By Sari Horwitz, Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 4:34 PM
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed Trayvon Martin, was charged with second-degree murder Wednesday in a case that has riveted the nation.
Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charge at an early-evening news conference in Jacksonville. She said Zimmerman had turned himself in and was being held in the state.
“It is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment,” Corey said. She said she had informed Martin’s parents of the outcome of her investigation.
Under Florida law, a conviction is punishable by life in prison.
Martin, 17, was fatally shot Feb. 26 while walking to a townhouse in Sanford, Fla., where he was staying with his father and his father’s fiancee. He was on the way back from nearby convenience store, where he bought a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.
Zimmerman, who had called the police to report a suspicious person in his neighborhood, has maintained that he was acting in self-defense when he pulled a 9 mm and shot Martin, who was unarmed, after the two got into a scuffle.
Sanford police decided not to charge Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows a person to use force in self-defense when there is a reasonable belief of a threat. The decision prompted a wave of protests, led in part by Martin’s parents.
His mother, Sybrina Fulton, expressed appreciation Wednesday evening for the prosecutor’s action.
“We feel much closer to justice with the decision to bring charges against our son’s killer. We are thankful to the millions of people around the world who signed the petition on Change.org and called for justice for Trayvon,” she said in a statement.
Zimmerman has been in hiding for more than 40 days since the incident. The two lawyers who had been representing Zimmerman, Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, withdrew from the case Tuesday, saying Zimmerman had taken actions without consulting them.
Media reports Wednesday said Zimmerman had retained new counsel.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s parents, has said for days that he was “cautiously optimistic” that Zimmerman would be arrested and charged in the case. The Martins were in Washington on Wednesday to attend the annual convention of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton has helped lead some of the protests demanding Zimmerman’s arrest. Many of the protesters wore hooded sweatshirts in memory of Martin, who was described by Zimmerman as wearing a hoodie when he called the 911 dispatcher the night of the shooting.
Corey, a Florida state attorney, was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the case after State Attorney Norm Wolfinger recused himself. Wolfinger had scheduled a grand jury for April 10, but Corey announced this week that she was not going to bring the Martin case before the grand jury.