National News

Trayvon Martin shooter charged with second-degree murder

Posted April 11, 2012 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2012 10:59 p.m. EDT

— After weeks of mounting tension and protests across the U.S., a special prosecutor has brought a second-degree murder charge against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February.

Zimmerman, who claimed he acted in self-defense, surrendered to authorities in Florida, state attorney Angela Corey said in a news conference early Wednesday. She declined to say where he was.

Zimmerman's defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, said his client would plead not guilty. O'Mara was retained after Zimmerman's two previous attorneys quit Tuesday amid concerns about their client's whereabouts and mental state.

Corey announced the charges minutes after she said she spoke with Martin's parents by phone.

"It is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment," she said.

She declined to comment on any facts of the case or what evidence led to charges, but Corey said she and her investigation team "did not come to this decision lightly."

"We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts of any given case and based on the laws of the state of Florida," Corey said.

Zimmerman, 28, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, said the teenager attacked him. Martin's family argued Zimmerman was the aggressor.

After hearing about the charges, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, thanked everyone who rallied in support of her son.

"I just want to speak from my heart to your heart, because a heart has no color. It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s red," Fulton said, tearfully. "I just want to say, ‘Thank you,’ from my heart to your heart."

Rev. Al Sharpton, who has led some of the public protests, said that although he was pleased at the outcome, he didn’t want anyone to lose sight of the tragedy of Martin's death.

"This is not a night for celebration. It is a night that should have never happened in the first place," Sharpton said.

The Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed black teenager brought demands from black leaders for Zimmerman's arrest and set off a furious nationwide debate over race and self-defense that reached all the way to the White House and resonated here in the Triangle.

On Wednesday afternoon, in a march that was planned weeks before Corey announced she would bring charges against Zimmerman, students at North Carolina Central University gathered to bring attention to the case.

"Had this been Trayvon Martin as the shooter in similar circumstances, charges would have been brought," said NCCU law professor Irv Joyner.

Law student Myles Fleming said the national dialogue over Martin's death was necessary for justice.

"We need to keep this conversation going and not let it fade, so we can affect change," he said.

Six weeks ago, Martin was returning to the home of his father's fiancée from a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers that Martin looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman used his gun.

Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up chasing the teenager and was returning to his truck. He told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman's father said that Martin threatened to kill his son and that Zimmerman suffered a broken nose.

A video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting as Zimmerman arrived at the Sanford police station showed him walking unassisted without difficulty. There were no visible bandages or blood on his clothing, but Zimmerman may have had a small wound on the back of his head.