On April 17, with outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin resounding across the nation, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee was convened to discuss what role, if any, the federal government should have in putting an end, once and for all, to racial profiling by law enforcement officials.
The Senators could not have chosen a more poignant time to engage in a public dialogue on the topic.
Less than a week earlier, Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey issued a probable-cause affidavit stating that Martin — who was killed on Feb. 26 while walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Fla. — was “profiled” by his assailant George Zimmerman. The 17-year-old was being followed by Zimmerman — a neighborhood watch captain — on the grounds that he looked “like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.”
The day before the hearing, four Associated Press reporters were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in recognition of their exhaustive exposé on the New York City Police Department’s controversial practice of targeted investigations of Muslim communities. The initiative — which has been operational since 2002 — included surveillance of student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other universities in the Northeast — based on no other factors than that their members happen to be Muslim.
And at the end of April, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” — an Arizona law that obligates police officers to determine an individual’s immigration status during arrests and routine traffic stops when there is “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect is an illegal immigrant. For all intents and purposes, the law requires law enforcement in the state to profile citizens of Latino heritage. A decision on the case is expected in June.
The subject of discussion on Capitol Hill was a measure introduced in October by Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would prohibit law enforcement from using race or ethnicity to justify “spontaneous investigatory activities” — including random stops of motorists and pedestrians — and require police to undergo training about profiling.
Cardin calls profiling “sloppy police work” and says it not only infringes on the rights of individuals and makes communities unwilling to cooperate with cops, but it places unnecessary burdens on police departments, as well.
“Racial profiling is bad policy, but given the state of our budgets, it also diverts scarce resources from real law enforcement,” he said. “The more resources spent investigating individuals solely because of their race or religion, the fewer resources directed at suspects who are actually demonstrating illegal behavior.”
The bill defines profiling as “relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin” in deciding who to search or investigate, except when there is “trustworthy information” that a person fitting the description committed a crime. In other words, it’s all right to randomly stop a young Black male if a person fitting that description just robbed a bank in the area, but it’s not OK to target the same person leaving a known drug area on the assumption he might be a drug dealer.
In a departure from existing federal investigatory guidelines, the law would also apply to travelers entering the United States, and would prohibit ethnically motivated immigration-related workplace investigations.
Class action suit
Though technically unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Bill of Rights, the use of racial and/or ethnic characteristics to initiate random investigations of citizens is standard operating procedure in many police jurisdictions across the country, and is well documented in most metropolitan areas.
Philadelphia has had its own problems with racial profiling under its controversial stop-and-frisk policy. In November 2010, the ACLU joined a local law firm to file suit on behalf of eight plaintiffs, all men of color, who say the Philadelphia Police Department misused the policy to conduct racially motivated stops of Black and Latino men in the city.
The plaintiffs included an attorney named Mahari Bailey, who says he was stopped and searched by police on four occasions between 2008 and 2010 for driving with tinted windows — a summary traffic offense. A Pennsylvania state representative who was handcuffed and detained for questioning the allegedly illegal stop of two of his elderly constituents was also part of the suit.
As part of a city settlement with the plaintiffs, last June Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order that requires all police officers to carry “definition cards,” explaining when and under what circumstances random stops are legal, and set a January 1, 2012 deadline for the establishment of an electronic database of Department Pedestrian Investigation Reports that outline random stops and the reasons for them.
According to Mark McDonald, the mayor’s press secretary, that database is now up and running, and the city will be making available, on a monthly basis, electronic copies of reports on every single pedestrian or vehicle stop conducted by police — which he says average 5,000 a week.
Dean JoAnne Epps of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law — who was appointed by the city to independently monitor the program’s progress — confirmed that she has been told a quarterly report is “forthcoming.”
An inefficient strategy
Law enforcement officials claim that spontaneous stop-and-frisk is a vital tool in community policing, without which more criminals would walk the streets and more crimes would go unsolved.
