George Zimmerman claims he acted in self-defense on the night he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
SANFORD – If there truly was going to be an arrest, it was almost as if it had happened on the Internet.
First, the news flashes started coming across in the form of emails sent to subscribers of the various news services: word that George Zimmerman was about to be arrested in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
NBC’s Pete Williams wrote by 4:43 p.m. today that the office of special prosecutor Angela Corey would hold a news conference in Jacksonville at 6 p.m.
“The special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case will announce criminal charges against George Zimmerman on Wednesday, a law enforcement official told NBC News,” Williams and M. Alex Johnson of wrote on the station’s website. “The nature of the charges wasn’t immediately known. …. But because Angela Corey — the special prosecutor appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to re-examine the case — previously announced that she wouldn’t take the case to a grand jury, first-degree murder is not an option.”
Corey’s office released a statement saying it would hold a news conference “to release new information regarding the Trayvon Martin shooting death investigation.”
Then Scott’s office issued a statement at 4:39 p.m. today, in anticipation of Corey’s announcement, which seemed to reflect a hope that her decision wouldn’t set off any further protests or prompt any local violence in response.
“We are fortunate in our state that most Floridians and local civic leaders are law-abiding, responsible citizens who all want justice to prevail,” Scott said. “No matter what State Attorney Corey determines following her investigation of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I trust in the goodness of all Florida citizens to allow our justice system to reach an appropriate conclusion in this case.”
Then shortly after 6 p.m., Corey held the news conference in Jacksonville to announce that Zimmerman was being charged with second degree murder.
“It is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment,” Corey said. “I can tell you that we did not come to this decision lightly.”
When her office charges someone with a crime, Corey said, they are equally committed to seeing justice done for the person being charged as they are for the victim.
“I will confirm that Mr. Zimmerman is indeed in custody,” she said. “I will not tell you where. That is for his safety, as well as everyone else’s safety.”
She added that Zimmerman had turned himself in to authorities today, and would appear before a judge in Seminole County this week. He was being transferred to the Seminole County Jail in Sanford this evening.
Asked if she felt certain her office had gathered enough evidence to convict Zimmerman, Corey responded, “We have to have a reasonable certainty of conviction before we can file charges.”
Robert Buonauro, a legal analyst for Orlando TV station Eyewitness News 9, told the station that he didn’t know enough about the evidence that the prosecution had to say whether they could in fact secure a conviction, but he added, “I think it’s a very defendable case.”
At 6:31 p.m., shortly after Corey completed her press conference, the governor’s office issued another statement from Scott, which read: “This matter is now in the hands of the judicial system, and I am confident justice will prevail. As the process continues, it is critical that we be patient and allow the proceedings to move forward in a fair and transparent manner. I thank State Attorney Angela Corey for her diligence in conducting a thorough investigation. We will all continue to look for answers to the Trayvon Martin tragedy.”
Zimmerman arrived at the Seminole County Jail around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Hours before he did, Allen Moore, the public information officer for the Orange County Corrections Department — which oversees the much larger 33rd Street jail in Orlando — issued a statement to the press, which read, “In response to multiple calls from media outlets: Suspect George Zimmerman is not being held at the Orange County Corrections Department and we do not anticipate that he would ever be transferred to Orange County Corrections custody.”
The issue that’s been confronting Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch commander at a gated community in Sanford, for the past month was whether he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin. When Zimmerman was not initially charged in Martin’s death, it led to allegations of racial bias and racial profiling, of corruption or incompetence within the Sanford Police Department, and of a justice system that values the life of African Americans less than whites. Martin was black, while Zimmerman is of Hispanic descent.
On Feb. 26, Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman. Martin had been walking from a convenience store to the home of his father’s girlfriend at a development known as The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Seminole County. Zimmerman was reported to have called the Sanford Police Department to say he’d witnessed suspicious behavior in his development, and it led to a confrontation between the two men.
Martin was shot death at the scene.
Responding officers handcuffed Zimmerman and took him into custody, but he wasn’t formally arrested. Although it’s been reported that the lead homicide investigator wasn’t convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and wanted to charge him with manslaughter, the state attorney’s office responsible for Brevard and Seminole counties refused, citing insufficient evidence.
Martin’s parents and their attorney began speaking out, demanding to know why Zimmerman had not been charged when a teenager was left dead. Soon there were protests outside of Sanford City Hall and the Sanford Police Station that just got larger by the day. Prominent civil rights leaders, including Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, attended the rallies and called for a full investigation.
As national news cameras flocked into Sanford and Miami to cover the protests, Gov. Scott intervened and appointed Corey, of the state’s 4th Judicial Circuit, as the newly assigned State Attorney in the investigation of Martin’s death.
On Monday, Corey announced that she would not be sending this case to a grand jury, raising speculation that she was either prepared to filed criminal charges against Zimmerman, or drop the case entirely.
Then on Tuesday, Zimmerman’s attorneys, Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, said they were no longer going to be representing him because he had been taking actions without consutling them, and they no longer knew where he was.
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