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Trayvon Martin case draws celebrities, feds join investigation

Trayvon Martin's shooting death is attracting celebrity attention, including Spike Lee, Wyclef Jean, and Mia Farrow. The US Justice Department opened its own probe into the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. 

By Barbara ListonAssociated Press / March 20, 2012

Rev. Glenn Dames, senior pastor at St. James AME Church, leads people at a rally demanding justice for Trayvon Martin at the Titusville Courthouse on Sunday, in Titusville, Fla.

Craig Rubadoux/Florida Today/AP

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Orlando, Fla.

 Responding to an international petition, celebrity tweets, and spreading public outrage, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation on Monday into the shooting of a black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain who escaped arrest.

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More than 435,000 people, many alerted by tweets from celebrities like movie director Spike Lee and musician Wyclef Jean, signed a petition on Change.org, a social action website, calling for the arrest of the shooter, George Zimmerman.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced they have opened an investigation into the Feb. 26 shooting in Florida of an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin.

"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," the department said.

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The campaign to draw attention to the case is the third largest in Change.org's history, and surpassed a petition of about 300,000 signatures credited last year with persuading Bank of America to drop plans for a $5 debit card fee, said Megan Lubin, a Change.org spokeswoman.

The victim's family lawyer, Ben Crump, said public pressure was behind an earlier promise by the Justice Department to review the case. And some Florida legislators are moving to consider a change in the law to prevent a recurrence.

"People all over the world, more than 400,000 people, said we demand you make an arrest. That's what is building pressure to look at it," Crump said.

The Justice Department said its investigation would examine the facts and circumstances of the shooting, and noted that with all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally.

"Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws," the Justice Department said.

The shooting in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, when Zimmerman spotted Martin walking home from buying candy and iced tea at a convenience store.

Zimmerman, patrolling the neighborhood in his car, called the 911 emergency number and reported what he called "a real suspicious guy."

"This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about," Zimmerman told dispatchers. "These assholes. They always get away."

The dispatcher, hearing heavy breathing on the phone, asked Zimmerman: "Are you following him?"

"Yeah," Zimmerman said.

"Okay, we don't need you to do that," the dispatcher responded.

But several neighbors subsequently called 911 to report a scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin. While some of the callers were still on the phone, cries for help followed by a gunshot can be heard in the background.

"I recognized that (voice) as my baby screaming for help before his life was taken," Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, told Reuters.

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