The problem with that assertion is that statistics simply don’t back it up. In 2011, for instance, the New York division of the American Civil Liberties Union documented 685,724 incidences of stop-and-frisk, 87 percent of them targeted against Blacks or Latinos. With numbers like that, you’d expect a lot of criminals to be behind bars. But the data shows that nearly nine out of ten of those stopped were never convicted of a crime. And that doesn’t even take into account the NYPD’s long-standing practice of targeting Muslims.
In Philadelphia, a survey of 253,333 stops conducted under stop-and-frisk in 2009 revealed that roughly 183,000, or 72.2 percent, were of African Americans. Only 8.4 percent of those stops led to an arrest.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, numerous studies have shown that using race or ethnicity as a proxy for criminality is ineffective, and the likelihood of finding contraband is roughly equal — regardless of whether a suspect is Black or white. In fact, data suggests that using factors like race or ethnicity to initiate investigations actually produces fewer results. For instance, when the United States Customs Service changed its stop and search procedures to focus on race-neutral behavioral indicators, the Center noted, it conducted two-thirds fewer searches, but tripled its “hit rate.”
East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis, who testified at the Senate hearing, says that in his experience, profiling based on race or ethnicity is counter productive, because it draws attention away from legitimate investigatory practices.
“I cannot think of any context in which race is appropriate, other than when you’re describing someone that’s committed a crime, and in fact ... I would say that, what race ends up doing is being a huge distracter,” he said.
Davis says there are much better ways to determine if someone is committing a crime than the color of their skin.
“To know whether a particular vehicle traveling down an interstate highway might be carrying a load of illegal drugs, the most important thing a police officer can do is to observe the behavior of the driver and any passengers,” he said. “Behavior can be used to successfully predict other behavior. Appearance does not predict behavior, except in the most misleading ways. To use the old baseball cliché, using racial or ethnic appearance as a factor in deciding who to stop or search takes one’s eyes off the ball.”
Effectiveness aside, not everyone thinks federal legislation is the right course of action. In testimony, Frank Gale — the national second vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police — called the bill’s language over-broad and insisted that racial profiling is “hyped by activists, media and others with political agendas.”
Gale, who is Black, said the legislation would inhibit even the most basic discretionary policing, leaving beat cops hamstrung without the presence of an eyewitness to point out crimes in the act.
“No one ought to be stopped solely on the basis of their race,” Gale told the subcommittee. “But to contend that the successful practice of profiling — which does not consider race exclusively — be abandoned when it has proved to be a successful tool to prevent crime and catch criminals is not the answer.”
A decade-long effort
This isn’t the first time Congress has attempted to legislate racial profiling at the federal level. Identical bills have been introduced in every session of Congress since 2001. In February of that year, in his first Joint Address to Congress, President George W. Bush said that racial profiling is “wrong and we will end it in America.”
Then came 9/11, and fear of a terrorist attack made the idea of a law prohibiting racial and ethnic profiling seem like a quaint holdover from less dangerous times. In the meantime, racially motivated arrest, prosecution and incarceration have been dubbed the “New Jim Crow” by advocates for criminal justice reform, while targeted investigations of Muslims and persons of Middle Eastern descent have drawn a strong backlash from civil libertarians and constitutional rights experts.
It remains to be seen if this latest attempt to bring an end to racial profiling will fare any better than those before it.
City Commissioners in Sanford, Fla., are making a serious mistake in not accepting the resignation of its police chief whose department mishandled the Trayvon Martin case.
The city commissioners’ decision prolongs the pain and polarization in Sanford.
City Commissioners rejected by a 3-2 vote Monday the resignation of Police Chief Bill Lee, who has been roundly criticized for not initially charging George Zimmerman.
Lee had temporarily stepped aside as police chief last month after criticism over his department’s handling of the Martin case. Lee said he was temporarily stepping down to let emotions cool in the aftermath of Martin’s killing.
Police did not initially charge Zimerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, who claimed he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense. Prosecutors later charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Lee remains on paid Lee as the city seeks to identify an interim police chief.
The city commissioners’ decision defies logic and common sense.
After all city commissioners previously gave Lee a “no confidence vote.”
