DOJ

Justice Department officials say they are unlikely to prosecute George Zimmerman because it would be hard to prove he acted out of racial bias.

By David G. Savage and Richard A. Serrano
July 16, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — George Zimmerman is unlikely to face federal charges for killing black teenager Trayvon Martin because it would be difficult to prove he acted out of racial bias, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.

Four years ago, Congress adopted a stronger federal hate crimes act to empower federal prosecutors to go after violent crimes of bias. Since then, the Obama administration has won convictions against more than 140 defendants who chose their victims because they were gay, disabled or members of racial or religious minorities.

But a successful federal prosecution of Zimmerman would require clear evidence that he set out to attack the unarmed Martin because he was black.

Although that is exactly what many Americans see in the fatal shooting of the 17-year-old, it can be very hard to prove in court, legal experts said. So far, prosecutors have not shown evidence that Zimmerman acted out of racial bias.

“I’d be very, very surprised if we took it,” said one federal civil rights prosecutor, speaking anonymously because no decision had been made. “It’s a very tough, tough case to sell” because of the lack of witnesses.

“The difficult element would be proving racial motivation beyond a reasonable doubt,” said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos, a former civil rights attorney in the Obama administration. “In most of these [hate crime] cases, you have someone who had made racial statements or you have a group who goes looking to attack a person based on their race.”

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