JACKSONVILLE/SANFORD, Fla., (Reuters) – A special prosecutor in Florida charged neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman with second-degree murder yesterday in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, a move protesters had demanded for weeks in a racially charged case that has riveted the United States.
Zimmerman, 28, who had been in hiding, arrived at Seminole County Jail under arrest after turning himself in. Officers escorted him from a black SUV to the jail with a jacket draped over his head. His new defense lawyer said he would plead not guilty and that a hearing to establish bail could come as soon as today.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey’s decision to charge Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, came 45 days after the fatal shooting in a quiet gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford.
Police had declined to arrest Zimmerman based on his account of self-defense and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, setting off civil rights demonstrations across the country.
“I can tell you we did not come to this decision lightly,” Corey told a news conference in Jacksonville after charging Zimmerman with the most serious crime possible without asserting premeditation.
“Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts of any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida.”
Martin, 17, was on his way back to the home of his father’s fiancee when Zimmerman spotted him and considered him suspicious, calling police and defying their advice to give up following the teenager.
Zimmerman told police he was walking back to his truck when Martin attacked him, decking him with one punch to the nose. Martin then repeatedly slammed Zimmerman’s head against a concrete walkway, Zimmerman’s brother and father have said. Zimmerman then pulled out a 9mm handgun he was licensed to carry and shot Martin once in the chest.
Witnesses heard screams for help and then a gunshot, sounds that were captured on 911 emergency calls by neighbors. It was unclear who was screaming. Martin’s parents said they recognized the voice as their son’s. But Zimmerman’s brother Robert swore it was George Zimmerman pleading for help.