George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer cleared of murdering an unarmed black teenager in one of Florida’s most high-profile criminal cases, launched a $100m lawsuit on Wednesday against the dead boy’s family, their lawyer and prosecutors.
Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, 17, following a night-time altercation between the two at his gated community in Sanford in February 2012. He was acquitted of second-degree murder in a closely-watched trial that triggered a national debate over racial injustice, civil rights and gun violence.
In a 36-page lawsuit circulated by his lawyers, Zimmerman claims his reputation was destroyed by the “malicious prosecution” and alleges that the state’s attorney, Angela Corey, and her team of prosecutors relied on a witness who falsely claimed to be Martin’s girlfriend to testify against him.
He further alleges that Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney who has represented Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, since their son’s death, defames him in Crump’s recent book Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.
Evidence presented during Zimmerman’s trial included a recording of a call to the Sanford police department in which Zimmerman, now 36, said he was following Trayvon, who was on his way back to his father’s girlfriend’s house with Skittles and a soft drink he had just bought at a nearby gas station. “OK, we don’t need you to do that,” a dispatcher told Zimmerman.
According to the lawsuit filed by the Boca Raton-based attorney Larry Klayman, founder of the conservative legal activist group Judicial Watch, his client now lives in constant fear of attack and “often receives death threats when he appears in public”. It adds that he suffers from “depression and PTSD”.
The allegations about a fake witness center on a teenager called Rachel Jeantel, whom the lawsuit claims gave testimony as Martin’s girlfriend as “an imposter” for her half-sister Brittany Diamond Eugene, Martin’s “real” girlfriend at the time.
Jeantel told jurors she was on the phone with Martin, who claimed he was being pursued by a “creepy-ass cracker” as he walked home. The testimony about Zimmerman, who is of Hispanic heritage, added further controversy to an already racially-charged trial.
The lawsuit claims the “conspiracy” to have Jeantel testify in her sister’s place was hatched when prosecutors could not persuade Eugene to make a statement incriminating Zimmerman.
Crump, who owns a law firm in Tallahassee, rejected Zimmerman’s claims. “I have every confidence that this unfounded and reckless lawsuit will be revealed for what it is, another failed attempt to defend the indefensible and a shameless attempt to profit off the lives and grief of others,” he said in a statement.
“This plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone but himself. He would have us believe that he is the victim of a deep conspiracy despite the complete lack of any credible evidence to support his outlandish claims.”
A representative for Fulton, who is running for a seat on the Miami-Dade county commission next year, did not immediately return a request for comment, and attempts to reach the Trayvon Martin Foundation, the anti-gun advocacy group set up by Fulton and Martin, were also unsuccessful.
Zimmerman, meanwhile, has been immersed in several controversies since his acquittal. In 2016 he attempted to profit by selling the gun he used to kill Trayvon, branding the weapon an “American firearm icon” and promising the proceeds would help fight the activities of Black Lives Matter.
One year earlier, a violent road rage incident resulted in a Florida man, Matthew Apperson, being sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder after shooting at Zimmerman.