Parents of slain black teen seek US federal probe

2012-04-03 07:05

The family of an unarmed black teen shot dead by a neighbourhood watch guard in February asked US federal officials to probe “suspicious” actions by Florida officials on the night of the shooting.

The attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, Benjamin Crump, sent a letter to the US Justice Department urging it to review the role of Florida State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, who has since recused himself from the case.

Neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, fatally shot 17-year-old Martin inside a gated community in the Florida town of Sanford on February 26.

Zimmerman has said he acted in self-defence after Martin punched him in the nose, knocked him down and slammed his head into the ground.

The case has unleashed a national uproar over race relations and the right to self-defence in the United States.

Sanford police applied for a warrant to arrest Zimmerman in the early stages of the investigation, local media including The Miami Herald reported. Prosecutors however held off approving the warrant, pending further review.

Crump said he believes that Wolfinger met Sanford police chief Lee on the night of the shooting and overruled the recommendation of a homicide investigator to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter.

Crump wrote that he wants federal officials to investigate “the suspicious circumstances surrounding this meeting, and the decision to disregard the recommendation of the lead homicide investigator”.

Wolfinger recused himself from the case two weeks ago, and Florida’s governor assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the case.

Since Martin’s death, there have been numerous large public protests calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, but there have been no detention orders and the 28-year-old has gone into hiding, fearing for his life.

A controversial Florida law allows the use of deadly force when a person has a reasonable fear of death or serious injury – which Zimmerman, through surrogates interviewed in the media, has said was the case when he shot Martin.

A surveillance video that ABC News released last week showed Zimmerman handcuffed at the police station after the shooting, but with no apparent signs of serious injury.

However, enhanced footage of the same video that aired on Monday shows evidence of an injury to the back of Zimmerman’s head.

The state of Florida on April 10 will take the case to a grand jury, which will then say if there is enough evidence to indict Zimmerman.

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