U.S. won't file charges against George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin death

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2015 1:10 PM

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it will not file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, concluding its investigation three years after the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer fatally shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

The department said it had not found sufficient evidence that Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder in state court, intentionally violated the civil rights of Martin, 17.

The announcement comes as the Justice Department also investigates Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

Both incidents sparked nationwide outcry from civil rights advocates who have pressured the Obama administration to press charges against the two men for acting on racial bias.

Under U.S. law, criminal charges of murder or manslaughter are most often left to the states.

Federal charges must clear a high legal bar by proving the suspect knowingly violated the victim's civil rights. To convict a police officer, such as Wilson, prosecutors have to show that he or she intentionally used excessive force.

In order to convict Zimmerman, a citizen, federal prosecutors would have had to prove that he committed a hate crime, meaning he was racially motivated to kill Martin.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the investigation concluded that the circumstances of the case could not meet the "high standard" for a federal hate crime prosecution, but he added in a statement:

"This young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface."

MARTIN'S FAMILY DISAPPOINTED

Martin's family, who have been vocal during the investigation and court process, said they were disappointed in the findings but thanked the Justice Department for their "extensive and thorough investigation into the killing of our son."

The investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division was conducted independently of state efforts, and was put on pause during Zimmerman's criminal trial, officials said.

Zimmerman's attorney, Don West, said he hopes the decision will mark the start of a "new chapter in life" for his client, whose name is frequently mentioned in connection with killings of other unarmed black men such as Brown.

Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Martin in the chest during a confrontation in a neighborhood in Sanford, Florida, after following and stopping the teenager because he thought he was suspicious.

In 2013, he was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The federal investigation was then actively resumed, Justice Department officials said.

Investigators said they reviewed all the evidence presented by state prosecutors and separately interviewed 75 witnesses.

From the initial encounter through the shooting, the Justice Department said, it did not find evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt," that Zimmerman had confronted Martin on account of his race, knowingly defying the law.

“Our decision not to pursue federal charges does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

(Rporting by Julia Edwards and Letitia Stein; Writing by Bill Trott and Letitia Stein; Editing by Susan Heavey, David Gregorio and Mohammad Zargham)