George Zimmerman charged, is in state custody


Photo courtesy of CNN

State Attorney Angela Corey holds a news conference in Jacksonville, Florida on Tuesday, April 11, 2012 to announce second degree murder charges are being filed against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the fatal Trayvon Martin shooting. Zimmerman shot Martin in Sanford on Feb. 26. 

CNN Wire Service

Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and is in custody, a special prosecutor announced Wednesday.

Zimmerman, 28, was arrested on a warrant and was in the custody of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, his new attorney, Mark O’Mara, told CNN legal analyst Mark NeJame.

The charges were announced in Jacksonville by prosecutor Angela Corey, who has said her job was “to find out the full truth” about the February 26 incident in Sanford.

“It is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment,” Corey told reporters. “We did not come to this decision lightly.”

Martin’s parents spoke after Corey’s announcement.

“We simply wanted an arrest; we wanted nothing more, nothing less,” said Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton. “We just wanted an arrest, and we got it and I say thank you, thank you Lord, thank you Jesus.”

Martin’s father, Tracy, said, “we will continue to walk by faith, we will continue to hold hands on this journey. White, black, Hispanic, Latino…. We will march until the right thing is done.”

Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense failed to quell an uproar about the decision by Sanford police not to initially charge him and about Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force by anyone who feels a reasonable threat of death or serious injury.

The case also sparked a nationwide debate about race and racial profiling.

Both Corey and O’Mara declined to disclose where Zimmerman was being held.

O’Mara said a bond motion hearing may be held Thursday in Seminole County. “I will be seeking his release,” he said of Zimmerman.

“I think (Zimmerman) is troubled by the fact the state decided to charge him,” the attorney told reporters Wednesday evening. “I think anyone charged with second-degree murder would be scared.”

He said his client will enter a plea of not guilty.

Like Zimmerman’s relatives, O’Mara asked there be no rush to judgment.

“I am hoping the community will calm down,” he said. “We have to have faith in the justice system.”

In Florida, a conviction for second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Elements in such a charge include demonstrating Martin’s death was caused by a criminal act of Zimmerman, and the act demonstrated a depraved mind without regard for human life.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Corey “threw the book” at Zimmerman.

The Rev. Al Sharpton appeared with Martin’s parents after Corey’s announcement.

“They charged him with a serious crime,” Sharpton said of Zimmerman. “He deserves a fair trial. We don’t want anybody high-fiving tonight. There’s no victory here. There are no winners here. They’ve lost their son.”

Although details of the evening shooting remain murky, what is known is that Martin, an African-American, ventured out from his father’s fiancee’s home in Sanford to get a snack at a nearby convenience store.

As he walked back with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea, he was shot and killed by Zimmerman, who is Hispanic. Zimmerman had called 911 to complain about a suspicious person in the neighborhood, according to authorities.

In the call, Zimmerman said he was following Martin after the teen started to run, after which the dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman pursued Martin anyway, before saying he lost sight of him.

Authorities have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there were no grounds, at the outset, to disprove his account that he’d acted to protect himself. A police report indicated the volunteer was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head.

Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the “stand your ground” law in 2005, said nothing in it allows people to “pursue and confront.”

In a letter last month to the Orlando Sentinel, George Zimmerman’s father wrote that his son has been unfairly portrayed as a racist.

Gov. Rick Scott, in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, said, “Most Floridians and local civic leaders are law-abiding, responsible citizens who all want justice to prevail. No matter what State Attorney Corey determines following her investigation of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I trust in the goodness of all Florida citizens to allow our justice system to reach an appropriate conclusion in this case.”

O’Mara replaces Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, the two lawyers who had been giving legal advice to Zimmerman. They told reporters Tuesday that they had lost contact with their client and no longer represent him.

Attorney General Eric Holder pledged Wednesday that the Justice Department will “conduct a thorough and independent review of the evidence.”

“I know that many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned” about Martin’s death, Holder said — “a young man whose future has been lost to the ages.”

The department’s investigation, launched three weeks ago, remains open, he said, which “prevents me from talking in detail about this matter.” Holder did note, however, that Justice Department officials had traveled to Sanford to meet with Martin’s family, community members and local authorities. The FBI is assisting, he said.

Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, said the arrest “is an important first step toward bringing justice for Trayvon and his family.” He claimed Martin was profiled because of his race.

— CNN’s Martin Savidge and InSession’s Beth Karas, Jessica Thill and Aletse Mellado contributed to this report.