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Trayvon Martin death: No US federal charges

February 24, 2015

The man who shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 will not face federal charges, the United States Justice Department says. George Zimmerman was previously acquitted of second-degree murder by a state jury.

A member of the New Black Panther Party leads a chant of 'murder not manslaughter' as demonstrators gather and wait in the darkness for a verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Florida, USA, 13 July 2013.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

In a statement released Tuesday, the US Justice Department confirmed Zimmerman would not face federal hate crime charges, with US Attorney General Eric Holder saying that while Martin's killing was a "devastating tragedy," there were insufficient grounds to charge Zimmerman with violating federal laws for civil rights.

"A comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here," Holder said in a statement.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, shot and killed unarmed high school student Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, as the teenager was returning from a convenience store with candy. Zimmerman, who had approached Martin while on a patrol, said he shot the 17-year-old in self defense.

'Bitter pill'

In a 2013 jury trial, of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Following that trial, Martin's family turned to the federal investigation in the hopes the gunman would be held accountable. A federal civil rights violation would have required proof that the shooting was motivated by racial animosity.

An attorney for Martin's parents, Ben Crump, said the decision by the Justice Department not to file federal charges was expected but still "a bitter pill to swallow."

George Zimmerman Trayvon Martin
George Zimmerman, left, killed Trayvon Martin, right, three years ago.Image: Reuters

"What they [Justice Department officials] told his family and I, was that because Trayvon wasn't able to tell us his version of events, there was a lack of evidence to bring the charges. That's the tragedy," Crump said.

The killing sparked a nationwide debate about race in America. It became one in a series of high-profile deaths of young black men to spark protests throughout the United States in recent years. In 2014 the police killing of teenager Michael Brown sparked rioting in Ferguson, Missouri.

Holder said Martin's "premature death" made it necessary for Americans to "continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface."

se/bw (AFP, AP, dpa)