WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Sunday it is looking into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case.
The department opened an investigation into Martin's death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.
In a statement, the Justice Department said the criminal section of its civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal inquiry, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.
On Sunday, NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous started a petition calling for the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman for the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin.
But experience has shown it's difficult to get convictions in such high-profile prosecutions.
"This is an administration that hasn't shied away from bringing hate crimes cases that are solid prosecutions based on the facts and the law, but from what I've seen this would be a very difficult case to prosecute federally because the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman acted because of Trayvon Martin's race," said Samuel Bagenstos, former No. 2 official in the Justice Department's civil rights division. "If you're trying to prove racial motivation, you are usually looking for multiple statements related to why he is engaging in this act of violence. I think it's a difficult case to prove."