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State Attorney Angela Corey announced on Wednesday that George Zimmerman is facing a charge of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman faces a charge of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and he was transported to the Seminole County Jail on Wednesday.
”Today we filed an information charging George Zimmerman with murder in the second degree," said State Attorney Angela Corey said at a news conference in Jacksonville, referring to a formal charging document.
Zimmerman's new attorney, Mark O'Mara, told reporters in Orlando that his client will plead not guilty.
"I think anyone who would be charged with second-degree murder would be scared," he said.
O'Mara said he would argue for bond for Zimmerman, 28, in Seminole County on Thursday. Officials said Zimmerman will be court at 1:30 p.m.
“Quite honestly, I have not been involved in his case for very long, so I know nothing more than the media, probably less," he said.
“We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts of any given case, as well as on the laws of the state of Florida," Corey said.
But she wouldn't discuss how she reconciled the conflicting accounts of what happened or explain how she arrived at the charges, saying too much information had been made public already. But she made it clear she was not influenced by the uproar over the past six weeks.
He was taken into the Seminole County Jail Wednesday night, 45 days after he shot Martin in what he said was self-defense.
Corey said Zimmerman will have the right to appear before a magistrate in Seminole County within 24 hours of his arrest, “and thus the formal prosecution will begin."
O'Mara said that Zimmerman turned himself in, and he said he will invoke Florida's powerful "stand your ground" law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat in the face of danger.
The lawyer asked that people not jump to conclusions about his client's guilt and said he is "hoping that the community will calm down" now that charges have been filed.
"He has a lot of hatred focused against him right now. I hope that the hatred settles down," he said.
Trayvon Martin's father Tracy Martin nodded his head at the news of the second-degree murder charge, and he and the 17-year-old's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and others seated to watch Corey’s announcement gathered their hands together.
"We simply wanted an arrest … and we got it and I say thank you. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus," Fulton said.
She told the public: 'I want to say thank you from my heart to your heart."
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he did not initially trust Gov. Rick Scott or his appointment of Corey as a special prosecutor in place of the state attorney for Seminole County. But, he said, "I want to congratulate him and the prosecutor for being what they should be."
“I think they decided to review it based on public pressure," Sharpton said. "Had there not been pressure there would not have been a second look."
“Tonight maybe America can come together and say only the facts should matter when you’re dealing with a loss of life," Sharpton said.
Sharpton – who is a host on MSNBC, which like NBC 6 is owned by NBCUniversal, said there would be no gloating and that he was still mourning with Martin's family.
"This is not a night for celebration. This is a night that should not have happened in the first place," he said.
Corey said she spoke with Trayvon Martin's parents just before her conference began.
“It is less than three weeks ago that we told those sweet parents that we would get answers for their questions no matter where those questions led us,” she said, and that search for justice brought them to this moment.
Zimmerman's two previous attorneys announced Tuesday that they were no longer representing him, after he stopped returning phone calls and emails. After the lawyers said they would be launching a website for him, he rolled out his own, therealgeorgezimmerman.com, to defend himself and raise funds for his legal defense.
O'Mara said he had not seen Zimmerman's site.
"We're communicating well," he said. "He's concerned about getting a fair trial and about getting a fair presentation."
“Mr. Zimmerman needs a very good and focused defense, so we’re going to build him one," he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Martin's parents spoke at the National Action Network convention, where they continued to push for Zimmerman's arrest. More than seven weeks after the incident, Tracy Martin said, "George Zimmerman is still walking free and my son is in a mausoleum."
Corey said that when they met with Martin's parents shortly after she was appointed by Scott, they opened the meeting in prayer. Corey said they did not promise Martin and Fulton anything.
Sharpton, who is president of the National Action Network, also commented about non-violence at the network's convention Wednesday.
"This family has said from the beginning, and we that came in early have said and I repeat, we do not condone or support in any way, any acts or language of violence," he said.
Corey announced Monday that she wouldn't be taking the case to a grand jury, but said her decision not to use it shouldn't be considered a factor in the final determination of the case.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump responded to the news of Zimmerman's second-degree murder charge by thanking the millions of people who signed a Change.org petition calling for his arrest and the young people who marched "and said that we refuse to stand for this."
