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July 19th, 2013
06:27 PM ET

O.J. prosecutor says civil rights charges by Justice Department unlikely

A former prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial said it is unlikely the Justice Department will file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin killing.

"I don't think the evidence is there," said Christopher Darden. "I don't think the Justice Department can bring a criminal case against Zimmerman. Not at this point. Not with this evidence."

The lawyer for Martin’s family told CNN separately that race was not addressed in the  case tried in Florida state court, which presents an opportunity for the Justice Department to act.

"In the civil rights violation case, we do get to look directly at race which was not addressed in the state case," said Benjamin Crump. "Nobody can say we addressed race in the trial, and so there should be something that the Department of Justice can look at with fresh eyes."

But Darden dismissed that assertion, saying race was addressed in the state's case by the defense, if not necessarily the prosecution.

"The Justice Department is going to have a difficult time trying to make out a civil rights case. They have to show that race was the motivation, the primary reason that Zimmerman shot this boy, and I don't think they're going to be able to do it," said Darden.

Darden also reacted to President Barack Obama's remarks about Martin and the explosive verdict last Saturday.

In unscheduled and unusually personal remarks, Obama tried to explain why African-Americans were upset about last week's acquittal of Zimmerman while lowering expectations for federal charges.

"This issue of race is an issue that's always divided this nation and it continues to divide us and I think that today, given the demonstrations and reactions that we have seen to the Zimmerman trial, I think that it was very important for him to speak to the issue," said Darden.

Darden said he also appreciated that Obama personalized his statement.

"I could tell that as he spoke that he was speaking from the heart, from his own common experience, and I think it's important, whether you are conservative or liberal, black or white, that you listen to the president and consider what he had to say today," said Darden.

Darden was a prosecutor for another very racially charged case, the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the mid 1990s. The Rodney King verdict – when the acquittal of four L.A. officers in the brutal beating King sparked riots – also happened around the same time.

Darden said being an African-American attorney prosecuting an African-American during a controversial decision "wasn't very comfortable."

"In Los Angeles, people were split along racial lines in terms of whether they thought that O.J. Simpson was getting a raw deal, whether he should be charged, or whether he was guilty or not," said Darden.

When Simpson was acquitted of murder, Darden said there was a positive reaction  in the courthouse, at black colleges around the country, and in the black community.

There was "jubilation at the fact that this man who many of us believe murdered two innocent people was acquitted," said Darden.

When he thinks of the Simpson verdict and 1995, Darden said he always thinks of it in context.

"I always remember and talk to people about is the snowball effect of race and racism," said Darden.

In the early to mid 1990s, the country was dealing with the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. riots. Additionally,  people in Los Angeles were dealing with the Los Angeles Police Department and criticisms of the way it did business , which Darden said many African-Americans were offended and victimized by.

"Back then the LAPD  had a way of stopping an African-American, profiling African-Americans, and detaining African-Americans without probable cause in my view," said Darden.

"These tensions build up. Each time there is a racial incident, there is a snowball effect and ultimately, and ultimately these things explode into something very bad. They exploded into riots in 1992, and they are the partial reason why I think O.J. Simpson was acquitted, ultimately," said Darden.


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