A neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager last month in Florida is not racist and the facts will show he acted in self-defense as he originally told police, an attorney who says he represents the man said Friday.
Orlando criminal defense attorney Craig Sonner said on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 that he has advised 28-year-old George Zimmerman to cooperate in the investigation into the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and that he believed his client was still in central Florida where the shooting happened. Zimmerman told Sanford police that he shot Martin after a fight Feb. 26 and that it was in self-defense.
The lack of an arrest has brought outrage in the Orlando suburb and across the country. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic and some have suggested racism as the motive. Sonner said that is not the case.
"I really think there are other issues in this case and that it's not an issue of racism," said Sonner. "I don't believe that George Zimmerman's a racist or that this was motivated by a dislike for African-Americans."
Sonner did not immediately return voicemail messages left after hours to his office Friday night by The Associated Press. Zimmerman and his family have not spoken to the media.
Martin was returning to a friend's home from a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle. Sonner said Zimmerman's nose was broken and that the back of his head was gashed during the fight.
The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department and the police chief temporarily stepped down he said to let passions cool.
Civil rights groups and others have held rallies from Florida to New York to Texas, saying the shooting was unjustified. Many of the protesters wore the same type of hoodie that Martin had on that day, suggesting his appearance and race had something to do with his death.
The Justice Department and FBI are looking at possible civil rights violations and a grand jury next month could recommend charges against Zimmerman.
Sonner disagreed with the assessment of his client. He was not specific but said Zimmerman and his wife had been part of a program in which they mentored black teenagers. Sonner said he talked to the African-American mother of those teens and she didn't think he appeared racist.
"Let's look at the facts of what happened," said Sonner, who believes Zimmerman's self-defense assertion will prove to be true.