The state on Wednesday charged George Zimmerman with second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the special prosecutor promised to not only get justice but to find the truth in the case that has rocked Florida and captured the nation’s attention.
Zimmerman was in custody Wednesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest, State Attorney Angela Corey said at a news conference in Jacksonville. She declined to say where Zimmerman was being held, but said he turned himself in.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and we have faith,” said Tracy Martin, the father of the 17-year-old shot Feb. 26 in Sanford, near Orlando.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Martin under disputed circumstances. Police have said Martin was unarmed, but other than that, the facts haven’t fully emerged. Lawyers who represented Zimmerman in the case until the last couple of days have said he acted in self defense when attacked by Martin.
Corey, who works in the circuit around Jacksonville but was assigned to take over the case by Gov. Rick Scott, promised to get to the bottom of those facts.
“We are not only ministers of justice, we are also seekers of the truth,” Corey said. “We will continue to seek the truth throughout this case.”
She declined, however, to specifically discuss any facts of the case.
The case has drawn protests nationwide, and a new look at Florida’s stand your ground law, the self defense statute that says those who feel threatened have no duty to retreat even out in the street – but can fight force with force. It’s also drawn politicians, celebrities and ordinary people nationwide to declare they believe that Martin was the victim in the case. The teen’s family also pushed hard for some sort of law enforcement action.
Corey, however, said facts were what drove the decision to charge.
“We do not prosecute by public pressure, or by petition,” Corey said.
She did, however, make it clear she was sympathetic to Martin’s family, calling him by his first name Trayvon on a number of occasions, and at one point, calling his parents “sweet.”
Corey said prosecutors haven’t decided what penalty to pursue. Technically, a life sentence is possible in a second degree murder case.
“We don’t make that determination at this time,” Corey said. “Once there is a decision then we would concern ourselves with the sentence.”
When – and if – the case comes to trial, it would default to Seminole County, where the shooting occurred, she said. But, she declined to speculate on whether a fair jury could be found there.
National media reported Wednesday that Zimmerman, whose original attorneys dropped him as a client in the last couple of days, had hired a new lawyer, Mark O’Mara of Orlando.
Scott issued a statement urging people to let the case go through the judicial process.
“This matter is now in the hands of the judicial system and I am confident justice will prevail,” Scott said. “As the process continues, it is critical that we be patient and allow the proceedings to move forward in a fair and transparent manner. …. We will all continue to look for answers to the Trayvon Martin tragedy.”
Rev. Al Sharpton appeared at a news conference in Washington with Martin’s parents after Corey’s announcement. Sharpton said he initially didn’t trust Scott, but praised the governor for appointing a special prosecutor in the case and for Corey’s ultimate decision to file charges.
Sharpton said he didn’t think state officials decided to file charges based on public pressure but said that public pressure made it more likely the case would be reviewed, leading to the ultimate decision.
“There is no victory here, there is no winner here – they lost their son,” Sharpton said. “This is about pursuing justice.”
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.