Federal charges uncertain in Zimmerman case

Washington (CNN) – In the emotional aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing last year, Attorney General Eric Holder signaled the unlikelihood of filing federal hate crimes charges against admitted shooter George Zimmerman.

“For a federal hate crime, we have to prove the highest standard in the law,” Holder said in April 2012, 45 days after Zimmerman shot the African American teenager in what was depicted by civil rights groups as a racially motivated killing.

In words that now sound prescient, Holder described to reporters that day how “something that was reckless, that was negligent does not meet that standard.”

“We have to show that there was specific intent to do the crime with requisite state of mind,” he said.

Zimmerman’s acquittal of state murder and manslaughter charges on Saturday showed the Florida jury rejected that he intended to kill Martin for any reason, including the racial motivation necessary for federal charges that he violated Martin’s civil rights.

The Department of Justice opened an investigation into the Zimmerman case last year, and a statement from the agency on Sunday said it was ongoing and will now include evidence and testimony from the Florida trial.

In a speech in Washington on Monday, Holder said the Justice Department would “continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law” in examining what he called “the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin.”

“Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised,” Holder said. “We must not – as we have too often in the past – let this opportunity pass.”

Separately, the White House said President Barack Obama would play no role in deciding whether federal charges are filed.

“Cases are brought on the merits and the merits are evaluated by the professionals at the Department of Justice,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

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