Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trayvon Martin's Parents Meet Lawmakers on Capital Hill


Trayvon Martin's parents meet lawmakers on Capitol Hill

As the family seeks support, the special prosecutor on the case asks for a measure of calm so that she can properly investigate the Florida shooting.

By Rene Lynch and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
5:53 PM PDT, March 27, 2012

The parents of slain teenager Trayvon Martin took their call for justice for their son to Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the special prosecutor appointed to the case asked that the political temperature be lowered so that she can properly investigate the Florida shooting.

State special prosecutor Angela B. Corey, who was named last week by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to take over the case from local officials, said her team of investigators needed time to do its job. Corey said her investigation could possibly result in state charges that bypass the need for the Seminole County grand jury, which is scheduled to convene April 10 to hear the case.

"We stepped into this case Thursday night," Corey said. "We're asking — we're begging people — just give us a chance."

Martin, who was unarmed, was shot the night of Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who has told police in Sanford, Fla., that he acted in self-defense.

The shooting has sparked weeks of protests across the nation and demands by the family and civil rights activists that Zimmerman, 28, be arrested. According to reports in the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman told police that he fired after Martin punched him in the nose and slammed his head on the ground. Also at issue is the state's "stand your ground" law, which allows a person to use deadly force if he or she feels threatened.

It will be up to Corey to decide whether Zimmerman, who is the son of a white father and a Latina, should be charged in connection with the case, or whether race played a role in the incident. Critics believe Zimmerman provoked the encounter after calling 911 to report Martin to the police as a suspicious black male and ignored the dispatcher who told him to stand down while police investigated.

On Capitol Hill, Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, and the family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, met with Democratic members of the House at what was described as a briefing on racial profiling, hate crimes and problems associated with "stand your ground" laws. At the session, there was a moment of silence for Trayvon Martin, after which many of the lawmakers said they too wanted to see Zimmerman arrested.

"We are here to discuss a matter that should never have happened," Crump said. "We honestly believe that Trayvon Martin is dead today because he was racially profiled."

Martin's father thanked "everyone who has helped us stand tall in this matter," and he called for supporters to continue to work to make sure that his son "did not die in vain. We will continue to fight for justice for him."

Many of the lawmakers condemned the investigation of the shooting by Sanford police, whose chief, Bill Lee Jr., temporarily stepped down amid the public outcry. Lee has repeatedly defended how the police responded and the decision not to charge Zimmerman. But that has not placated critics like Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), whose district includes Sanford.

"When you review the case, every aspect of it has been handled very poorly and not according to any standard," she said at the Washington briefing. "We need to make sure we have standards. I don't know if it was incompetence or a coverup. We have to make sure what happened in Sanford never happens again in the United States of America."

At a televised news conference in Sanford on Tuesday, City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte Jr. said that since the shooting, city and Justice Department officials are working on a process to handle citizen complaints about the police department.

"The police department has faced some challenges in the past few years," said acting Police Chief Darren Scott, noting there have been long-standing questions about how the agency has dealt with African Americans.

Scott refused to discuss the shooting, however, noting that "it is not in the police department's hands right now."

Corey is a Florida native who has taken hundreds of cases to trial during her 26 years as a prosecutor, including dozens of homicides. She serves as state attorney for Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit.

Though some have applauded her appointment to the Martin case, others have protested in light of her handling of another high-profile case, that of Cristian Fernandez, a Jacksonville boy. Corey set off controversy when she sought first-degree murder charges against the 12-year-old, who will be tried as an adult on charges of killing his 2-year-old brother. Critics say the move lacks sensitivity, and say Fernandez should be tried in juvenile court.

Despite the publicity and protests in the Martin case, she said that she did not feel political pressure to do anything but follow the evidence.

"Controversy doesn't fit well with justice," she said. "Justice has to be determined from the truth."

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