Hate Charges for Martin Slaying Difficult: Lawyers

Lawyers for victim's family met with federal and local officials

Attorneys for the family of Trayvon Martin and the Florida neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot the unarmed teen are offering different perspectives on the federal investigation of the death, including the likelihood of hate crime charges being filed by federal prosecutors.

Daryl D. Parks, an attorney for the Martin family, told board members of the National Association of Black Journalists on Saturday that the Martin family met with federal and local officials for more than an hour Thursday.

Parks said the family left the meeting "with a strong sense that Justice was very committed" to investigating the case.

But Parks added "it was clear from Justice's statements that charges of a hate crime are going to be a challenge."

Meanwhile, an attorney representing 28-year-old George Zimmerman says he believes Florida's stand-your-ground law applies to the case. Craig Sonner said Saturday that his client has been unfairly portrayed as a racist and that he acted in self-defense.

Although Parks said that hate crime charges would be difficult, others feel such a charge is a possibility.

The U.S. Justice Department could bring a hate crime charge against the shooter if there is sufficient evidence the slaying was motivated by racial bias and not simply a fight that spiraled out of control, legal experts and former prosecutors say.

So far, only one such clue has surfaced publicly against Zimmerman. On one of his 911 calls to police that night, Zimmerman muttered something under his breath that some listeners say sounds like a racial slur. Zimmerman's father is white, and his mother is Hispanic.

"It sounds pretty obvious to me," said Donald Tibbs, a Drexel University law professor who has closely studied race, civil rights and criminal procedure. "If that was a racial epithet that preceded the attack on Trayvon Martin, we definitely have a hate crime."

In other news surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, the City of Sanford has organized a Prayer for Peace event at City Hall today at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, while an hour later, at 7:30 p.m., the Florida Civil Rights Association is holding a candlelight vigil and will place a cross near the scene where Martin was shot at The Retreat at Twin Lakes.

On Monday, the Sanford City Commission will hold a special meeting at the Sanford Civic Center where Martin's family will speak.

Finally, Jesse Jackson has recently joined the chorus of voices who have spoken out about the Martin tragedy, as he has already attended several rallies and plans on speaking at others on Sunday and Monday, including a rally at Centennial Park in Sanford at 4 p.m. Monday.

According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, Jackson called Martin a "martyr" and urged the public to use the tragedy to create a movement for change.

Associated Press writer Errin Haines contributed to this report from Boston.

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