The majority of commissioners are misguided when they attempt to blame the polarization over Martin and its handling by the police department on outside groups.
The lack of an arrest and the apparent lack of a thorough investigation by the Sanford police department is what sparked nationwide protests.
The attempt to blame “outsiders” for the polarization in Sanford is a distortion.
What so-called “outsiders” did was force Florida’s Governor Rick Scott and the U.S. Justice Department to take another look at the Martin case.
Protests over the lack of an arrest led to a federal investigation and the local prosecutor removing himself from the case, prompting the governor to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey, who eventually charged Zimmerman.
SANFORD, Fla. — After weeks in hiding, George Zimmerman made his first courtroom appearance Thursday in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and prosecutors outlined their murder case in court papers, saying the neighborhood watch volunteer followed and confronted the Black teenager after police dispatchers told him to back off.
The brief outline, contained in an affidavit filed in support of the second-degree murder charges, appeared to contradict Zimmerman's claim that Martin attacked him after he had turned away and was returning to his vehicle.
In the affidavit, prosecutors also said that Martin's mother identified cries for help heard in the background of a call to police as her son's. There had been some question as to whether Martin or Zimmerman was the one calling out.
The account of the shooting was released as Zimmerman, 28, appeared at a four-minute hearing in a jailhouse courtroom, setting in motion what could be a long, drawn-out process, or an abrupt and disappointingly short one for many of the Martin family's supporters because of the strong legal protections contained in Florida's "stand your ground" law on self-defense.
During the hearing, Zimmerman stood up straight, held his head high and wore a gray jail jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer "Yes, sir," twice after he was asked basic questions from the judge, who was not in the courtroom but on closed-circuit TV. The defendant's hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee. His hands were shackled in front of him.
He did not enter a plea; that will happen at his arraignment, which was set for May 29.
To prove second-degree murder, prosecutors must show that Zimmerman committed an "imminently dangerous" act that showed a "depraved" lack of regard for human life. The charge carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life.
The special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, has refused to explain exactly how she arrived at the charge. But in an affidavit filed with the court, prosecutors said that Zimmerman spotted Martin while patrolling his gated community, got out of his vehicle and followed the young man.
Prosecutors interviewed a friend of Martin's who was talking to him just before the shooting. His parents' lawyer has said that Martin was talking to his girlfriend back in Miami.
"During this time, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening," the affidavit said. "The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn't know why."
During a recorded call to a police dispatcher, Zimmerman "made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighborhood. Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated 'these a------s, they always get away' and also said 'these f-----g punks,' said the affidavit, available at http://apne.ws/Itn7Nu .
It continued: "When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him. Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home."
"Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued," prosecutors said in their account. The account provided no details on the struggle other than to say that witnesses heard numerous calls for help and that Martin's mother reviewed the calls to police and recognized her son's voice crying for help.
Zimmerman told authorities that Martin attacked him as he going back to his vehicle, punched him in the face, knocked him down and began slamming head against the sidewalk.
At Thursday's hearing, the case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, a 39-year-old former assistant state attorney from Sanford who was elected to the bench in 2010. Zimmerman is being held without bail at the county jail.
For all the relief among civil rights activists over the arrest, legal experts warned there is a real chance it could get thrown out before it ever goes to trial because of Florida's expansive "stand your ground" law, which gives people a broad right to use deadly force without having to retreat from a fight.
At a pretrial hearing, Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence — a relatively low legal standard — that he acted in self-defense in order to get a judge to toss out the second-murder charges. And if that fails and the case does go to trial, the defense can raise the argument all over again.
There's a "high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case," Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby said. Karin Moore, an assistant professor of law at Florida A&M University, said the law "puts a tremendous burden on the state to prove that it wasn't self-defense."
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said his client will plead not guilty. At some point soon, the lawyer is expected to ask the judge for a hearing on the "stand your ground" law.
"It is going to be a facet of this defense, I'm sure," O'Mara said in an interview. "That statute has some troublesome portions to it, and we're now going to have some conversations and discussions about it as a state. But right now it is the law of Florida and it is the law that is going to have an impact on this case."
