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.
BEFORE YOU GO
04/30/2012 3:14 PM EDT
George Zimmerman defense team launches social media campaign.
The defense team for George Zimmerman, the man charged with murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has launched a new website, Facebook and Twitter account designed to dispute misinformation and provide "a voice for Mr. Zimmerman."
"We understand that it is unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant, but we also acknowledge that this is a very unusual case," Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, wrote on the website, gzlegalcase.com.
O’Mara said that "social media in this day and age cannot be ignored," and that it would be “irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation” around his client's case.
04/20/2012 3:17 PM EDT
Judge Grants George ZImmerman Bail
A Florida judge has granted bail for George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch captain accused of second-degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set Zimmerman's bond at $150,000, but said he would not be released today, pending deliberations about the terms of the release.
The bail hearing featured dramatic testimony from Zimmerman, who took the stand and offered an apology to Martin's parents.
"I wanted to say that I am sorry for the loss of your son," Zimmerman said, adding that he did not know how old Martin was or that he was unarmed.
"I thought he was a little bit younger than I am," he said. "I did not know whether he was armed or not."
04/18/2012 6:23 PM EDT
Judge in case steps down due to concerns over conflict of interest.
The judge who was set to preside over the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin has stepped aside.
Jessica Reckseidler's recusal from the trial comes after Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, suggested that her husband's job as a partner to Mark NeJame, a CNN legal analyst covering the trial, represented a conflict of interest.
NeJame was initially contacted by Zimmerman's family to represent him, but NeJame suggested O'Mara.
The new judge in the case will be Kenneth R. Lester, Jr., who has presided over several much-covered cases, including ordering the release of a schizophrenic woman from a state mental hospital after she was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting deaths of her parents and sentencing an ax murderer to death after he killed a 71-year-old man. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Lester is popular among attorneys and is known for acting quickly.
The judge who would have been next in line to handle the Zimmerman case after Jessica Reckseidler could not take on the case because he had previously worked with O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney.
04/18/2012 6:22 PM EDT
Michelle Obama: Martin's death a 'tragedy.'
First lady Michelle Obama says her "heart goes out to the parents" of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
Mrs. Obama says in an interview with NPR that all parents understand "the tragedy of that kind of loss." Martin was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who has claimed self-defense.
The first lady says it's important "not to lose sight of the fact that this is a family that's grieving and there's been a tremendous loss." She says, "we all have to rally around that piece of it."
Police initially didn't charge Zimmerman in the Sanford, Fla., shooting, leading to nationwide protests. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder last week.
04/18/2012 6:18 PM EDT
Scrutiny for Sanford puts cramp on small businesses.
As scores of media personnel and activists descended upon the area, residents and businesses found themselves facing very public scrutiny and a growing fear that the community was harboring a racially hostile environment -- which prompted locals to cut back on their normal routines, including shopping. "There was an air that the community was on the verge of bad activity or violence and that is not the case," Nicholas Mcray, Sanford's director of economic development, said. "There was never any kind of trend of violence, but that was the perception put out by the media."
While it's been weeks since the shooting, the small businesses that make up Sanford's historic downtown continue to suffer, with some businesses seeing up to a 50 percent drop in activity. "A few convenience retailers are seeing a 2 to 3 percent increase, but the downtown area is really taking a hit," Mcray said.
04/18/2012 6:16 PM EDT
ALEC, lobbying group behind Stand Your Ground laws, changes tack.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the controversial corporate-sponsored lobbying group whose push for "stand your ground" gun laws and voter ID legislation ignited grassroots protests, announced Tuesday that it is getting out of the social policy field to focus on core economic issues.
Corporations associated with ALEC had been under siege from public interest and civil rights groups who demanded they cut ties with ALEC, most recently because of its successful push to pass "stand your ground" legislation in multiple states. Florida's version of that law has been cited as a reason why neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was not initially charged in the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Several companies -- including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Kraft and Intuit -- had already distanced themselves from ALEC before Tuesday's surprise announcement.
04/11/2012 8:42 PM EDT
George Zimmerman arrives at jail
The Associated Press is reporting that Zimmerman has arrived at jail.
04/11/2012 7:04 PM EDT
George Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder, in custody
Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced that George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder.
According to CNN, Zimmerman turned himself in and has a new attorney, Mark O'Mara. During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, he former employees announced that they had lost contact with Zimmerman and would no longer be representing him in the case.
If convicted, Zimmerman could face life in prison.
04/11/2012 3:06 PM EDT
Reports: Zimmerman to be charged in Trayvon Martin's death.
A day after George Zimmerman's attorneys stepped down because they had lost contact with him, the special prosecutor in the case will bring charges against him, according to reports.
The Washington Post is reporting that special prosecutor Angela Corey will announce charges against Zimmerman for his role in Trayvon Martin's shooting death. Earlier this week, Corey said she would not convene a grand jury in the case. Under Florida law, only grand juries can issue murder charges, which means that Zimmerman will face lesser charges.
04/10/2012 12:55 PM EDT
Police car shot several times near scene of Martin shooting.
Around 4:30 a.m. this morning, an empty police car near the gated community where Trayvon Martin was shot through with bullets several times. The police in Sanford are investigating the crime.
Sanford's police department has come under withering criticism for its handling of the case. Yesterday, a group of student protesters blocked the entrance to the police headquarters, forcing the department to shut down for several hours.