Note: Title has been updated.

The Orlando Sentinel newspaper today reported that the Department of Justice has assembled a Federal Grand jury to meet next week to hear testimony about whether George Zimmerman violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights on the night that Zimmerman ultimately killed Martin in self-defense.

It was only last month that the Washington Post reported that unidentified Federal law enforcement officials thought it very unlikely that federal charges would be brought against Zimmerman, due to insufficient evidence.  Indeed, despite having dozens of FBI agents interview scores of people regarding Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin, not even a smidgen of racism was uncovered in Zimmerman’s past or in the particular events surrounding his self-defense shooting of Martin.

Indeed, quite the contrary: what evidence was uncovered with regard to race showed the opposite of racial animus.  For example, Zimmerman and his wife tutored black school children. Zimmerman’s elderly black neighbor testified at his trial (by television, due to severe illness) in glowing terms about Zimmerman’s kindness towards her.  One of Zimmerman’s college professors, a black Naval officer, also spoke glowingly about him, and noted that Zimmerman had told him he’d planned to become a prosecutor someday.  When a local black youth was beaten by the son of a local police official, Zimmerman organized the community to rally in favor of accountability.

There is little indication that any new credible information has appeared. The only witness on record as being scheduled to appear before the Grand Jury is the Frank Taaffe.  Taaffe styles himself as a “friend” of Zimmerman’s, a claim for which there seems little actual support.  Taaffe also seems to be an anxious attention seeker, having somehow extended his 15 minutes of fame in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s trial to the current day.  The Orlando Sentinel piece reports that Taafe:

believes Zimmerman was motivated by race the night he followed then shot Trayvon in 2012.  Taaffe cites a phone conversation he had with Zimmerman in the days following the shooting but before Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

That purported phone conversation revealing grounds for a federal civil rights prosecution would have occurred in early 2012.  The credibility of Taaffe’s claim is considerably reduced by the fact that for some reason he never thought to mention this call to anybody until two years later, in early 2014.  Indeed, Taaffe was among those interviewed by the aforementioned FBI agents in the aftermath of the shooting, and yet never thought to make mention of this incriminating phone conversation with Zimmerman.

The timing of this announcement must also be seen in light of the upcoming election, which polling suggests will be an utter political catastrophe for Democrats.  One reason for this is that the turnout among black voters–who typically vote ~95% for Democrats–is expected to be very low compared to the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 when Obama was on the ticket.  Might this sudden announcement of a Grand Jury targeting Zimmerman for civil rights violations be an effort to show the black community that Democrats are attempting to do something positive for this traditional Democrat constituency?

Interestingly, with the Grand Jury scheduled for next Wednesday, the day after the election, there will be no opportunity to evaluate the seriousness of this Grand Jury hearing until voting has been completed. Convenient timing, for some.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle). He also holds Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and provides free online self-defense law video lectures at the Law of Self Defense Institute and podcasts through iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.