Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Mach 21, 2012
As outrage mounts over the killing last month of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., it's welcome news that the U.S. Department of Justice and a grand jury under a state prosecutor will investigate the case.
The teenager was shot dead Feb. 26 in a gated community north of Orlando while walking to the home of his father's girlfriend with nothing more dangerous than Skittles and a can of iced tea in hand.
George Zimmerman, 28 and white, said he shot the teenager, who was black, in self-defense. Before the shooting, Mr. Zimmerman, who was on patrol in a neighborhood that had seen a recent rash of break-ins, told a police dispatcher on a 911 call that the youth looked suspicious. The dispatcher told Mr. Zimmerman that he should not confront or follow the young man and that police would investigate.
The volunteer ignored the warning and exited his vehicle with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that he is licensed to carry. What happened next is the source of much speculation and has led to a national outcry.
Neighbors overheard parts of the confrontation, but so far no eyewitness has come forward. During frantic 911 calls, they reported screams of a boy seconds before shots were fired. Mr. Zimmerman told police that the teen attacked him from behind and that the screams were his, not Mr. Martin's.
An attorney for Mr. Martin's family said Tuesday that the teen's girlfriend was talking to him on his cell phone, when Mr. Martin said someone was following him. She said she heard an exchange of words and scuffling.
The case has put a spotlight on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which does not require a person to retreat to claim self-defense. Police did not arrest Mr. Zimmerman, nor was he tested for drug or alcohol use or questioned at length. Although he was arrested once for assaulting an officer, police described him as "squeaky clean." Mr. Martin had no arrest record.
Anyone who kills an unarmed person should have to prove there was a lethal threat. Merely the shooter's word is not sufficient evidence.
With the Justice Department and a grand jury using fresh eyes and critical expertise to examine the facts, the botched investigation by Sanford police of Mr. Martin's shooting won't be the last word.
This is a tragic case where too many questions are begging for answers.