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Criminologist: Zimmerman Conviction Would Be No ‘Slam Dunk’

By Matthew L. Higgins
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In this handout provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Office, George Zimmerman poses for a mug shot in this 2005  booking photo in Florida. (credit: Orange County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)

In this handout provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, George Zimmerman poses for a mug shot in this 2005 booking photo in Florida. (credit: Orange County Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images)

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TAMPA (CBS Tampa/AP) — The nation is watching and waiting to see if special prosecutor Angela Corey will charge George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman, 28, has told police that he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense on Feb. 26, claiming that Martin broke his nose and repeatedly slammed the back of his head on the ground, according to police reports. The Sanford Police Department did not charge Zimmerman due to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

The case has touched off a racial flashpoint across the country, with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton leading rallies of tens of thousands of protesters in Sanford.

Dr. George Kirkham, a criminologist and professor emeritus at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, believes that Zimmerman will ultimately end up being charged with voluntary manslaughter.

“There’s a lot of anger in the black community and the prosecutor is motivated,” Kirkham told CBS Tampa. “She’s going to go with what she can convict on.”

Kirkham added that charging Zimmerman with murder would be hard to do with lack of premeditation.

The Justice Department and the FBI have also dived into the case after Sanford police failed to charge Zimmerman, looking into if a possible hate crime was committed.

“We’re in a parallel lane looking at all the facts in a comprehensive review looking at the circumstances surrounding the death,” Dave Couvertier, special agent for the FBI office in Tampa, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “The threshold for the federal civil rights (violations) is relatively high. There’s some specific requirements that have to be met under that particular investigation or offense.” Special Agent Couvertier told CBS Tampa via email that they have been asked not to conduct any interviews at this time.

Kirkham warns that the prosecutor should not try to overcharge Zimmerman with numerous counts, saying the case is not a “slam dunk” even before you add a possible hate crime charge.

“When you overcharge somebody, chances of getting conviction are very small,” he told CBS Tampa.

Another thing the prosecutor has to worry about is how fickle juries can be.

“It looks a lot easier in the beginning than it will turn out to be,” Kirkham said. “You never know how it’s going to turn out. Remember Casey Anthony?”

Since she took on the case last month, Corey and her team of two prosecutors and an investigator have interviewed witnesses in Sanford and visited the scene of the shooting. She also has instituted a media blackout.

Whatever the outcome may be, the city of Sanford says its ready.

“You always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett told WKMG-TV. “We’re planning for the ‘what-if’ case scenario, and that would be to make sure that all of our citizens get the protection they pay their taxes for.”

There is no word yet on when a possible decision on the case will be made.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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