Martin family and their lawyer acknowledged the arrest is just a first step.
"I think that it will start the process that we are pushing for," said Martin's father, Tracy Martin, "but we can't just stop because we have an arrest. We got to keep pushing to get a conviction and after a conviction we have to certainly continue to push to get a stiff sentence."
Martin family attorney Ben Crump said he wants to make the repeal or the amending of "stand your ground" laws in Florida and other states to be a big part of Trayvon Martin's legacy. "We're not the wild, wild west," Crumb said.
As for Zimmerman, O'Mara said after the court appearance: "He is tired. He has gone through some tribulations. He is facing second-degree murder charges now. He is frightened. That would frighten any of us."
"He has a lot of hatred focused on him right now," O'Mara said. "I'm hoping that the hatred settles down now that we're moving forward." -- (AP)
The pressure continues to mount from grassroots organizations nationwide to bring charges against Sanford, Florida, town watch member George Zimmerman over Zimmerman’s admitted killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman has alleged that Martin was the aggressor, and Zimmerman shot and killed him in self-defense. Martin supporters, however, point to the 911 call, and to Martin’s phone call with his girlfriend just moments before the shooting as just two pieces of proof that Zimmerman escalated the confrontation. That Zimmerman is white while Martin is Black has only escalated matters, with some calling for hate crime charges to be added.
Martin’s killing and the lack of formal charges has prompted marches, demonstrations and petitions from around the country. Over Easter Weekend, dozens of Florida-area college students marched 40 miles from Daytona Beach to Sanford, raising money and awareness on Martin’s behalf; that group, the “Dream Defenders,” also planned on marching on the headquarters of the Sanford Police Department.
“This movement doesn’t hinge on George Zimmerman of the Trayvon Martin case. It was a catalyst,” participant Phillip Agnew told Bay News. “It awoke, or woke up, a lot of people to what’s going on in America.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also weighed in on Martin’s shooting, recently stating that she was disturbed by the manner of his death while vowing to answer every question.
“I am both devastated and deeply troubled that young Trayvon Martin lost his life in a shooting. When someone loses his life at the hands of another, there cannot be any questions surrounding the circumstances of the death,” Bondi said through a statement released by her office. “I have spoken with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, whose agency is now involved, and I know that a complete and thorough review of the facts will be conducted. FDLE has skilled investigators of the highest caliber, and no stone will be left unturned in this investigation.
“While the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office has the sole authority regarding a charging decision by law, I will remain vigilant in ensuring that questions are answered.”
The fate of the Zimmerman/Martin case now rests in the hands of State Attorney Angela Corey, when Florida Governor Rick Scott named Corey the special prosecutor amidst complaints of judicial impropriety. And while there has been a growing sense that Corey would call for a grand jury hearing as early as Tuesday, by late Monday afternoon it was reported that Corey declined to convene a grand jury — which means the decision to bring charges against Zimmerman is one Corey’s office alone will make.
Previously, Corey told the Miami Herald that she is so confident in this case that a grand jury may not be needed.
“I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this,” Corey told the Herald. “I foresee us being able to make a decision and move on it on our own.”
If a grand jury were to be convened, Corey has the authority to then release its findings, but the identities of the witnesses and much of the testimony would remain sealed.
While many have staunchly defended Martin and claim that Zimmerman is another in a long line of white racists going on African-American hunting sprees, Zimmerman’s supporters — most vocally his friends and family — have claimed that Zimmerman is not a racist, and echoed Zimmerman’s statements that he acted in self-defense.
Civil Rights leaders Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson both chimed in and led marches in Florida and in other locales to bring attention to Martin’s case.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been at the forefront of the Martin case. Local chapter president Jerry Mondesire — who also owns the Philadelphia Sunday Sun — refused to comment on the Martin case overall, the official stance of the NAACP regarding Martin’s shooting, or the lack of involvement by the Philadelphia branch.
Philadelphia did host a series of rallies and press conferences in the past few weeks, and Ron Felton, president of the Wilkes-Barre branch, did release a statement, in which he talked not only of Martin’s death, but the tragic and underreported murder of 14-year-old Tyler Winstead.
