Zimmerman’s lawsuit seeks in excess of US$100 million from Martin’s parents, their family attorney, Crump’s book publisher, prosecutors and a witness at his trial for “malicious prosecution.” Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, is named as the lead defendant in the suit.
Zimmerman was patrolling a gated community as a neighbourhood watchman when he fatally shot Martin, an unarmed Black 17-year-old, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman never disputed that he killed the teen, but claimed it was in self-defence at the trial. He was ultimately acquitted in 2013.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that Martin’s family worked with law enforcement to fabricate a narrative against Zimmerman based on false evidence from a witness.
The suit alleges that the witness, Rachel Jeantel, was an “imposter and fake witness” who was swapped in for her half-sister, Brittany Diamond Eugene. The suit claims Eugene didn’t want to testify that she’d talked to Martin on the phone before he was killed, so Jeantel pretended she was the person on the phone for the trial.
Zimmerman’s lawyer, Larry Klayman, claims Jeantel provided false statements to prosecutors to incriminate Zimmerman “based on coaching from others.”
The suit reflects allegations made in a documentary called The Trayvon Hoax, which was made by right-wing conspiracy theorist Joel Gilbert.
Klayman had planned to announce the suit at a press conference Thursday in tandem with a screening of the documentary at Coral Gables Art Cinema in Florida. However, the press conference was cancelled after the venue nixed the screening.
“Coral Gables Art Cinema was not aware of all of the details surrounding this private rental and has made a decision to cancel the rental,” the venue wrote in a Twitter statement on Wednesday.
Klayman is a conservative activist who founded the watchdog group Judicial Watch before leaving the organization in an acrimonious split. Klayman has filed several lawsuits in the past, including one based on the “birther” conspiracy theory that former U.S. president Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Last July, an ethics committee of the bar in the District of Columbia recommended that Klayman’s law licence be suspended for more than two years.
The lawsuit accuses Martin family lawyer Ben Crump of defamation, Klayman said in a media release.
Crump dismissed the allegations as “unfounded and reckless” in a statement on Wednesday.
“This plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone but himself, re-victimizing individuals whose lives were shattered by his own misguided actions. He would have us believe that he is the innocent victim of a deep conspiracy, despite the complete lack of any credible evidence to support his outlandish claims,” Crump’s statement said.
“This tale defies all logic, and it’s time to close the door on these baseless imaginings.”
The Zimmerman trial ignited fierce debate over race and gun laws in the United States. It also triggered protests and helped fuel the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
—With files from The Associated Press