Monday night at 10 p.m ET on a special edition of HLN After Dark, Vinnie Politan is one-on-one with the Zimmerman prosecution team to try to find out what happened. HLN has been all over this case, and nothing is off-limits in this primetime interview.
In the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal, the NAACP is urging people to petition the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against the former neighborhood watch captain.
The NAACP's website was down temporarily on Sunday, according to spokesperson Derek Turner, who says the petition has received between 227,000 and 230,000 responses already.
Part of the petition says that "the most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation."
In a statement sent to HLN, the Department of Justice says it is continuing to investigate the Zimmerman case, which it has been doing since last year:
"As the Department first acknowledged last year, we have an open investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin. The Department of Justice's Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial. Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department's policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial."
The provision that federal authorities have been investigating and reviewing is whether there is evidence that Zimmerman committed a hate crime against Martin under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. It says, in part, that when a person “willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of …a firearm … attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color…or national origin of any person shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if … death results from the offense…"
The government can bring charges against Zimmerman at any time because there is no statute of limitations. In order for charges to be filed, Attorney General Eric Holder (or his designee) has to find that Saturday’s verdict in the Florida case “left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence,” or a prosecution by the United States government is in the public interest and “necessary to secure substantial justice.”
Even if the federal charges were identical to the state charges, double jeopardy wouldn't apply because the federal government is a separate and sovereign entity.
Presdient Barack Obama will not involve himself personally in deciding whether to bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
"That is not something the president involves himself in," Carney told reporters on Monday. "He has no opinion to express about the disposition about how the Justice Department will look at this."
Obama has weighed in on the case, however, in a statement released to HLN, calling Martin's death a tragedy and asking the American people to take some time to reflect:
"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. 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. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin."
Zimmerman was facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for killing Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. Martin was walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood that night when Zimmerman saw him and told police that he looked suspicious. The two got into an altercation, and Zimmerman said he was forced to draw his gun and shoot Martin in self-defense.