. Obama would not involve himself in decisions by the Justice Department on whether to pursue civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman because it would inappropriate.
The Justice Department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed. The department has a long history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who have been acquitted in related state cases, but experience has shown it’s almost never easy getting convictions in such high-profile prosecutions.
Many, including Martin’s parents, said Mr. Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin. Mr. Zimmerman, whose mother was born in Peru, identifies as Hispanic.
Despite the racially charged nature of the case, race was barely mentioned at the trial.
Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Zimmerman as a vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins in his neighbourhood committed primarily by young black men. Defence attorneys said Martin knocked Mr. Zimmerman down and was slamming the older man’s head against the sidewalk when Mr. Zimmerman fired his gun.
The court did not release the racial and ethnic makeup of the six-person jury, but the panel appeared to reporters to be made up of five white women and a sixth who may be Hispanic. The jurors did not talk to reporters immediately after the verdict.