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George Zimmerman Verdict: What's Next for Trayvon Martin's Killer?

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First Posted: Jul 15, 2013 05:06 PM EDT
Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman
Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. (Photo : Flickr / Zennie Abraham)

Now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted, what's next for the man who killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager?

That Zimmerman shot and killed Martin is not in dispute. In fact, much of the trial centered around the defense's assertion that Zimmerman was terrified of the 17-year-old Martin, so much so that he felt his only chance was to shoot him. Under Florida's stringent self-defense protections, a shooter need only believe their life is threatened before taking lethal action; it needn't actually be in jeopardy.

So Zimmerman's defense attorney spent a great deal of time denigrating his own client, showcasing his flabby physique, his small stature and his poor judgment -- the better to demonstrate justifiable fear.

That leaves Zimmerman in an unenviable position, even with an acquittal under his belt. The world knows him as an inept law enforcement wannabe who panicked at the first sign of danger and responded with disproportionate force. Most Americans consider him at least a foolish coward, if not an outright murderer.

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And his time in courtrooms may not be over. The Justice Department is considering bringing a hate crime prosecution against Zimmerman, though that is unlikely, as they would need to prove Zimmerman acted as he did out of malice against African Americans in general, a narrative that doesn't match with the story told in this trial.

President Obama has also said he will leave the decision up to the Justice Department, with no interference from him.

Even if Justice declines to prosecute, Martin's family could choose to pursue a civil claim against Zimmerman, a much more likely scenario. The standard of proof in a civil trial is much lower than in a criminal court. Martin's family need only show that Zimmerman acted irresponsibly, nearly a given considering police told him specifically not to begin following Martin that night last February.

Still, in the coming years, Martin's supporters should expect to see more of Zimmerman. His acquittal means he cannot be prevented from profiting from his story, either through selling interviews, book deals, movie portrayals, or simple punditry on Fox News. Hundreds of conservatives media outlets are eager to parade Zimmerman as a gun rights hero, proudly standing his ground against the enemies of the Second Amendment.

That such a path would be in bad taste makes little difference these days, but Zimmerman's choices from now on will tell us much more about his character than the trial ever could.

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