George Zimmerman
© The Associated Press/Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/Pool
George Zimmerman, center, is directed by a Seminole County Deputy and his attorney Mark O'Mara during a court hearing Thursday April 12, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The neighborhood watch volunteer accused of killing Trayvon Martin slapped NBC News with a lawsuit Thursday, charging it portrayed him as a "racist and predatory villain" to boost ratings.

George Zimmerman's lawyers blasted the network for using "the oldest form of yellow journalism" in coverage of the racially charged case.

"They knew this tragedy could be, with proper sensationalizing and manipulation, a racial powder keg that would result in months, if not years, of topics for their failing news programs, particularly the plummeting ratings for the ailing Today show," charged the defamation suit, filed in Seminole County, Fla., Circuit Court Thursday.

But NBC said it would contest the suit "vigorously" in court. "There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly," the network said in a statement.

Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the case, claims he shot and killed the unarmed black teen in self-defense.

Moments before the Feb. 26 shooting in a Sanford, Fla., gated community, Zimmerman, a member of his neighborhood watch group, called 911 to report a "guy" lurking around houses in the rain.

The lawsuit charges that NBC reporters "maliciously edited" the 911 recording to make it appear that Zimmerman was "racially profiling Martin."

In an unedited version of the 911 call, Zimmerman is heard saying, "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."

A dispatcher asked, "Okay, and this guy - is he white, black, or Hispanic?" Zimmerman responded, "He looks black."

The dispatcher's question was left out of the edited tape that aired on NBC programs, including Today.

At the time, NBC President Steve Capus said broadcasting the edited audio was a "mistake" but "not deliberate."

Two reporters named as defendants in the lawsuit, Lilia Rodriguez Luciano and Jeff Burnside of NBC's Miami affiliate WTVJ, were fired over the 911 tape editing.

The suit also names veteran NBC newsman Ron Allen as a defendant.

The legal papers charge that Allen falsely claimed in a broadcast that Zimmerman used a "racial epithet" to describe Martin to the 911 dispatcher.