George Zimmerman, who shot and killed black teen Trayvon Martin and was acquitted at trial in 2013, has filed suit against members of the Martin family and Tallahassee-based civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented Martin's family during the trial.
The lawsuit, which seeks $100 million in damages, alleges Rachel Jeantel, a witness in the 2013 trial who testified she was on the phone with Trayvon Martin just before he was killed, was not the actual witness. It claims Jeantel was “switched” as a witness, and the real witness was Brittany “Diamond” Eugene.
Jeantel and Eugene are both named as defendants in the suit, as is Trayvon Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton, who is now a candidate running for a Miami-Dade County Commission seat.
Zimmerman is represented by conservative attorney Larry Klayman, who is the founder of right-wing organization Judicial Watch. The suit was filed Wednesday in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court in Polk County.
“The suit was filed based upon newly-discovered evidence. It was turned up by an author and film producer by the name of Joel Gilbert, that a phony witness was presented in the Trayvon Martin trial. And it could very well have been based upon that phony testimony that George Zimmerman could have been convicted,” Klayman said Wednesday, shortly after filing the suit. “By the grace of God, he was not.”
The film director, Joel Gilbert, produced a film called “The Trayvon Hoax.” Klayman claims it was that film that brought what he calls “new evidence” to his and Zimmerman’s attention. Here’s how Klayman describes it:
“In essence, they substituted Rachel Jeantel, a person who in an interview that apparently no one ever really watched, admitted that she didn’t know anything about testimony that she was providing about a call that allegedly came from Trayvon Martin, the evening that Trayvon Martin died. And the real witness was Diamond Eugene. They’re related, and they substituted this witness. It was false testimony.”
The suit also alleges Zimmerman “lives in constant fear of attack,” And that he “often receives constant death threats when he appears in public." It also claims Zimmerman “has suffered severe loss of reputation, goodwill, and past, present, and future loss of income, earning, and other financial damage.”
Zimmerman’s counsel is also alleging defamation, which is a part of the lawsuit, which is why book publisher HarperCollins is a defendant. HarperCollins published Crump’s book “Open Season” this year.
“The family lawyer Benjamin Crump recently wrote a book, where he accuses my client of genocide against colored people – that’s the term he uses – to try to whip up racial division,” Klayman said.
The lawsuit goes even further, commenting on Zimmerman’s dating life: “Zimmerman is unable to date; he was kicked off of several dating websites.”
Zimmerman was divorced from his wife in 2013, following the Martin trial, and was later accused of felony assault by a girlfriend, but charges were eventually dropped. He was again arrested for suspicion of domestic violence for allegedly throwing a wine bottle at a different girlfriend two years later, but those charges were dropped as well.
A press release sent out by Joel Gilbert announcing the suit, sent from an email address tied to his company Highway 61 Entertainment, says Gilbert will stand alongside Klayman at a press conference announcing the suit Thursday in Coral Gables. It also says the presser will be followed by a screening of Gilbert’s film “The Trayvon Hoax.”
Gilbert’s website features photos of the filmmaker with prominent conservative figures, as well as a photo of Gilbert speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013.
Crump has responded to the suit filed by Zimmerman. In a statement Crump says is also on behalf of Trayvon Martin's parents, he wrote:
“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."
Crump says Zimmerman is "revictimizing" Trayvon Martin's family with the suit's filing.
"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 says.
This is a developing story and will be updated. Contact reporter Ryan Dailey at 850-645-6090