Friends fear for safety of man who shot Florida teen

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2012 3:13 PM
Friends fear for safety of man who shot Florida teen

SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - Friends and supporters spoke out on Sunday on behalf of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager in Florida, saying he fears for his safety after receiving death threats.

George Zimmerman, who has claimed he shot Trayvon Martin on February 26 in self-defense, is staying in an undisclosed location after widely circulated death threats and word of a $10,000 bounty to find him, said legal adviser Craig Sonner, who said he would represent Zimmerman if charges are filed.

Fury over the shooting in the gated community of Sanford, Florida, of the 17-year-old boy, who was carrying an iced tea and a bag of candy, and the lack of an arrest or charges prompted demonstrations nationwide calling for authorities to take action.

On Sunday, supporters of Martin were staging events at churches, where congregants were encouraged to wear hoodies, or hooded sweatshirts, like the one he was wearing when he was killed.

Martin was shot dead after Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic neighborhood watch captain, believed the young man walking through the gated community looked suspicious. Zimmerman followed him and an altercation ensued.

Friends of Zimmerman, who has not spoken to the media, said he was extremely upset about the shooting.

"It was the first time I spoke to him yesterday since before the shooting and through his family members I learned that right after the shooting he couldn't stop crying," Zimmerman's friend, Joe Oliver, said in an appearance with Sonner on NBC's "Today Show."

"He is just now realizing not just how big this is for him, but how big this is for the country, which is one reason I am sitting here now," Oliver said.

While state and federal investigations are under way, the shooting has put a focus on so-called "Stand your Ground" laws adopted first in Florida in 2005 and in at least 16 other states since.

Opponents call them "Shoot First" laws that put the burden on prosecutors to prove a shooting was not self defense.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, called on Sunday for a Justice Department investigation into "Stand your Ground" laws to determine if they increase violence and prevent prosecutions of crimes.

"They're all new. They've been passed very, very quickly and I think the states who passed them, if they find out the real facts, they may decide to repeal them," Schumer said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"I have a lot of faith in our police and in our sheriffs and I don't like a move to vigilantism," Schumer said.

The incident has become part of the presidential campaign as well. Republican Rick Santorum, also on "Face the Nation," called it "clearly a heinous act."

"We need to focus on being there to be supportive and for the family that's going through this tragedy," he said.

President Barack Obama talked about the case on Friday, saying it made him "think about my own kids."

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said of Martin, who was African-American.

Sonner said Zimmerman fears he is in danger. He cited a document circulating that has Zimmerman's photo with the words "Wanted Dead or Alive."

"I think to not take that seriously would be a mistake," he said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday promised a thorough investigation and said he had faith in the state attorney leading it.

Scott also said he was not aware of any requests for protection from Zimmerman but would provide it if asked.

"If he feels unsafe, we'll make sure nothing happens to him," Scott said.

Sonner has said Zimmerman suffered a broken nose, a gash to his head and had grass stains on his shirt after the confrontation with Martin. Oliver said details about the altercation remain unclear.

"If what George claims is true, none of this would have happened if Trayvon had just said, 'I am staying with my parents,'" Oliver said on the "Today" show.

The New Black Panther Party announced on Saturday it was offering a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman.

"We will reward that individual or group of people who take George Zimmerman into custody and we will deliver him to the authorities. They would be better off holding him than letting him out on the street because there is an angry mindset among black people," said Mikhail Muhammad of the New Black Panther Party, a black political organization that takes its name from the radical movement of the 1960s.

(Reporting by Dan Trotta in Sanford, Florida, and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Bill Trott)