After weeks of national protests, Zimmerman charged in Florida

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A Florida prosecutor charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder Wednesday in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin after weeks of protests demanding his arrest.

Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey said at a news conference in Jacksonville that Mr. Zimmerman, 28, was arrested Wednesday after turning himself in to authorities. She would not say where he was being held, adding that “that’s for his safety and everyone else’s safety.”

Mr. Zimmerman was in jail Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear before a judge in Seminole County within the next 24 hours for a preliminary hearing. He has insisted that he acted in self-defense in the Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed 17-year-old high-school student in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

Florida prosecutors have been criticized for taking too long to file charges against Mr. Zimmerman, but Ms. Corey said Wednesday that “it didn’t take too long.”

“There is a reason cases are tried in a court and not in public and not by the media,” Ms. Corey said.

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., who shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, is seen at left in booking photo provided by the Orange County Jail via the Miami Herald following a 2005 arrest, and at right in an undated but recent photo of Zimmerman taken from the Orlando Sentinel's website. (Associated Press)

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George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., who shot unarmed ... more >

The prosecutor said Monday that she would not bring the case before a grand jury, which meant that Mr. Zimmerman could not be charged with first-degree murder. Second-degree murder in Florida carries a minimum 25-year sentence, and life imprisonment is an option.

The case has ignited a national debate over racial profiling and calls for Mr. Zimmerman’s arrest by liberal advocates and some of the nation’s top black political figures, who say the shooter was motivated by race. Trayvon was black, and Mr. Zimmerman has a white father and Hispanic mother.

Trayvon’s parents reacted with relief at the charges, with his mother, Sybrina Fulton, thanking all the public outrage from her heart, “which has no color.”

“We simply wanted an arrest. We wanted nothing more, nothing less,” she said at a news conference in Washington after the announcement in Florida. “Thank you, Lord, thank you, Jesus.”

The parents were attending a national conference sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Mr. Sharpton quickly took credit for the charges, saying the case had been set aside by authorities until “an outcry from all over this country came because [Trayvon‘s] parents refused to leave it there.”

Public authorities “decided to review [the case] based on public pressure” and “had there not been pressure, there would not have been a second look,” Mr. Sharpton said at the televised news conference, which began as soon as Ms. Corey’s news conference had ended.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Zimmerman hired a new attorney after his former counsels said Tuesday that he had cut off contact with them and, as a result, they could no longer represent him.

Mark O’Mara said Wednesday evening that his client would plead not guilty and would ask for bail at Thursday’s hearing, despite the possible danger to Mr. Zimmerman, who has become the object of death threats, public vilification and bounties from the Black Panthers.

“I want him around, so I can have free access to him,” Mr. O’Mara said, adding Mr. Zimmerman was “rational” and had been told to “stay calm; listen to my advice.”

He added that he hoped that all the “high emotions” surrounding the case might dissipate and his client can get a fair trial.

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