MIAMI (AP) - The Justice Department will sift through trial testimony, interviews and other evidence during what is likely to be a months-long investigation into whether George Zimmerman violated Trayvon Martin's civil rights when he shot the black teenager.
The key to charging Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, lies in whether evidence exists that he was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin, who was 17 when he was shot during a fight with Zimmerman in February 2012. And while Martin's family has said the teen was racially profiled, no evidence surfaced during the state trial that Zimmerman had a racial bias.
Former Miami federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein says it will likely be months before a decision is made on whether to bring charges.
Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges after claiming he fired his weapon in self-defense only after Martin attacked him. His friends and family have repeatedly denied he harbored racial animosity toward blacks. Florida did not use its own hate crime laws against Zimmerman.
Legal experts say the FBI and prosecutors will go back through the interviews done before the state case began; look at all the forensics such as crime scene records and medical reports; and review the state's witnesses to see if any who did not testify might have important information.
However, investigators are not limited to existing evidence; they can pursue new evidence and conduct new interviews as they see fit. For instance, federal investigators could look more closely at Zimmerman's past for any evidence of racial bias.
"They are going to need to do a thorough vetting of the facts. It takes time," said Lauren Resnick, a former prosecutor who obtained a guilty verdict in a 1991 New York hate crime case involving the stabbing death of an Orthodox Jew. Those defendants had been acquitted in state court.
In a speech Tuesday to an NAACP convention in Orlando, Attorney General Eric Holder said "I am concerned" about the Zimmerman case and pledged the Justice Department will conduct a thorough review.
"While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take," he said.