By Kevin Johnson, Marisol Bello and Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY
George Zimmerman will face murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin, special prosecutor Angela Corey announced Wednesday night. He will face charges for murder in the second degree, she said.
"It is the search for justice for Trayvon that brought us here today," Corey said during a press conference Wednesday evening.
Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, is in custody, but Corey said she would not say where "for his safety as well as everyone else's safety."
"I can tell you we did not come to this decision lightly," Corey said. "We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition." she said.
She said she spoke with Martin's parents moments before her announcement.
"We launched an intensive investigation building on the work by the Sanford Police Department," and the previous prosecutor.
She said Zimmerman turned himself in.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Latina, told police he shot Trayvon in self-defense after following the unarmed black teen in a gated Sanford community Feb. 26.
The decision on charges in this case is a particularly brutal and difficult choice, legal and forensic analysts say.
Zimmerman's claim of self-defense, Florida's stand your ground law, questions about racial profiling, intense public attention and nationwide rallies calling for Zimmerman's arrest have combined to make the case a complicated stew, the analysts say.
Michelle Jacobs, a defense attorney and law professor at the University of Florida who teaches about the role of race in prosecutions, said self-defense is difficult to establish in this case because it's unclear who was defending himself against whom.
"If Trayvon Martin perceived an unknown individual to be a threat to his safety, then he was entitled under the self-defense law to protect himself," she said.
She said the case is further hampered because police did not fully investigate after the shooting. For example, Sanford police conducted toxicology tests for drugs and alcohol on Martin, but not Zimmerman.
"We lose the opportunity to get that kind of information because of a lack of thorough police work," she said.
Jacobs said, Corey is "going to have to eat her Wheaties because no one is going to be satisfied no matter what she decides. ...There is no easy choice she can make."
Even if the case does get to a jury, she said it could be another Casey Anthony case, in which the jury acquitted the mother of killing her toddler because jurors said there was not enough evidence to convict. Corey is "hamstrung by the reality of the what's been given to her," Jacobs said.
Little by way of physical evidence has been released publicly. Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensics expert at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the physical evidence the autopsy and ballistics reports for example will likely play an important role for the prosecution because the eyewitness accounts are unreliable in this case.
Witnesses who called 911 or have spoken to the media have said it was dark. Some say they heard the scuffle between the men, but didn't see it.
"In this case, the witnesses give contradictory statements," he said. "It's a mess. It's a total mess."
He says the evidence should be what guides the decision to arrest Zimmerman.
"It's the politically correct thing to have him arrested, but I don't know that there is enough evidence," Kobilinsky said.
David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and a former prosecutor, said self-defense cases are most often the most difficult to prosecute. Often, the killer and victim know each other or are from the same neighborhoods and deciphering what actually happened is difficult if one of the witnesses is dead and there are no others to refute or corroborate the suspect's version of events.
"There are a lot of other sides to them," LaBahn said.
There's no guarantee Zimmerman will face trial. The case may yet be thrown out under the state's stand-your-ground law.
George Dekle, a University of Florida law professor who prosecuted serial killer Ted Bundy, said that if Zimmerman is charged the court will hold a hearing to determine if he is entitled to immunity from prosecution under stand your ground.
If a judge finds there is insufficient evidence to show that Zimmerman acted in any way other than self-defense, he can toss the case out of court.
"This is no fun case for a prosecutor," Dekle said. "You will get one group of people or another after you like a pack of wolves. ...No matter what happens you are going to get toasted."
Trayvon's parents, in Washington to attend the National Action Network convention, said they were "confident'' in the criminal justice system and appealed for a peaceful reaction to whatever decision is announced by the Florida special prosecutor. The network, a civil rights group, has been calling for an arrest in the case.
"It's been a nightmare for 44 days,'' said Sybrina Fulton, the slain teenager's mother, referring to the time since her son was killed. "God is holding me up and keeping me. ... I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that justice will be served.''
Benjamin Crump, the family's attorney, said it was "troubling'' for the parents when they heard Zimmerman's lawyers announce this week that they were withdrawing from the case and that they were not certain of Zimmerman's location.
"The killer of Trayvon Martin is unaccounted for,'' Crump said. "His (former) lawyers said he wasn't in the state of Florida. We're very concerned about that.''
Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the network, which has been leading a series of protests in wake of Trayvon's death, also called for calm in anticipation of the prosecutor's decision.
"Trayvon Martin's name must not be tarnished,'' Sharpton said. "We denounce anything other than non-violence. We are not in the business of revenge. We are in the business of justice.''
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who also spoke at the convention, pledged that an ongoing federal civil rights inquiry into Trayvon's death would be "a thorough and independent review of the evidence.''
"Although I cannot share where current efforts will lead us from here,'' Holder said, "I can assure you that, in this investigation and in all cases we will examine the facts and the law.
In Sanford, the Rev. Harry Rucker, pastor of First Shiloh Baptist Church, said he feared Sanford could erupt in violence if Zimmerman is not charged.
"The system seems to be protecting this individual," said Rucker of Zimmerman. "This whole situation is larger than Trayvon Martin. It's about the ills in our country. It's about hatred and violence. ... There are some real violent activists who want to inflict violence if a warrant isn't issued. They are waiting for an opportunity to get violent."
He said without charges against Zimmmerman, he and others would lose confidence in the criminal justice system.
Rucker said if the right thing is done, Zimmerman will be charged with a crime and a warrant will be issued for his arrest. However, he added that he feared even if charges are filed, locating Zimmerman more than a month after the shooting may prove to be a challenge.
Sentiments ran strong elsewhere in Florida. Charles Favors, past president of the Melbourne-based chapter of the NAACP, said he believes a crime was commited.
"Somebody had to be responsible for that crime," he said. "Whether he's guilty or innocent, the system says you must go to trial. You must have your day in court.
"I know if I shot somebody, I'd go to court," Favors said.
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY
Official tells AP: Trayvon Martin's killer to be charged with 2nd-degree murder; is in custody.
Numerous media sources are reporting that criminal charges will be filed against George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
The 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., Feb. 26, in what Zimmerman has said through his lawyers was self-defense.
NBC News, CNN, the Associated Press, and Washington Post are all saying that the news is expected in the new few hours, possibly at a news conference scheduled for 6 pm to release new information.
It is not clear what charge Zimmerman will face.