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U.S. attorney general says Trayvon Martin killing an ‘unnecessary shooting’

Updated Monday, July 15, 2013 | 5 p.m.

Zimmerman Trial Reaction

A protester stomps on a van during a demonstration in reaction to the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Monday, July 15, 2013, in Los Angeles. Anger over the acquittal of a U.S. neighborhood watch volunteer who shot dead an unarmed black teenager continued Monday, with civil rights leaders saying mostly peaceful protests will continue this weekend with vigils in dozens of cities. Launch slideshow »

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called the killing of Trayvon Martin a "tragic, unnecessary shooting," and said the Justice Department will follow "the facts and the law" as it reviews evidence to see whether federal criminal charges are warranted.

In his first comments since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Martin case, Holder said the 17-year-old's death provides an opportunity for the nation to speak honestly about complicated and emotionally charged issues. He said the nation must not forgo an opportunity toward better understanding of one another.

"I hope that we will approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most, Trayvon's parents, have demonstrated throughout the last year — and especially over the past few days," Holder said. "They suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure — and one that I, as a father, cannot begin to conceive."

The Justice Department is examining evidence in the case and testimony from the state trial to determine whether criminal civil rights charges would be brought. However, legal experts say Justice officials would likely be saddled with some of the same challenges that complicated the unsuccessful state case. The key to charging Zimmerman, a 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.

"There is a federal prosecution that theoretically is possible, but I'm sure federal prosecutors would think long and hard, given the state of the evidence, whether they would try to pursue that," said Scott Sundby, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at the University of Miami law school. "You'd have to prove that George Zimmerman was seeking out to commit the crime against Trayvon Martin, specifically because he was African-American."

President Barack Obama won't involve himself in the Justice Department's decision on whether to pursue a civil rights case because it would be inappropriate for the president to express an opinion on how the department deals with Zimmerman, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges Saturday by a jury in Seminole County after claiming he fired his weapon in self-defense only after Martin attacked him. No evidence surfaced in the trial that Zimmerman had a racial bias, and his friends and family have repeatedly denied he harbored racial animosity toward blacks. Florida did not use its own hate crime laws against Zimmerman.

Holder's comments on the case came in a speech to the 51st national convention of the Delta Sigma Theta, the nation's largest African-American sorority, and drew strong applause with his characterization of the shooting: "We are ... mindful of the pain felt by our nation surrounding the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last year."

Martin's family and supporters maintain that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin and decided to follow him, leading to the fatal fight. 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 unknown witnesses.

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. 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.

Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the verdict "a travesty and miscarriage of justice" and urged the Justice Department to bring criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

Zimmerman could get life in prison if charged and convicted under federal hate crime laws.

Several former prosecutors said they'd be surprised if the department were to charge Zimmerman under civil rights laws.

"I think it would be a very steep, if not insurmountable, hill to climb and would be shocked to see any further DOJ involvement," said Jeffrey Sloman, former U.S attorney in Miami.

Sundby said the legal system does not always provide an outcome that satisfies people who believe Martin's killing was unjustifiable and morally wrong.

"That's frustrating as a lawyer to say, but sometimes the legal system — even if there's a sense that an injustice was done — it doesn't have an answer to that injustice," he said.

AP reporter Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.

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  1. The communist pro criminal AG would say that.

  2. If you were laying on your back with someone on top of you...banging your head into cement, what would you do?

    Unless the cement head banging stops you will die.

  3. I agree antigov! No one should be allowed to carry a firearm anywhere except their home- just like Chicago. You know, where more people get murdered every year than soldiers get killed in Afghanistan.

    We should model our law enforcement initiatives after the Chicago model. Under this model, the police don't even respond to calls unless there is imminent danger. Maybe if the cops didn't respond to any of his calls George Zimmerman would have given up on neighborhood watch duty and accepted his fate learning to just live with constant crime surrounding him.

    Some people may not like this model, but if it works in Chicago, it will do well for the rest of us as well. Anyone that disagrees is probably a racist anyway.

  4. Trayvon unnecessarily attacked Zimmerman. Trayvon initiated the physical attack. Those who want to blame someone blame Trayvon Martin for his uncalled for physical assault on Z. Had he not attacked/assaulted Z he would be alive today.

    Many places have neighborhood watches. Many in my neighborhood will follow a stranger who we know doesn't live in it if they look suspicious. The president of my HOA walks through our neighborhood twice a day and stopped me when we where home shopping and I was looking over in the yard of a house I had made an offer on.