“A candlelight vigil was held on the Public Square by the Wilkes-Barre NAACP and the Peace Center in a show of support to the family of Trayvon Martin … his parents are seeking justice in that the man who murdered their son is arrested and brought to justice,” Felton said through a statement first reported by Times Leader. “Less than 48 hours after the candlelight vigil, another innocent, unarmed 14-year-old boy was shot and murdered less than three doors from his home.”
On that front, the NAACP remains steadfast. It has hosted a series of rallies and marches, with the latest one occurring on March 31 in Sanford.
And on its site — www.naacp.org — it is petitioning for signees of its online open letter to Corey, and the organization has also reconfigured its Facebook page — www.facebook.com/naacp — with “Justice for Trayvon” links and information.
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, will be charged in the 17-year-old's death, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey will announce charges against the 28-year-old Zimmerman at a 6 p.m. Wednesday news conference, the official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press. Corey confirmed that an announcement on the case would be made in Jacksonville but didn't elaborate. The person said Zimmerman's arrest is also expected soon.
The official didn't know the charge and spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
Corey had said late Tuesday, after Zimmerman's attorneys announced they were withdrawing from the case, that she would have an announcement on charges within 72 hours.
The two attorneys said they no longer were representing Zimmerman because they haven't heard from him since Sunday.
"As of the last couple days, he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails," attorney Craig Sonner said. "He's gone on his own. I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's talking to."
However, the person with knowledge of the case said law enforcement knows where Zimmerman is. His former attorneys have said he is in hiding and suffering from high levels of stress from the intense public scrutiny he is under.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder also said the Justice Department is conducting a thorough and independent review of the case after launching its own investigation three weeks ago.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, Fla., a gated community outside Orlando on Feb. 26. He said he was returning to his truck when Martin attacked him and that he shot the unarmed teen during the fight. He wasn't arrested partly because of Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic. -- (AP)
After weeks of protests across the United States, a special prosecutor has decided to bring second-degree murder charges against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges Wednesday at a news conference.
The decision to charge and arrest Zimmerman, who is now in custody, was long overdue.
Corey was right to charge Zimmerman for the shooting death of the unarmed African-American teenager Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando.
Zimmerman, 28, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, said the teenager attacked him and that he shot Martin as an act of self-defense.
But there is evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that much of his and his supporters’ version of what happened on the night of the shooting is not credible.
Martin was returning to the home of his father’s fiancée from a convenience store when Zimmerman ignored specific direction from a 911 dispatcher and started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers that Martin looked suspicious. At some point the two got into a confrontation, and Zimmerman used his gun and shot Martin to death.
Zimmerman told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman’s father said that his son suffered a broken nose.
However a video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting showed Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford police station walking, assisted without difficulty, with no visible bandages or blood on his clothing.
The shooting sparked resentment toward the police department because no charges had been filed against Zimmerman and the police appeared to have been less than thorough in their investigation of the case.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down, and the local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case as Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take over.
An arrest had been delayed because of Florida’s dangerous “stand your ground” law, which give people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat first in the face of danger.
Police cited the law as the reason for not charging Zimmerman. However even legislators and others who support the law said Zimmerman could not use it as a defense since he was the one who pursued an unarmed man.
The search for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin has now begun.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was arrested and charged with second-degree murder Wednesday after months of mounting tensions and protests across the country.
George Zimmerman, 28, could get up to life in prison if convicted in the slaying of the unarmed Black teenager.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges but would not discuss how she arrived at them or disclose other details of her investigation, saying: "That's why we try cases in court."
Second-degree murder is typically brought in cases when there is a fight or other confrontation that results in death and but does involve a premeditated plan to kill.
Corey would not disclose Zimmerman's whereabouts for his safety but said that he will be in court within 24 hours.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, has asserted since the Feb. 26 killing in Sanford that he shot in self-defense after the teenager attacked him. Martin's family argued Zimmerman was the aggressor.
