USA TODAY, July 15, 2013
Link to video: http://usat.ly/12BlLJ8
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla — The prosecutors who tried to get George Zimmerman convicted believe he got away with murdering Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s lawyer says everyone — including President Obama — should know that Zimmerman was wrongly charged and should recognize the unjust trauma brought upon him.
Two days after Zimmerman’s acquittal, lawyers from both sides, in interviews with USA TODAY, talked about the aftermath of a verdict that continues to reverberate across the nation.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled, tracked down, and murdered an innocent 17 year old — and then lied his way out of a conviction. Zimmerman’s lawyer says he will seek immunity from any further legal action against his client and thinks Obama should publicly recognize the suffering endured by Zimmerman and his family.
“He (Zimmerman) called the police and then he decided to become the police,” said State Attorney Angela Corey, adding that Zimmerman deserved to be charged with murder. “George Zimmerman used excessive and deadly force and that’s what made it a violation of Florida law.”
She added that she respects the jury’s verdict.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Zimmerman is prepared to legally defend himself against any actions in the future — including the possibility of a federal civil rights prosecution and civil lawsuit.
“The FBI looked into that last year, interviewed about 40 people and not one person came up with any suggestion that George acted in a racially inappropriate way,” O’Mara said of the federal investigation.
Zimmerman would also seek immunity from any civil lawsuits, O’Mara added.
A federal investigation into the shooting death of Trayvon is underway, and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s civil rights division will review evidence from the FBI and the Florida criminal trial, the Justice Department said Sunday in a written statement.
Attorney General Eric Holder briefly discussed the case Monday.
“We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns and promote healing,” Holder said. “And we will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance and in every community – justice must be done.”
Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated townhouse community here, shot and killed Trayvon on Feb. 26, 2012, as the teen returned home from buying snacks at a convenience store. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed he shot the unarmed African-American teenager in self-defense.
A jury deliberated for more than 15 hours before finding Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter Saturday.
In a statement issued Sunday, Obama called Trayvon’s death a tragedy for America but made no mention of race.
“I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher,” Obama said. “But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
He called for calm and national introspection.
“We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities,” he said. “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this.”
O’Mara said the president’s statement should have been more fair and compassionate to Zimmerman and his family.
Obama has “already made a couple of comments now about Trayvon Martin and I think he should have maybe focused a bit more on the fact that a fair trial was held, that justice was served, and that the Zimmerman family has gone through their own trauma in this. I don’t know that it needs to be a one-sided conversation. I don’t think that helps,” O’Mara said.
Corey had this to say about when asked about Obama’s statement: “I don’t have a reaction to any other public official commenting on our case. The relevant people are the jury and the people in the courtroom.”
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda, who argued before the jury, said Zimmerman was prosecuted using the best evidence the state had.
“This is an issue about whether you are going to allow a citizen to take the law into his own hands,” de la Rionda said. “I prosecuted this case because you had a man who decided to make assumptions — the assumptions turned out to be wrong and as a result a young man –a 17 year old teenager–was killed.”
The prosecutor went on saying he respects the jury’s verdict, but after Zimmerman profiled Trayvon as a criminal, Zimmerman used that assumption to murder the teen.
“He (Zimmerman) called the police but he didn’t just finish there,” de la Rionda said. “He (Zimmerman) then trailed him (Trayvon). Tracked him. Followed him and ended up confronting him.”
Meanwhile, O’Mara has continued to say the shooting, which is the subject of demonstrations nationwide, has been wrongly cast as a civil rights one.
“This verdict still has nothing to do with civil rights,” O’Mara said. “There’s enormous evidence that my client acted in self-defense. There is no other reasonable hypothesis.”
O’Mara added, however, that had Zimmerman been black, he would never have been prosecuted.
Corey balked at the idea that race played any role in charging Zimmerman, saying her office doesn’t consider the race of a defendant or victim unless the crime includes a racial motivation such as a hate crime.
“I know that in this circuit we handle every case based on the facts and the law without regard to race or gender,” she said. “When it comes to the race or gender or age of a victim or a defendant, unless it’s legally relevant, it’s not part of the filing decision.”
Instead, de la Rionda said prosecutors focused on what evidence they had and tried their best but failed.
Days later, de la Rionda said he wished he handled the case from the very night Trayvon was killed. He also said he was prepared to cross examine Zimmerman, who did not take the stand in his own defense.
Now, however, lawyers for both sides are recovering from long work days and Zimmerman is settling back into life as a free man.
People, de la Rionda said, also got a good understanding of how the American judicial system works by watching the nationally televised trial: “It’s very educational to inform the public out there of the way our system works.”