SANFORD, Fla. -- Seminole County State Attorney Norman R. Wolfinger Thursday night removed himself from the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager whose killing by a town watch volunteer last month sparked national outrage.
“In the interest of the public safety of the citizens of Seminole County and to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, I would respectfully request the executive assignment of another state attorney for the investigation and any prosecution arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon B. Martin,” Wolfinger said in a statement released about 9:15 p.m. “This request is being made in light of the public good with the intent of toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation.”
Gov. Rick Scott met with the Martin's family and their legal team earlier today and assured them that Wolfinger would step down from the case, according to a family lawyer. Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, the prosecutor in the Jacksonville area, to replace Wolfinger on the investigation. The governor said on Thursday night that a state task force would review Florida's Stand Your Ground law and recommend changes "so that we might help avoid such tragedies in the future."
Wolfinger’s decision was the second major shakeup in the case Thursday. Earlier, police Chief Bill Lee Jr. said during a hastily called press conference that he would temporarily resign as head of the Sanford police. Lee came into office less than a year ago, on the heels of another scandal that forced out his predecessor.
Lee has been at the center of the investigation into Martin’s Feb. 26 killing and has come under fire for what Martin’s family and a growing sea of their supporters say has been a botched investigation at best, and a cover-up at worst.
George Zimmerman, 28, told police that he shot the Miami native during a confrontation inside a gated community where Martin’s father lived. Zimmerman told the police that he noticed Martin, who he described in a call to 911 as a “suspicious” person who appeared to be on drugs. He then followed Martin, 17, against the recommendation of the 911 dispatcher. At some point the police said Martin noticed that he was being followed, questioned Zimmerman, and then a physical altercation ensued. Zimmerman reportedly ended up with a bloody nose. Martin ended up with a gunshot to the chest.
Zimmerman claimed self-defense. The police questioned him, but then let him go, saying they did not have enough evidence to charge him.
Police turned their investigation over to the State Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to charge Zimmerman. On Monday, Wolfinger announced he would assemble a grand jury on April 10.
At the time, Wolfinger asked that “the public remain patient as this process continues forward.” Soon after that, the U.S. Justice Department joined the investigation, along with the FBI. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that it too would be adding its investigative muscle to the case.
Wolfinger said in his statement Thursday that he said he was confident in the ability of his office to “conduct a fair and impartial investigation.”
“I have already committed experienced career prosecutors and investigators to this task who have been working diligently in conjunction with" the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Wolfinger said. “We will cooperate fully with the appointed state attorney to assure a smooth transition of the investigation and the April 10, 2012, convening of the Seminole County Grand Jury.
Corey, the newly appointed prosecutor from Jacksonville, told a local television news station that she has been prosecuting homicides for 25 years of her 30-year career. She plans to visit Sanford on Friday.
"The governor called me late this afternoon and I accepted his request and we will begin tomorrow to look into the facts and circumstances in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin," Corey told WJXT. "It requires a thorough investigation, extensive interviews of every witness and extensive review of all evidence," Corey said. "And then a determination of how we apply Florida's law to the facts of any case."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday night the state will assemble a task force to study the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows deadly force anywhere in self-defense. The lieutenant governor will lead the task force. The House speaker and Senate president will help name members and the group will begin work as soon as the criminal probe into Martin's killing finishes, Scott said.
“As law enforcement investigates the death of Trayvon Martin, Floridians and others around the country have rightly recognized this as a terrible tragedy," Scott said in a statement. "Like all Floridians, I believe we must take steps to ensure tragedies like this are avoided. After listening to many concerned citizens in recent days, I will call for a task force on citizen safety and protection to investigate how to make sure a tragedy such as this does not occur in the future, while at the same time, protecting the fundamental rights of all of our citizens -- especially the right to feel protected and safe in our state."
Scott said the task force would "thoroughly review" the Stand Your Ground law and recommend changes to it and other laws that might be found lacking.
UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. -- This article has been updated to include information from the state attorney's statement.
BEFORE YOU GO
04/30/2012 3:14 PM EDT
George Zimmerman defense team launches social media campaign.
The defense team for George Zimmerman, the man charged with murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has launched a new website, Facebook and Twitter account designed to dispute misinformation and provide "a voice for Mr. Zimmerman."
"We understand that it is unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant, but we also acknowledge that this is a very unusual case," Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, wrote on the website, gzlegalcase.com.
O’Mara said that "social media in this day and age cannot be ignored," and that it would be “irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation” around his client's case.
04/20/2012 3:17 PM EDT
Judge Grants George ZImmerman Bail
A Florida judge has granted bail for George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch captain accused of second-degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set Zimmerman's bond at $150,000, but said he would not be released today, pending deliberations about the terms of the release.