The shooting brought demands from Black leaders for his arrest and set off a furious nationwide debate over race and self-defense that reached all the way to the White House.
Corey said the decision to bring charges was based on the facts and the law, declaring: "We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition."
One of the biggest hurdles to Zimmerman's arrest over the past month was Florida's "stand your ground" law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat in the face of danger. The lack of an arrest had sparked outrage and rallies for justice in the Orlando suburb and across the country.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman's lawyers announced they were withdrawing from the case because they hadn't heard from him since Sunday and didn't know where he was. They portrayed his mental state as fragile.
"He is largely alone. You might even say he is emotionally crippled by virtue of the pressure of this case," said one of the lawyers, Hal Uhrig.
The case has drawn the interest of the highest levels of the Obama administration, with the Justice Department's civil rights division opening its own investigation.
Tensions have risen in recent days in Sanford. Someone shot up an unoccupied police car Tuesday as it sat outside the neighborhood where Martin was killed. And a demonstration by college students closed the town's police station Monday.
Six weeks ago, Martin was returning to the home of his father's fiancee from a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman used his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up chasing the teenager and was returning to his truck. He told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman's father said that Martin threatened to kill his son and that Zimmerman suffered a broken nose.
A video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting as Zimmerman arrived at the Sanford police station showed him walking unassisted without difficulty. There were no plainly visible bandages or blood on his clothing, but Zimmerman may have had a small wound on the back of his head.
The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department, and Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down to let passions cool.
Civil rights groups and others have held rallies around the country, saying the shooting was unjustified. Many of the protesters wore the same type of hooded sweat shirt that Martin had on that day, suggesting his appearance and race had something to do with his killing.
President Barack Obama injected himself into the debate, urging Americans to "do some soul-searching." ''If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said March 23.
The local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take it over. -- (AP)
SANFORD, Fla. — Two attorneys for the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin said that they have withdrawn as his counsel because they have lost contact with him and he is taking actions related to the case without consulting them.
Attorney Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig said at a news conference they haven't heard from George Zimmerman since Sunday. They said that against their advice, Zimmerman contacted the special prosecutor who will decide if he should face charges. A spokeswoman for Angela Corey's office didn't immediately respond to an email and two phone calls.
Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, a gated community outside Orlando. He said after he followed Martin for a time, he was returning to his truck when the teen attacked him. He shot the unarmed teen to death during the altercation.
Attorney Hal Uhrig said that his legal team is still concerned about Zimmerman, who he said is "not doing well emotionally" and may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
Craig Sonner, the first attorney Zimmerman contacted, said he agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis until Zimmerman is perhaps charged.
Sonner said he has never talked to Zimmerman face-to-face and that the 28-year-old man has gone into hiding but that he believes he's still in the U.S. Both attorneys said they'd be willing to represent him again if he asks.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said they're concerned that Zimmerman could be a flight risk if he is charged with a crime since his now-former attorneys don't know how to contact him.
"At this point, we're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him," Crump said. -- (AP)
ORLANDO, Fla. — Special prosecutor Angela Corey said Monday she will not take the Trayvon Martin shooting death before a grand jury.
Corey said she continues to investigate the case and will not involve a grand jury that had been set to meet Tuesday in Sanford, Fla.
Corey said her decision to skip the grand jury shouldn't be considered a factor in determining whether charges will be filed against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has admitted to fatally shooting the unarmed Martin.
The announcement means the decision on charges now rests solely with Corey, who had a reputation for not presenting cases before grand juries if it wasn't required. Under Florida law, only first-degree murder cases require the use of grand juries.
Corey took over the case last month after the prosecutor who normally handles cases out of Sanford recused himself. That prosecutor, Norm Wolfinger, had originally called for the case to be presented before a grand jury.
"From the moment she was assigned, Ms. Corey noted she may not need a grand jury," said a statement from Corey's office.
Martin was killed Feb. 26 during a confrontation with Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford.
The case has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Martin was Black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, and Florida's self-defense law gives wide leeway to use deadly force and eliminates a person's duty to retreat in the face of danger. -- (AP)