JACKSONVILLE – Amid furious public pressure to make an arrest in the killing of Trayvon Martin, the special prosecutor on the case went for the maximum Wednesday, bringing a second-degree murder charge against the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed black teenager.
George Zimmerman, 28, was jailed in Sanford – the site of the Feb. 26 shooting that set off a nationwide debate over racial profiling and self-defense – on charges that could put him in prison for life.
In announcing the arrest, prosecutor Angela Corey would not discuss how she reconciled the conflicting accounts of what happened or explain how she arrived at the charges, saying too much information had already been made public. But she made it clear she was not influenced by the uproar during the past six weeks.
“We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts on any given case, as well as the laws of the state of Florida,” Corey said.
Martin’s parents, who were in Washington when the announcement came, expressed relief over the decision to prosecute the killer of their 17-year-old son.
“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?” said his father, Tracy Martin.
Many legal experts had expected the prosecutor to opt for the lesser charge of manslaughter, which usually carries 15 years behind bars and covers reckless or negligent killings, rather than second-degree murder, which involves a killing that results from a “depraved” disregard for human life.
The most severe homicide charge, first-degree murder, is subject to the death penalty in Florida and requires premeditation – something that all sides agreed was not present in this case.
“I predicted manslaughter, so I’m a little surprised,” said Michael Seigel, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Florida. “But she has more facts that I do.”
Zimmerman’s new attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Zimmerman will plead not guilty and 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.
A judge could dismiss the charge based on “stand your ground,” legal experts said. But not if prosecutors can show Zimmerman was to blame.