George Zimmerman's business with the criminal court in Florida may be done, but a federal civil rights investigation remains open, and legal experts say he could face a civil suit.
A federal investigation into the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is underway, and prosecutors from the Justice Department's civil rights division will review evidence from the FBI and the Florida criminal trial, the Justice Department said Sunday in a written statement.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated townhouse community in Sanford, Fla., shot and killed Trayvon on Feb. 26, 2012, as he returned home from buying snacks at a convenience store. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed he shot the unarmed African-American teenager in self-defense.
"Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate," the statement said.
NAACP President Ben Jealous said on CNN that the civil rights organization had spoken with Justice Department officials about lodging federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
"There will be a federal civil rights phase," Jealous said.
Trayvon's family could sue Zimmerman in civil court for wrongful death, following the example of the families of O.J. Simpson's former wife, Nicole Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, who sued the football star and won $33.5 million after he was acquitted on murder charges. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks money damages rather than punishment.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., issued a statement urging the family to sue Zimmerman.
Donna Leinwand Leger and Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY