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George Zimmerman In Custody, Charged With Second-Degree Murder In Trayvon Martin Case

Posted: 04/11/2012 6:09 pm Updated: 04/13/2012 10:14 am

The special prosecutor investigating the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin announced Wednesday evening that George Zimmerman, who told police he shot Martin in self defense, has been charged with second-degree murder.

Zimmerman will plead not guilty to the charges, according to his attorneys. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Zimmerman, who has been in hiding for weeks, is in police custody. Special prosecutor Angela Corey said during a news conference in Jacksonville, Fla., that she would not reveal where Zimmerman was out of concern for his safety. "He is within the custody of law enforcement officers in the state of Florida," Corey said.

The murder charge indicates prosecutors plan to prove Zimmerman shot Martin with malice, though without premeditation. A manslaughter charge would have required prosecutors to prove only that Zimmerman acted unlawfully and with criminal negligence in shooting the teen.

"The difference between murder and manslaughter is your mental state," said Mark Geragos, a Los Angeles defense attorney, who is not connected to the case. "To elevate it to murder, you have to have the element of malice."

In Florida, a grand jury must be convened before issuing first-degree murder charges. On Monday, Corey announced that she would not convene a grand jury, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, in the Martin case.

Zimmerman, 28, shot and killed 17-year-old Martin Feb. 26 in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., where Martin was visiting his father and his father's girlfriend. Zimmerman served as captain of the neighborhood watch and told police that he shot Martin in self-defense after the teen attacked him. Martin was unarmed at the time of his death, according to police.

On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman was questioned at the police station, but released shortly afterwards. Sanford Police Department investigated and determined there was not enough evidence to refute his claims of self-defense.

The case became a flashpoint in the ongoing national debate over racial profiling and gun control. Attorneys representing Zimmerman have called the shooting a clear case of self-defense under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which gives citizens broad latitude to use deadly force against an attacker if they believe their life is at risk.

Corey called the Stand Your Ground law a "tough" defense to counter, but said her office would fight it if it became an issue at trial. To prevail, the prosecution would have to demonstrate that Zimmerman's account of events is false, then present the jury with a compelling alternative narrative of the altercation, experts said.

"They will go very hard at (Zimmerman's) credibility," said Paul Callan, a defense attorney and former New York prosecutor who is not connected with the case. "This is how prosecutors customarily disprove bogus self-defense claims."

Martin's death and subsequent handling of the investigation also sparked national outrage and calls for Zimmerman's arrest. From the start, Martin’s family and attorneys questioned the impartiality and thoroughness of the police investigation into the teen’s killing.

Law enforcement experts said that Sanford police made key errors early in the investigation and made crucial decisions before important evidence was gathered.

Martin's cell phone records were not immediately checked. Investigators did not talk with key witnesses for more than a week. While police conducted a criminal background check on Martin, as well as post-mortem drug and alcohol tests, Zimmerman was not subjected to similar tests. It was learned later that Zimmerman was arrested in 2005 for assaulting a police officer.

During the news conference Wednesday, Corey criticized leaks of confidential details about the case that appeared to bolster Zimmerman's self-defense claims. "So much information on the case got released that never should have been released," Corey said.

The announcement of the charges comes a day after Zimmerman's previous attorneys withdrew their counsel, saying they lost contact with him and that he repeatedly ignored their legal advice. They said Zimmerman reached out to Corey's office directly and had an off-the-record conversation with the Fox News host Sean Hannity without their knowledge.

Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, solemnly watched Wednesday's news conference in Washington on a small television. As Corey read the charges, the slain teen's parents held hands and watched. “Thank you, Lord,” said Benjamin Crump, the family's attorney as he patted Martin's knee. Neither of Martin's betrayed any emotion as they watched.

After the charges were announced, Fulton said she was thankful for the outpouring of public support. “I just want to speak from my heart to your heart, because a heart has no color," she said. "It's not black, it’s not white, it's red, and I want to say thank you from my heart to your heart."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the more prominent supporters of the Martin family, said the case would not have progressed without "the nameless, faceless people, black, white, Hispanic and Asian ... who said 'take another look at this'."

"People took their time and money, and stood up and said that that could be my son, that could be my grandson, and because of that this got a second look," he said. "Even conservatives on the other side of the political spectrum said we’re going to take another look.”

But Sharpton stressed the importance of continuing to seek justice. Zimmerman, Sharpton said, "deserves a fair trial."

