[author: Courtney Sherwood]
The Florida man whose shooting of an unarmed teen on Feb. 26 has sparked protests around the country will be charged with second-degree murder, a special prosecutor assigned to the case announced Wednesday.
George Zimmerman, whose whereabouts had been reported unknown and whose attorneys publicly resigned on Tuesday, has been arrested in the killing of Trayvon Martin, she also announced. Zimmerman appears to have obtained new attorneys, special prosecutor Angela Corey said at a press conference held to announce the charges against him. A hearing to determine whether he’ll be released on bond has not yet been scheduled.
A neighborhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman initially avoided arrest in the shooting of teen Trayvon Martin under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which prohibits prosecutors from charging people with murder or manslaughter if they kill someone else in certain self-defense situations.
State Attorney Angela Corey, special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case, announces that George Zimmerman will be charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin during a news conference Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2012, in Jacksonville, Fla. Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin as he walked home in Sanford, Fla. on Feb. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Wilson)
But after she was appointed to review details of the killing, special prosecutor Corey said that she and her law enforcement team gathered enough evidence to meet the state’s requirement that they “have a reasonable certainty of conviction.”
Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, shot and killed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin while the teen walked through the gated community where he was staying. According to recordings of a 911 call that Zimmerman placed, the neighborhood watch volunteer thought the black teen was a criminal targeting property in an area that had already been struck by several burglaries.
The exact details of the confrontation between Martin and his shooter remain hazy, but Zimmerman told police he pulled the trigger in self defense. Critics of Zimmerman’s claim point to injuries that don’t seem to match his account of the fight and a 911 recording that appears to have captured Trayvon’s voice calling out for help.
As fragments of evidence surrounding the death of the unarmed teen have emerged, so have worries that racial profiling may have played a role in the handling of Martin’s death. A group of 50 black lawyers and civil rights activists that recently met with Florida Governor Rick Scott expressed concern that killers of black victims may be less likely to face charges under “Stand Your Ground” than people who kill whites.
Corey pushed back against some of those criticisms as she announced the charges on Wednesday. “Those of us in
law enforcement are committed to justice for every race, every gender, every person,” she said. “We only know one category in law enforcement, it starts with V” – for victim.
Still, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law appears to have made Corey’s job more difficult. Even before that law was enacted, defendants could argue “justifiable use of deadly force” to avoid murder convictions, she noted.
The Florida law gives potential defendants three levels of protection, said Mitch Stone, a defense attorney with Stone Lockett in Jacksonville, Fla.:
Prosecutors can decline to press charges if they believe “Stand Your Ground” applies.
In a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, a judge may declare somebody immune from charges. This prohibits both criminal and civil claims against the person.
Finally, a jury may apply “Stand Your Ground” as a result of a trial.
Although prosecutors have now pressed charges, Zimmerman could still avoid conviction if a judge or jury determines that his use of force was justified under “Stand Your Ground.” Intense public interest in the case could also make the prosecution’s job more difficult, Corey said, because potential jurors could have been exposed to evidence that should have remained confidential until after trial started.
Zimmerman will be tried in Seminole County, Fla. Corey did not say when a trial is likely to begin.