March 23, 2012 10:17 PM
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The US Department of Justice confirmed Friday that it has launched an investigation into the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, as the first comments from that alleged killer hit the internet.
“We have indeed opened up an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin,” said Thomas Perez, of the US Department of Justice, speaking Friday in Jackson, Mississippi.
“We’re doing that investigation jointly with the FBI field office in Florida and the United States Attorney’s Office. We’re cooperating and collaborating regularly with the states attorney’s office as well,” he said.
Perez said the focus is to determine if Trayvon Martin’s death created a civil rights violation that could be prosecuted.
The man could face that prosecution has kept publicly silent at the center of the international firestorm involving his fatal shot to Trayvon that he claims was self defense.
Friday night, a number of websites released a voicemail claimed to be from Zimmerman, allegedly left to Frank Taafe, a member of the crime watch organization and one of his most vocal supporters to date.
“Hey Mr. Taaffe,” the message started. “This is George. Um, first and foremost, I wanted to say I am very sorry for the loss of your son, and, um, I can’t imagine what you must be going through. Um, secondly, I wanted to thank you for doing everything you’ve been doing. Um, I know you don’t have to, and I appreciate it, and you’re truly setting an example for me for the future of, uh, doing the right thing even when it’s tough, and, uh, I appreciate it. I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks. Bye.”
“I think he is stressed but he has the support of family and friends through this,” said attorney Craig Sonner, who represents Zimmerman and who spoke publicly for the first time today. “I am hoping the near future to have more of his friend who come in who are African-American who will vouch for him not being a racist in the near future.”
Sonner wanted to make that point very clear.
“Was it racially motivated? The answer is absolutely not. George is friends with people in the African-American community,” he said.
Sonner said Zimmerman served as a mentor for a 14 year old black teen, and also helped the family.
“He took the 14 year old young African-American boy, he’d take them every other week, he’d take the young boy and his wife would take, I think she a 13-year-old daughter, and took them every other week for two or three hours to the mall, to go to the science center, to play basketball, to play lunch, to do things like that during that period.”
Sonner said he has spoken with the teen’s mother, “and she doesn’t believe that he is racist.”
Sonner gave no indication as to where Zimmerman is saying, though he was dismissed from his college for fear his appearance on campus would cause a disruption.