“We do not want anyone high-fiving tonight," Sharpton said. "There is no victory here. There are no winners here. They lost their son. This is not about gloating. This is about pursuing justice."

A crowd of nearly 200 people gathered at Allen Chapel A.M.E church in Sanford, the local hub for organizers surrounding the Martin cause.

“The mood is just … happy, but still more like a sigh of relief,” said Traymon Williams, 26, who joined his neighbors at the church after watching Corey’s news conference at home. “It feels just like when you have a headache, a migraine and you take an aspirin and you just can feel the pressure slowly starting to ease.”

But both the defense and prosecution face the challenge of trying a case that has drawn extraordinary media scrutiny, and inflamed passions both for and against Zimmerman. Jury selection will be a crucial and difficult task given the tremendous media coverage afforded to the shooting, experts said.

"This case is won or lost in jury selection," Geragos said.

For some, the prosecution of Zimmerman may also be a symbolic test of Florida's ability to conduct a fair trial in a case that has polarized the public and fueled marches and protests across the country. Just last year, Casey Anthony, a young Florida mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, was acquitted of murder, a verdict that many decried as a miscarriage of justice.

"The state of Florida is on trial here," said Kenneth Nunn, a law professor at the University of Florida. "Not just Zimmerman."

For more information on the charges, check out the documents below.

Information On George Zimmerman's Charges

Angela Corey's Speech

News Conference Information

Loading Slideshow...
  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney, for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, talks to the media after the release of 911 call at the Sanford City Hall on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Martin, 17, was shot to death after being confronted by Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman told Sanford Police that he shot the unarmed black teenager in self-defense. Family members are calling for Zimmerman's arrest. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney, for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, talks to the media after the release of 911 call at the Sanford City Hall on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney, for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, talks to the media after the release of 911 call at the Sanford City Hall on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    A memorial for the late Trayvon Martin sits at the neighborhood where he was shot on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Martin, 17, was shot to death after being confronted by Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman, white, told Sanford Police that he shot the unarmed black teenager in self-defense. Family members are calling for Zimmerman's arrest. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Local historian and activist Francis Oliver adjusts a memorial she placed for the late Trayvon Martin at the neighborhood where he was shot on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Valera Pinkard, of Orlando, Fla., holds a sign near a memorial for the late Trayvon Martin at the neighborhood where he was shot on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Sybrina Fulton, mother, of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media with Martin's father Tracy Martin, left, on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Sybrina Fulton, mother, of the late Trayvon Martin, left, hugs Selma Mora Lamilla, after addressing the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Tracy Martin, father, of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Tracy Martin, father, of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin block traffic as they march on W. 14th Street during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters took to the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Tracy Martin (L), and Sybrina Fulton, parents of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, address supporters at a Million Hoodies March on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Family members joined hundreds of protesters calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was was pursued and shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by 'neighborhood watch' member George Zimmerman, reportedly because the teenager's hoodie made him look suspicious. Under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law, Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in the shooting. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, speaks at the Million Hoodies March on March 21, 2012 in New York City. The family members joined hundreds of protesters calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was was pursued and shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by 'neighborhood watch' member George Zimmerman, reportedly because the teenager's hoodie made him look suspicious. Under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law, Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in the shooting. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Federal Government To Investigate Shooting Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin

    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 21: Protesters hold cans of ice tea and Skittles which is what the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is reported to have been carrying when he was killed by neighborhood watch person, George Zimmerman on February 26 in Sanford, Florida, on March 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Justice Department and the FBI opened an investigation into the death of the black teenager, and the local state attorney announced that he had asked a grand jury to investigate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Federal Government To Investigate Shooting Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin

    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 21: Protesters hold cans of ice tea and Skittles which is what the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is reported to have been carrying when he was killed by neighborhood watch person, George Zimmerman on February 26 in Sanford, Florida, on March 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Justice Department and the FBI opened an investigation into the death of the black teenager, and the local state attorney announced that he had asked a grand jury to investigate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: A reporter waits to broadcast at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: People attend a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: A protester holds a sign with pictures of George Zimmerman at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Sanford resident Rodney Stokes carries his son Rodney Stokes Jr. on his shoulder at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Rev. Al Sharpton (R) looks on at a rally with Tracy Martin (R), father of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Rev. Al Sharpton departs as media are reflected in a vehicle window at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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