Zimmerman won't get his gun back yet, per Justice Department. What's up? (+video)
The US Justice Department wants the George Zimmerman gun and other physical evidence in the Trayvon Martin shooting to be held intact, pending its civil rights probe. That might signal stepped-up activity by the feds, but analysts see reason to doubt they will ultimately file charges.
In Pictures Florida vs. George Zimmerman: Case closed?
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Although top US officials have hinted that a federal hate crime charge against Mr. Zimmerman would be hard to prove, Mr. Holder’s Department of Justice on Thursday appeared to step up its open investigation into the Trayvon Martin shooting by placing a hold on all the evidence in the case, including the Kel-Tec 9 mm pistol that Zimmerman used to shoot Trayvon, an unarmed black teenager.
After his acquittal in a criminal trial on July 13, Florida Judge Debra Nelson told Zimmerman that he “has no more business in front of this court,” which put into motion the return of his gun by the state.
The Justice Department's request that police in Sanford, Fla., hold onto physical evidence in the case is likely to ratchet up what’s becoming a politicized, even personal, conflict pitting Holder against Zimmerman and his sympathizers. Pro-Zimmerman forces are especially incensed that Holder personally met with civil rights leaders in early 2012 as they were organizing “Justice for Trayvon” rallies after the Feb. 26 shooting.
At the least, the Justice Department's move to put a hold on Zimmerman’s gun may further inflame long-standing conflict between an administration that has backed proposed gun-control laws and gun owners who view some of the Obama administration’s actions as extrajudicial, even tyrannical.
Zimmerman’s acquittal has prompted protests around the country, including some in Los Angeles and Oakland that turned violent. There’s widespread pressure on Holder, especially from the black community, to bring new federal charges against Zimmerman.
Earlier this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed as ridiculous a question from a reporter about whether Zimmerman, who has received death threats, actually deserves federal protection given that Holder and President Obama have contributed to public passion about the case.
Mr. Obama, America’s first black president, said in the wake of the shooting: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Some Americans considered him to be fanning racial passion into a case that ultimately turned out to be about self-defense rights.
“The president commented on the death of a young man.... He didn’t comment about the disposition of an investigation or a case,” countered Mr. Carney.
Zimmerman was acquitted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges after a 16-month national ordeal that began when the volunteer neighborhood watch captain followed and then killed 17-year-old Trayvon after a fight.
The original police decision not to charge Zimmerman, who claimed he acted in self-defense, led to rallies and protests nationwide. They subsided after a special state prosecutor bypassed the grand jury and charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.