MIAMI — Attorneys for the family of Trayvon Martin and the Florida neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot the unarmed teen offered different perspectives Saturday on the federal investigation of the death.
The attorneys presented their cases as demonstrators took to the streets in major cities such as Washington and Chicago to voice outrage over Martin's death and the local police investigation of the case.
Daryl D. Parks, an attorney for the Martin family, told board members of the National Association of Black Journalists that family members met with federal and local officials for more than an hour Thursday. He said the family left the meeting "with a strong sense that Justice was very committed" to investigating the case.
"I think that it was rather clear that the attorney general is quite aware of the situation," Parks said, referring to Eric Holder. "They have devoted a great deal of resources into looking into this matter.
"For us to have had all the people who were there with us and the magnitude of the conversation . this is a very high priority for this administration," he said in a wide-ranging interview.
But Parks added "it was clear from Justice's statements that charges of a hate crime are going to be a challenge."
Meanwhile, an attorney representing the neighborhood watch captain, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, said Saturday that he believes the state's stand-your-ground law applies to the case.
Attorney Craig Sonner said his client has been unfairly portrayed as a racist.
The Feb. 26 incident in the gated community has ignited racial tensions — Martin was black, and Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic — and raised questions about the police's handling of the case.
President Barack Obama weighed in Friday, calling the shooting a tragedy and saying, "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids."
Amid the public outcry, the Sanford police chief and state's attorney in the case have both stepped aside. Zimmerman has not been arrested.
Parks said Saturday that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has told the family's legal team that they are aware of Zimmerman's whereabouts. It is not clear whether they are offering protection to Zimmerman, who has been in hiding and has received death threats in recent weeks.
Martin's parents also met Friday with the newly-appointed special prosecutor in the case.
Parks said the legal team plans to pursue a civil case against the Twin Lakes homeowner's association.
But Sonner — the attorney for Zimmerman — offered a broad defense of his client on Saturday.
Sonner said he's spoken with several of Zimmerman's friends, including some who are African-American. "They only have good things to say about him," Sonner said.
Zimmerman's friends have been reluctant to come forward because they fear that the backlash over the investigation will make them and their families targets, too, Sonner said.
"Is George a racist? The answer is no, absolutely not. He's not a racist," Sonner said. "The incident that transpired is not racially motivated or a hate crime in any way. It was self-defense."
Sonner said he believes the case falls under Florida's stand-your-ground law, which dictates that a person has the right to stand his ground and "meet force with force" if attacked. "I believe what the evidence will show is that this case does fall under that," Sonner said. "I believe we have a good case."
Sonner said that if charges are brought against his client, Zimmerman would be willing to turn himself in to police. "We will follow the law," Sonner said.
Sonner would not say where Zimmerman was.
A spokeswoman for the Maitland mortgage risk-management firm where Zimmerman reportedly works, Digital Risk, said she couldn't confirm anything about Zimmerman's employment, but that he had not been at work since the shooting.
"Our utmost concern is for the safety of our employees, specifically based on the potential turmoil that could arise from the recent announcement of a bounty for his capture," Brandie Young said Saturday.
Meanwhile, authorities say a Florida man is charged with threatening the police chief who had been overseeing the investigation.
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office says John Carnduff Stewart of Melbourne Beach emailed Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee on Friday, saying Lee and his family should be killed. Melbourne beach is nearly 70 miles south of Sanford.
The sheriff's office says Stewart has sent threatening emails previously, including to Penn State University assistant football coach Mike McQueary.
Stewart was placed on electronic monitoring as a condition of his $10,000 bond.
Several hundred people rallied in downtown Chicago on Saturday to protest Martin's killing, which set off emotions in this racially divided city beset by shootings, gang violence and run-ins with police.
Speakers urged the crowd of about 400 people, gathered in a plaza next to City Hall, not to let Martin's death be in vain. They also reflected on Chicago's violent streets and harassment of blacks by police. The rally was one of several around the country over the weekend to honor Martin and call for justice.
In Chicago, the killing brought to mind the 1955 slaying of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old who was murdered by a group of white men while visiting Mississippi. No one was ever convicted, but Till's killing galvanized the civil rights movement.
"It's a precedent that with the right excuse it's OK to gun down black males," protester Ashten Fizer said of Martin's killing. "It's a return of Jim Crow."
In Washington, a large crowd gathered in Freedom Plaza to call for justice in the shooting.
Among the demonstrators Saturday was Jimmy Neal, a District of Columbia resident who said he's received questions from his daughter that he didn't want to answer.
"She's asked me the question ... 'Why, daddy, when he was carrying candy and a soda or iced tea and why did the man kill him?' I had to explain that to her. And those are discussions you don't plan to have with your kids," Neal said.
Associated Press writers Errin Haines in Boston and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.