JACKSONVILLE — The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was arrested and charged with second-degree murder Wednesday after months of mounting tensions and protests across the country.
George Zimmerman, 28, could get up to life in prison if convicted in the slaying of the unarmed black teenager.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges but would not discuss how she arrived at them or disclose other details of her investigation, saying: “That's why we try cases in court.”
Second-degree murder is typically brought in cases when there is a fight or other confrontation that results in death and does not involve a premeditated plan to kill.
Corey said Zimmerman is in law enforcement custody in Florida but would not disclose his exact whereabouts for his safety, and said that he will be in court within 24 hours. On Tuesday, Zimmerman's lawyers announced they were withdrawing from the case because they hadn't heard from him since Sunday and didn't know where he was. They portrayed his mental state as fragile.
Zimmerman's new attorney, Mark O'Mara, said: “I'm expecting a lot of work and hopefully justice in the end.”
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, has asserted since the Feb. 26 killing in Sanford that he shot in self-defense after the teenager attacked him. Martin's family argued Zimmerman was the aggressor.
The shooting brought demands from black leaders for his arrest and set off a furious nationwide debate over race and self-defense that reached all the way to the White House.
“We don’t discuss the evidence in a case. It would be improper to do so,” Corey said in response to reporters’ questions. “So much information got released in this case that never should have been released.”
She emphasized that the decision to bring charges was based on the facts and the law, declaring: “We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition.”
One of the biggest hurdles to Zimmerman's arrest over the past month was Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat in the face of danger.
“If Stand Your Ground becomes an issue we fight it,” Corey said, “if that’s what we think is the proper thing to do.”
She expressed concern that the “overwhelming amount of publicity” could affect prosecutors’ ability to find a fair and impartial jury, adding “It is regrettable that so many facts got released and misconstrued.”
The lack of an arrest had sparked outrage and rallies for justice in the Orlando suburb and across the country.
The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department, and Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down to let passions cool.
Civil rights groups and others have held rallies around the country, saying the shooting was unjustified. Many of the protesters wore the same type of hooded sweat shirt that Martin had on that day, suggesting his appearance and race had something to do with his killing.
The local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take it over.
This story was supplemented with staff reports.
Photo: Trayvon Martin