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Trayvon Martin case: Special prosecutor will skip the grand jury

April 09, 2012|By Rene Lynch

The special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case announced Monday that she will not take the case before a Florida grand jury -- but will continue pursuing her investigation.

The news release issued on behalf of Florida State Atty. Angela Corey cautioned the public not to read too much into the move.

"The decision should not be considered a factor in the final determination of the case," it said.

The Seminole County Grand Jury was scheduled to convene Tuesday to hear evidence in the death of Martin, a hoodie-wearing unarmed black 17-year-old who was shot Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. The case has captivated the nation, with neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, 28, saying he shot Martin in self-defense and with black activists demanding Zimmerman's arrest.

The decision to bypass the grand jury was unexpected. Grand juries are often used in politically controversial cases as a buffer, protecting prosecutors and politicians from controversy. But there can also be a backlash to grand jury proceedings, because they occur outside the public's view.

In the meantime, protests continue.

A student protest is slated for Monday afternoon at Valencia College in Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel. And a handful of protesters -- many of them students wearing hoodies -- succeeded in shutting down the Sanford Police Department on Monday as part of a call for civil disobedience. The department sent out a news release saying it had temporarily closed its offices rather than tangle with protesters who had barricaded the front door. 

Critics have suggested the Police Department is guilty of racism because  authorities didn't pursue charges against Zimmerman. But some inside the department say law enforcement officers did try to pursue charges -- but were overruled by local prosecutors. That controversy contributed to the decision by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to appoint Corey as a special prosecutor in the case.

Perhaps the only guarantee in this case is that Corey's decision will be denounced in some corners. "Whatever she decided, it is going to be controversial," University of Florida law professor Kenneth B. Nunn told The Times.

Martin was returning from a convenience store run when he crossed paths with Zimmerman.

The volunteer had stepped up to be the neighborhood watchman in his gated community, intending to help combat a months-long rash of burglaries and other crimes. Zimmerman was on his way to the supermarket when he called the Sanford Police Department to report a young black male acting suspiciously, possibly on drugs.

Within minutes, Martin was dead of a gunshot wound. Zimmerman has said that he fired on Martin in self-defense after the youth struck him in the face, knocked him down and began pounding his head into the ground. But many believe Zimmerman was the aggressor, and note that he continued to follow Martin even after the police dispatcher told him it wasn't necessary.

Many marches, protests and rallies have been held in the weeks since the shooting. Some participants contend that Zimmerman should be charged with a hate crime because, they say, the shooting was motivated by Martin's race. Civil-rights leaders such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have shown up in Florida to call for justice in the case.

Representatives for Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Peruvian, insist he is not a racist.

President Obama has even weighed in, calling for a thorough investigation. In addition to the state probe, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have also launched inquiries into the incident.

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