As state and federal authorities join the probe into the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his mother, Sybrina Fulton, said that the investigation won't matter unless the result is the arrest and prosecution of George Zimmerman, who police said confessed to shooting Martin.
“I think it’s progress that so much is being done and I think they are starting to open their eyes,” Fulton told Huffington Post BlackVoices, in reference to the Justice Department and the FBI. “I truly believe they are going to arrest him.”
“Until they do, I cannot eat, I cannot sleep and I cannot relax. Not until he’s arrested,” she said.
Police said Zimmerman, 28, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, shot and killed Martin Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., an Orlando suburb where Martin’s father lives. Martin, a native of Miami, was visiting his father, returning from a nearby store when Zimmerman saw him and thought he looked suspicious. At some point, Zimmerman followed Martin, confronted him and then shot him in the chest, according the Sanford police.
When Zimmerman was questioned by police, he said he acted in self-defense and was later released by Sanford Police Department, police said.
Late Monday night, the Justice Department announced that it would “conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence” in the case and that it would be cooperating with state officials, including the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which announced its participation in the probe last week.
Earlier Tuesday, Norm Wolfinger, the state prosecutor, announced that he would be convening a grand jury to help determine whether Zimmerman would face charges in Martin’s shooting death.
"I share in the desire of the family and the community to accurately collect and evaluate all the facts surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin," Wolfinger said in a statement. “The public is entitled to no less than a thorough, deliberate, and just review of the facts. We intend to honor that commitment."
He said the grand jury will be called to session April 10.
But Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, said using the grand jury is little more than passing the buck; grand juries in Florida are closed.
”They can make a weak case, and the grand jury can come back and say, 'we don’t have enough to indict' and nobody will know what happened,” Crump said. “Then the [state attorney] can come back and say, 'it’s not us who didn’t indict, it was the community'.”
Crump said shifting the responsibility of a controversial case to the grand jury is part of “the playbook that they always use.”
The Justice Department’s role in the case, beyond supplementing local and state resources, also will be to determine if Martin’s shooting violated federal civil rights statutes. The Justice Department said that its Civil Rights Division, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the region will be leading the federal investigation.
“With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids -– the highest level of intent in criminal law,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokesperson for the department. “Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
She added that the Community Relations Service will be in Sanford this week to meet with civil rights and community leaders as well as local law enforcement “to address tension in the community.” Martin is black; Zimmerman is white.
But Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who represents Sanford, said that the gated community where Martin was shot did not have an official neighborhood watch program, and called the killing a hate crime.
"He appointed himself as neighborhood watch," she told NPR's Michel Martin. "Obviously, he didn't go through the training, because the training indicates (that) you follow the directions of the police department. The police department asked him to stand down."
Brown was one of the Congressional Black Caucus members who urged the federal government to get involved in the case. "The point of the matter is that it needs to be investigated by someone independent of the Sanford Police Department, and for me, my confidence level is definitely with the Justice Department."
Gene Demby contributed to this report.