The parents of Trayvon Martin and their lawyer met with Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami Wednesday to discuss the status of a criminal civil-rights investigation into the fatal shooting of their teen-age son last year.
The federal investigation, which was opened while George Zimmerman faced prosecution for the death of the 17-year-old, gained renewed interest last month after Zimmerman was acquitted in state court of Martin’s killing in a Sanford gated community.
Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s criminal civil-rights section and FBI agents from Central Florida met with the late teen’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and their attorney, Benjamin Crump, to bring the family up to speed, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
The meeting was held in Miami to accommodate the parents. Trayvon had lived with his mother in Miami Gardens before his death, which occurred while he was visiting his father in Sanford.
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A spokeswoman for the Miami U.S. attorney’s office confirmed the meeting took place there Wednesday, but she could not say who was present. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa referred a reporter’s call to the Justice Department, which declined to comment because of the “ongoing” investigation.
If the Justice Department were to pursue criminal civil-rights charges against Zimmerman, the case would be filed in the Middle District of Florida, which includes Sanford, north of Orlando.
The Justice Department has a handful of criminal civil-rights laws at its disposal, and has filed charges in the past after state juries have returned acquittals.
In Zimmerman’s case, it’s possible the Justice Department might consider using the federal hate-crime statute, though legal experts say that type of prosecution would be a long shot.
The Justice Department has said that authorities “will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction” and “whether federal prosecution is appropriate.”
In South Florida, legal experts said it’s going to be a formidable challenge for Attorney General Eric Holder to press forward with a hate-crime case against Zimmerman under U.S. civil-rights laws, because Florida jurors found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder.
Jurors found that prosecutors failed to prove that Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman at the Sanford gated community, possessed “ill-will,” “hatred” or “spite” in the fatal shooting of Trayvon. Instead, the six female jurors found that Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
So experts said it would be legally inconsistent for the Justice Department to consider filing criminal charges against Zimmerman under the federal Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Generally, that law prohibits someone from “willfully causing bodily injury” to another person because of his race, color, religion or national origin.