COLUMBUS, Ohio – A firearms group in Ohio raised more than $12,000 to be spent on guns or a security system for George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. But the money could end up being used to pay for Zimmerman's defense costs and fees.
The $12,150.37 check that the group wrote to Zimmerman is the result of a fundraising effort that was launched because the group believes Zimmerman's gun rights are being violated by the U.S. Department of Justice. The department has taken all the evidence from the trial, including the gun that killed Martin, as part of a civil rights investigation.
Zimmerman was acquitted earlier this month of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2012 shooting of Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando. Zimmerman, 29, told police he shot Martin, 17, after the black teenager physically attacked him; Martin's family and supporters say Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, racially profiled Martin as a potential criminal and wrongly followed him.
The verdict sparked protests and calls for federal officials to charge Zimmerman with violating Martin's civil rights. Zimmerman's brother and one of his attorneys have said he receives threats and is concerned about his safety.
The Buckeye Firearms Foundation's check is meant to be spent on guns, ammunition, protective gear or a security system, said Ken Hanson, the group's legal chairman.
"The Department of Justice refused to return him his gun, and he's in need of protection," Hanson said. "The money is intended to be used for anything he needs to defend himself or his family. He has complete discretion on how to use the money."
The cashier's check was sent through certified mail and was scheduled to be delivered Friday.
Zimmerman's spokesman, Shawn Vincent, said before his acquittal all donations he received were deposited into a fund dedicated to pay for his legal defense costs and fees and managed by an independent administrator. He said the Ohio foundation's check could be allocated similarly.
Vincent would not say what the donations to the fund have amounted to. But he said they have exceeded the $120,000 that Zimmerman's attorneys had said was needed to put on a good defense before the trial started in May. The fund had raised almost $315,000 in January.
The Ohio foundation's fundraiser, which began last week, ended Tuesday. Hanson said donations were sent from 48 states and three other countries.
Vincent said Zimmerman has been offered free guns but such donations haven't been accepted.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.