“We also believed from day one that if you looked at that evidence fairly and impartially, that you would have to come to the conclusion that he had to be arrested and that this had to go before a judge and a jury," Crump said.
Zimmerman's brother expressed his displeasure with the prosecutor's decision on CNN, saying he would have hoped for "the more courageous tactic, which would have just been simply to say we’re not prosecuting, and here’s why.”
“This is an unfortunate outcome, but we’re a strong family," Robert Zimmerman Jr. said. "We are prepared for it, and we’re prepared for the rest of our American justice system to have its say in what ultimately should work out, in the end, to exonerate my brother."
Martin was visiting with his father at his father's girlfriend's home in a gated community and was walking back from a 7-Eleven when he was shot by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, on the night of Feb. 26.
Zimmerman had spotted the teen and called 911, telling the dispatcher he was following Martin. The dispatcher told him not to, but Martin and Zimmerman got into a confrontation.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin, who was unarmed, in the scuffle, police said.
Police said Zimmerman had a bloody nose, gash on the back of his head and grass stains on the back of his shirt. His family also claim his nose was broken in the attack.
The Martin family and their attorney say Martin wasn't the aggressor and claim race played a factor in the shooting. Martin was black, while Zimmerman is a biracial Latino.
Sanford Police came under withering criticism for not arresting Zimmerman in the weeks after the shooting. As Martin's parents, Sharpton and other leaders kept advocating an arrest, outrage grew around the country. Numerous rallies were held in Sanford and cities around America, and "I am Trayvon Martin" became a rallying cry.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. was forced to temporarily step down, acknowledging that his presence as the chief had become a distraction, while standing by his department and its investigation. He had said there was no probable cause to arrest Zimmerman, citing the state's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law.
On Wednesday, Zimmerman's former lawyers, Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, appeared on NBC's "Today Show," where they explained some more why they decided to stop representing him. Sonner said that they still hadn't heard from him.
"I've tried to contact him many times, his family has tried to contact him, he's not returning calls to me, he is calling other people," Sonner said. "He's not returning emails to me, he's not returning text messages, the only conclusion I can draw is he doesn't want us to represent him any more. It's my ethical duty to step down."
Sonner and Uhrig said they decided to stop representing Zimmerman after he contacted Corey against their advice.
"The relationship no longer exists, based on learning from the special prosecutor directly that he had contacted them," Uhrig said. "When they said 'we wont talk to you without your lawyers,' he said 'well, they don't really represent me now, they were just my legal advisers so I can come in and talk to you.'"
Corey said that when Zimmerman called her "we called his lawyers" because to do otherwise would be a breach of ethics.
Uhrig said Zimmerman's actions "don't speak of someone who's completely doing very well."
"We're expressing a concern for his emotional state given the way that the actions have taken place recently," Uhrig said. "It casts him in a more favorable light to let the public know he's not a bad guy, he's may just be an emotionally beat down guy by this process."
Corey, based in the Jacksonville area, was appointed the special prosecutor in the case by Scott on March 22 after State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, whose district covers Sanford, recused himself.
Scott also appointed a task force led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to hold hearings about the shooting and make recommendations for changing state laws and procedures. The U.S. Justice Department and FBI are also investigating the shooting.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is conducting a thorough review of the evidence and will take appropriate action if they find evidence that a federal criminal civil rights crime was committed.
"I know that many of you are greatly – and rightly – concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages," Holder said during an appearance at the National Action Network convention.
"If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action," the attorney general said. "I also can make you another promise: that at every level of today's Justice Department – preventing and combating youth violence and victimization is, and will continue to be, a top priority."
After the charge against Zimmerman was announced, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said that the "more thorough investigation" conducted by Corey "only happened because people marched, met, prayed, rallied and demanded that the criminal justice system not look the other way."
Zimmerman is presumed innocent until proven guilty, it reiterated.
It is not in dispute that Zimmerman killed Martin, Miami Congresswoman Frederica Wilson pointed out, "but letting him enjoy his freedom for 45 days was unconscionable."
"While this chapter in the Trayvon Martin case may be over, we still need to have an honest and open discussion of the hard truths that led to this tragedy. Trayvon’s death must not be in vain," she said. "Racial profiling still exists in our country. There’s a level of distrust between law enforcement and black men. These are difficult conversations to have, but we must have them so that there will be no more tragedies like Trayvon’s.”