George Zimmerman, 28, who has been charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, in Sanford, Florida, may soon be facing a hate crime charge from the FBI, reports WFTV.
Zimmerman admitted to killing Martin in February during a confrontation. However, he claims the shooting was in self-defense. He’s facing a second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. But if Zimmerman is charged and found guilty of a federal hate crime involving murder, he could face the death penalty.
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FBI investigators are actively questioning witnesses in the retreat at the Twin Lakes neighborhood, seeking evidence for a possible federal hate crime charge.
Martin was unarmed when he was shot to death, police said, and some accuse Zimmerman of targeting the teenager solely because of the color of his skin.
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said federal prosecutors would have to prove the hate crime to charge Zimmerman, though.
“What the government would have to prove is that Mr. Zimmerman acted out of hatred toward African-Americans. That’s why he came into contact with him. That’s why he shot and killed him,” Sheaffer said.
Sheaffer said a federal hate crime murder charge could bring more serious consequences than the second-degree murder charge Zimmerman faces now.
“Mr. Zimmerman could be punished by up to life in prison or even the death penalty,” said Sheaffer.”
As previously reported by Newsone, U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the department is conducting its own, separate investigation, and thus far has refused to comment on the special prosecutor’s findings. In April, after Trayvon’s family pushed for their involvement, FBI agents began questioning potential witnesses in the case, confirming to NBC News that the agency had begun a “parallel investigation” that focuses on whether the teen’s civil rights were violated.
This story is developing. Check back with Newsone for more details.