An attorney for the family of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin on Saturday told a group of journalists that after meeting with federal authorities, he doubts the killing will be charged as a federal hate crime.
However, he said he’s encouraged that the state’s investigation of the shooting will lead to criminal charges filed against the gunman, George Zimmerman.
Daryl Parks, the principal in the Tallahassee, Fla.-based firm representing Trayvon’s parents, discussed the case in a lengthy interview through Skype with board members of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Parks, in an hour-long conversation, addressed the attorneys’ meetings with federal and state authorities, his team’s legal strategy and the outpouring of support for his clients.
The 17-year-old was shot and killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. Trayvon, an African-American, was unarmed. Zimmerman claims he shot in self-defense. Zimmerman, who has been identified as Hispanic, allegedly uttered a racial epithet while talking to a 911 dispatcher just before he confronted Trayvon.
The decision of Sanford police not to arrest or charge Zimmerman has ignited a national outcry of racial profiling. Protesters have demonstrated in Sanford and in several other cities, led by prominent civil rights leaders.
Parks said the family recently received a call from Oprah Winfrey.
The furor has prompted the Justice Department to investigate the shooting for possible civil rights violations. In addition, Florida’s governor has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. The case is scheduled to go to a grand jury on April 10.
Parks said a meeting with Justice Department and FBI officials Thursday made it “clear that this is a very high priority for this administration.” He said he was encouraged that federal authorities have “devoted a great deal of resources to this matter.”
“The family left there with a strong sense that the Justice Department is very committed to this,” Parks told the group.
Parks said the 911 tapes clearly prove Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated and meet the standards for prosecuting the shooting as a hate crime. Yet Parks came away from the meeting with federal authorities doubting that they will indict Zimmerman on the charge.
“They realize that charging this as a hate crime is going to be a challenge. You can tell from their statements. Their statements were slightly guarded,” Parks said. He declined to elaborate on his reasons for saying so.
Federal authorities haven’t discussed the status of their probe.
Parks said his clients met Friday with State Attorney Angela Corey, who was appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott as a special prosecutor to head the state investigation. Parks said he was more optimistic following the meeting that charges would be forthcoming.
“Most folks have heard enough evidence,” he said. “The charging aspect is a low hanging grape at this point. It shouldn’t be this difficult.”
On Friday, Zimmerman attorney Craig Sonner told CNN he wouldn’t use the Stand Your Ground defense should his client be charged. Sonner said he instead would use self-defense. He also denied that accusations that the shooting was racially motivated.
Zimmerman hasn’t spoken publicly about the shooting. He reportedly has received death threats. Parks said in their conversations with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is part of the state investigation, authorities said they are monitoring Zimmerman’s whereabouts.
Parks said his firm has obtained documentation from the homeowners association where the shooting occurred that establishes Zimmerman as neighborhood watch captain. He said language in the document advises residents to direct any concerns about crime to Zimmerman. For that reason, he said, the family is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against the homeowners association.
“The close nature of the working relationship [between Zimmerman and the homeowners association] is as clear as it can be,” Parks said.