Updated: George Zimmerman is in custody in Florida and will be charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, authorities announced today.
“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to re-examine the case, said at a news conference in Jacksonville.
Corey had previously said she wouldn’t present the case to a grand jury, which took first-degree murder off the table. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Corey said she decided last week to seek the charge but needed several days to make sure all details were in order. She said she had informed Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.
“This is about justice, justice and only justice,” Ben Crump, the attorney for Martin’s parents, said in Washington at a news conference at a gathering of the National Action Network.
(The National Action Network is a project of the Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC-TV’s “PoliticsNation,” who has played a prominent role in advocating for charges against Zimmerman.)
Kerry Sanders and Pete Williams of NBC News and NBC station WESH of Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report by M. Alex Johnson of msnbc.com. Follow M. Alex Johnson on Twitter and Facebook.
Corey refused to discuss details of the case, saying she was committed to protecting the interests of both Martin and Zimmerman.
“So much information on this case has gotten released that should never have been released,” she said.
Under Florida law, Zimmerman, 28, must be taken before a judge within 24 hours of his return to Seminole County, where he has acknowledged he shot and killed Martin, 17, in the town of Sanford on Feb. 26.
“He will be taken when it’s appropriate for the appropriate appearance before a judge,” said Corey, who wouldn’t say where Zimmerman was being held to protect his safety.
Zimmerman is being represented by Mark O’Mara, an Orlando lawyer and former prosecutor, after his previous attorneys said Tuesday that they had lost touch with their client and were withdrawing from the case.
Authorities in Sanford began preparing early in the day for public reaction to the announcement. Several counties in the region activated their emergency operations centers and were on heightened alert, NBC News’ Kerry Sanders reported from Sanford, while Seminole County sheriff’s deputies spent Wednesday morning setting up barricades along the booking area for new inmates at the county jail, NBC station WESH of Orlando reported.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Peruvian, says he shot Martin, who was black, in self-defense after following him in a gated community in Sanford. Police questioned Zimmerman but decided against pressing charges.
The lack of an arrest or charges had sparked protests nationwide, with critics alleging that Zimmerman confronted Martin because of his race. Zimmerman’s supporters deny that.
The decision whether to arrest Zimmerman was delayed for several weeks because Zimmerman had indicated that he would argue self-defense under Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law, which shields Floridians from prosecution if a judge determines that the shooting was justified to protect life or proerty.
Corey called the law “a tough affirmative defense to overcome,” but she said, “If ‘Stand Your Ground’ becomes an issue, we will fight it if we think we are on firm ground.”
A federal civil rights investigation is also under way, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Justice Department had to meet a “high bar” to bring any charges.
The main federal role is to “support the state in its ongoing investigation,” Holder told reporters Wednesday morning in Washington. At the same time, he said, the Justice Department is conducting its “own thorough and parallel investigation” to try to resolve the case “in as fair and complete a way and as quickly as we can.”