    I didn't assault him, threaten to kill him and try to bash his head in as Trayvon did. Wherever Trayvon is, he can look in the mirror to see who's responsible for his death. Zimmerman broke no law.

  5. If someone is coming after me, in the dark, and I don't know why, I should absolutely be able to defend myself. But at the same time, if that person suddenly pulls a gun on me, they shouldn't be able to get away with killing me either under the guise of "self defense" in a fight that THEY provoked.

    No one knows what led up to the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman, because after all, dead men tell no tales. But if you're walking somewhere alone at night, and you have no idea why someone is following you in a vehicle, and then suddenly jumps out and chases after you on foot, you'd be well within your rights to attack them. Because you really don't know what they're intentions are.

    Honest question: Where is the proof that Marin initiated the attack? Because from all previous evidence, he was just trying to get away. Honest question, just looking for an honest answer.

  6. DMCVegas says "But if you're walking somewhere alone at night, and you have no idea why someone is following you in a vehicle, and then suddenly jumps out and chases after you on foot, you'd be well within your rights to attack them."

    Wow, you really need to look into the law a little bit. Because if you did exactly the scenario you presented above...YOU would go to jail.

    If all the person did was follow you and run towards you, you have no legal right to initiate physical violence against them. If you do you are committing assault.

    "Honest question: Where is the proof that Marin initiated the attack?"

    None needed. Burden of proof is on the prosecution. (Remember that whole innocent until PROVEN guilty thing?)

    The defense does not have to prove that Martin initiated physical violence, they just have to establish a reasonable possibility that he did. It's the prosecutions burden to prove that Zimmerman initiated physical violence (which they could not do) if they want to prevent an acquittal on the grounds of self defense.

    "Because from all previous evidence, he was just trying to get away."

    Sorry, but that's not what the evidence presented at trial would support. Based on when Zimmerman said he lost sight of him on the recording of the call, had Martin continued on to the house he was staying at he would have had plenty of time to reach it before the time of the confrontation (based on the timeline for the call with the girlfriend)

    According to the evidence presented at trial, four minutes transpired during which time Martin failed to walk the 350 feet to where he was staying. That pretty much shows that Martin was not "just trying to get away".

  7. "President Barack Obama won't involve himself in the Justice Department's decision on whether to pursue a civil rights case because it would be inappropriate for the president to express an opinion on how the department deals with Zimmerman..."

    Oh, I see. Obama and Holder never talk about it, huh?

    Take it to the bank, Obama has already told Holder what to do. If you fail to believe that, when your IQ reaches 50... Sell!

  8. More RACISM from HOLDER. Obama needs to intervene or resign. Impeachment seems inevitable when a President REFUSES TO ENFORCE OUR LAWS and WORSE, illegally violates the civil rights of Z and the rest of us.

  9. Rooney: PRESUMPTION of innocence for Z--we MUST believe he was innocent UNLESS we can PROVE he did something illegal--and then that would be the charge. Allegedly following (and then stopping) is what charge? Even loitering would be too severe. Martin attempted to murder Z and you're concerned?

  10. Let's see, tens of 1,000s of gun deaths each year since he was selected as AG and the low-life Holder chooses to call only this one "unnecessary?" Presumably, that means the others were all "necessary," right? Let's narrow it down even further. How about the 12 shot to death and the 40-some wounded in Chicago during the July 4 Holiday? Do their shootings not deserve to be "looked into?" Apparently not. I guess theirs were cheap black lives, not worthy of investigation, while the teen-age punk/junkie/criminal Trayvon's is. Talk about "soft" racism!

  11. chuck333,

    Your numbers are incorrect. However, you are on the right track. Here is a link for your use:

    http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/2013-chic...

    Regards,
    Purgatory

  12. LV_Micheala,

    Allbuss84 was clearly using satire. You may want to reread his comment and perhaps apologize to him for your error in judgment.

    Purgatory

  13. There are 90,000 people a year that get shot in the US. How many shootings are "necessary"?
    Zimmerman's entire life is ruined and a kid is dead because Zimmerman couldn't mind his own business.

  14. Rusty...crime is down because we have millions of psychopaths in prison and our society has gotten a lot older in the last 20 years. Violent crimes are committed by the young, not seniors.
    Murder suicide is climbing among the elderly because they are starving and can't pay for food or medical. Other than that seniors are a docile bunch.
    We have the largest prison population in the world.

  15. He should have just been pistol whipped.

  16. It's time to stop marginalizing the Hispanic's in America, there needs to be equality, not the once oppressed now the oppressor of others.