JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — George Zimmerman is in custody, and has been charged with second-degree murder in the Trayvon Martin case, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced at a press conference Wednesday.
“Today we filed an information, charging George Zimmerman with murder in the second degree,” Corey said. She also added that the prosecution was not as a result of “public pressure” or “petition,” but rather “facts” and the “laws of the state of Florida.”
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother Hispanic, turned himself in earlier in the day and is expected to make a court appearance on Thursday, when his lawyer plans to ask for bail. He was jailed Wednesday night in Sanford, Florida — the site of the Feb. 26 shooting.
Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, asked that people not jump to conclusions about his client’s guilt. He said his client will plead not guilty.
O’Mara said he’s “hoping that the community will calm down” now that charges have been filed and the case is moving forward. However, O’Mara said that as it stands today, he doesn’t believe Zimmerman would get a fair trial in central Florida.
“The emotions are just running high in all of central Florida, but we’ll see as we get closer to the point where we’re resolving it. We don’t even know if we’re gonna have a trial,” he said.
Corey’s decision followed an extraordinary 45-day campaign by Martin’s parents to have Zimmerman arrested despite his claim that he shot in self-defense. They were joined by civil rights activists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as well as many politicians and supporters in Sanford and cities across the nation.
Protesters wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin had on. And the debate reached all the way to the White House, where President Barack Obama observed last month: :”If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
News of the charges came hours after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would be taking appropriate action in the 17-year-old’s death if there is evidence that a federal civil rights crime was committed.
Martin’s parents expressed relief Wednesday over the decision to file charges. His mother, Sybrina Fulton, said she would give Zimmerman a chance to say sorry for what happened if she could speak to him directly.
“I would probably give him an opportunity to apologize,” Fulton said. “I would probably ask him if there were another way that he could have settled the confrontation that he had with Trayvon, other than the way it ended, with Trayvon being shot.”
Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, offered several questions that he would like to ask Zimmerman about the sequence of events that led up to Trayvon’s death, but in the end he would want to know, “Was it really worth it?”
“The question I would really like to ask him is, if he could look into Trayvon’s eyes and see how innocent he was, would he have then pulled the trigger? Or would he have just let him go on home?” Tracy Martin said.
New York City officials also have weighed in on the shooting case, including City Councilman Jumaane Williams.
“I’m happy they decided to do it. I think that it took too long,” Williams told 1010 WINS’ Holly Haerr.
1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr Hears From City Councilman Jumaane Williams
The Brooklyn councilman, who took part in a “Million Hoodie March” at Union Square last month, said it is incredible it took national attention to push the case to this point.
“The tremendous amount of resources and energy you have to take just to simply do what should be done anyway is a problem” Williams said.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, admitted killing the teen on Feb. 26. Zimmerman has said Martin, who was unarmed, attacked him and that he shot the teen during a fight.
Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, claimed he shot Martin not as a plan, but in self-defense. CBS legal analyst Jack Ford said that is the difference between first and second degree murder.
“First-degree murder is all about premeditation; you intended to kill somebody, even if you just came up with that intention a split second before you do it. Second degree murder, there’s no premeditation, you didn’t intend to kill them, you did intend to hurt them and they died as a result,” said Ford.
The case has sparked calls for an end to the “shoot first” laws, including from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks reports
“You cannot have a civilized society where everybody can have a gun and make their own decisions as to whether somebody is threatening or not,” Bloomberg said. “There’s no civilized society that I know, no democracy, that has these kinds of laws. Only in America where we have more guns than people.”
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Under Florida’s “stand you ground” law, an individual may use deadly force if they feel their life or the lives of their loved ones are threatened or in danger.
Second-degree murder in Florida carries a minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life.
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