George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watch leader who was controversially acquitted on Saturday night of murdering an unarmed black teenager, is likely to face more legal action, it has emerged.
The family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old shot by Mr Zimmerman during a violent encounter between the pair at the Sanford housing development in February last year, are likely to launch a civil wrongful death suit, lawyers said yesterday.
And the “outraged and heartbroken” leader of America’s largest black advocacy group has demanded that authorities pursue a federal civil rights case against Mr Zimmerman. Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Persons, said the case in which Mr Zimmerman, who is of mixed white-Hispanic parentage, followed then shot the unarmed black teenager met the benchmark for an inquiry by the Department of Justice.
The developments came less than 24 hours after the jury of six women declared Mr Zimmerman, 29, not guilty of second-degree murder following a three-week trial at the Seminole County criminal justice centre that heard the conflicting evidence of 56 witnesses.
Prosecutors had portrayed the defendant as an angry vigilante who was “fed up” after a series of burglaries at his Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community and who wrongly assumed that Mr Martin, who was wearing a hooded top, was a criminal who was “up to no good” as he walked home in the rain with sweets and a soft drink he had just bought at a nearby shop.
Mr Zimmerman, who faced life in jail if convicted, did not testify. His lawyer Mark O’Mara argued that Mr Martin was the aggressor in the violent encounter, breaking the defendant’s nose with a “sucker punch” then slamming his head on to a concrete pavement, forcing his client to fire a single shot with his 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
A number of mostly peaceful protests against the verdict were held at cities and churches across the US yesterday as Mr Jealous called on federal authorities to launch their own case.
Although the jury in the criminal case accepted the self-defence argument, Mr Zimmerman was caught on a recording of a call to police using profanities, the words “f*****g punks” and “these a**holes, they always get away”.
Mr Jealous said: “When you look at his comments and when you look at comments made by young black men who lived in that neighbourhood about how they felt, especially targeted by him, there is reason to be concerned that race was a factor in why he targeted young Trayvon.”
Mr Jealous released a statement immediately after the jury’s decision that followed more than 16 hours of deliberations. “We are outraged and heartbroken over [Saturday’s] verdict. We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed,” it said.
He said yesterday that he had spoken to “senior members” of US attorney general Eric Holder’s team and expressed hope they would continue the work of FBI investigators last summer who reviewed elements of the case.
“They will review all that comes out in that, and then they will make a choice about whether or not they will pursue criminal civil rights charges,” Mr Jealous said in an interview with TV network CNN.
Meanwhile, Robert Zimmerman expressed fears for his brother’s future safety and said he would never again be able to live normally.
“Clearly he’s a free man in the eyes of the court but he’s going be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands or be vigilantes in some sense if they think that justice was not served.”
According to his lawyer, Mr Zimmerman lives in hiding with his wife Shellie, wears a bulletproof vest, has not worked since the shooting and has been effectively bankrupted by the case.