The bail hearing featured dramatic testimony from Zimmerman, who took the stand and offered an apology to Martin's parents.
"I wanted to say that I am sorry for the loss of your son," Zimmerman said, adding that he did not know how old Martin was or that he was unarmed.
"I thought he was a little bit younger than I am," he said. "I did not know whether he was armed or not."
04/18/2012 6:23 PM EDT
Judge in case steps down due to concerns over conflict of interest.
The judge who was set to preside over the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin has stepped aside.
Jessica Reckseidler's recusal from the trial comes after Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, suggested that her husband's job as a partner to Mark NeJame, a CNN legal analyst covering the trial, represented a conflict of interest.
NeJame was initially contacted by Zimmerman's family to represent him, but NeJame suggested O'Mara.
The new judge in the case will be Kenneth R. Lester, Jr., who has presided over several much-covered cases, including ordering the release of a schizophrenic woman from a state mental hospital after she was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting deaths of her parents and sentencing an ax murderer to death after he killed a 71-year-old man. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Lester is popular among attorneys and is known for acting quickly.
The judge who would have been next in line to handle the Zimmerman case after Jessica Reckseidler could not take on the case because he had previously worked with O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney.
04/18/2012 6:22 PM EDT
Michelle Obama: Martin's death a 'tragedy.'
First lady Michelle Obama says her "heart goes out to the parents" of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
Mrs. Obama says in an interview with NPR that all parents understand "the tragedy of that kind of loss." Martin was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who has claimed self-defense.
The first lady says it's important "not to lose sight of the fact that this is a family that's grieving and there's been a tremendous loss." She says, "we all have to rally around that piece of it."
Police initially didn't charge Zimmerman in the Sanford, Fla., shooting, leading to nationwide protests. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder last week.
04/18/2012 6:18 PM EDT
Scrutiny for Sanford puts cramp on small businesses.
As scores of media personnel and activists descended upon the area, residents and businesses found themselves facing very public scrutiny and a growing fear that the community was harboring a racially hostile environment -- which prompted locals to cut back on their normal routines, including shopping. "There was an air that the community was on the verge of bad activity or violence and that is not the case," Nicholas Mcray, Sanford's director of economic development, said. "There was never any kind of trend of violence, but that was the perception put out by the media."
While it's been weeks since the shooting, the small businesses that make up Sanford's historic downtown continue to suffer, with some businesses seeing up to a 50 percent drop in activity. "A few convenience retailers are seeing a 2 to 3 percent increase, but the downtown area is really taking a hit," Mcray said.
04/18/2012 6:16 PM EDT
ALEC, lobbying group behind Stand Your Ground laws, changes tack.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the controversial corporate-sponsored lobbying group whose push for "stand your ground" gun laws and voter ID legislation ignited grassroots protests, announced Tuesday that it is getting out of the social policy field to focus on core economic issues.
Corporations associated with ALEC had been under siege from public interest and civil rights groups who demanded they cut ties with ALEC, most recently because of its successful push to pass "stand your ground" legislation in multiple states. Florida's version of that law has been cited as a reason why neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was not initially charged in the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Several companies -- including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Kraft and Intuit -- had already distanced themselves from ALEC before Tuesday's surprise announcement.
04/11/2012 8:42 PM EDT
George Zimmerman arrives at jail
The Associated Press is reporting that Zimmerman has arrived at jail.
04/11/2012 7:04 PM EDT
George Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder, in custody
Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced that George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder.
According to CNN, Zimmerman turned himself in and has a new attorney, Mark O'Mara. During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, he former employees announced that they had lost contact with Zimmerman and would no longer be representing him in the case.
If convicted, Zimmerman could face life in prison.
04/11/2012 3:06 PM EDT
Reports: Zimmerman to be charged in Trayvon Martin's death.
A day after George Zimmerman's attorneys stepped down because they had lost contact with him, the special prosecutor in the case will bring charges against him, according to reports.
The Washington Post is reporting that special prosecutor Angela Corey will announce charges against Zimmerman for his role in Trayvon Martin's shooting death. Earlier this week, Corey said she would not convene a grand jury in the case. Under Florida law, only grand juries can issue murder charges, which means that Zimmerman will face lesser charges.
04/10/2012 12:55 PM EDT
Police car shot several times near scene of Martin shooting.
Around 4:30 a.m. this morning, an empty police car near the gated community where Trayvon Martin was shot through with bullets several times. The police in Sanford are investigating the crime.
Sanford's police department has come under withering criticism for its handling of the case. Yesterday, a group of student protesters blocked the entrance to the police headquarters, forcing the department to shut down for several hours.