Forty five days after Florida cops refused to arrest George Zimmerman for killing an unarmed black teenager — sparking a national civil rights crusade — officials charged him Wednesday with second degree murder in Trayvon Martin’s death.
"It is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us here,” Special Prosecutor Angela Corey told a packed press conference in Jacksonville, Fla.
“We did not come to this decision lightly. We do not prosecute by public pressure nor by petition.”
Zimmerman was already in custody somewhere in Florida, she said, refusing to be specific.
“So much information got released on this case that should never have been released,” she said. “There has been overwhelming amount of publicity that we hope will not keep us from picking a fair and impartial jury.”
Corey said she had prayed with Trayvon’s mother and father, whom she called “those sweet parents.”
Martin family lawyer Ben Crump hailed the decision.
“From day one, there was enough evidence to arrest George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin,” Crump said.
“Zimmerman will have his day in court and Trayvon’s family will have their day in court. That’s all we’ve been asking for.”
Corey chided the public for the marches and petitions demanding Zimmerman’s arrest, saying people should have been more patient.
“We have numerous homicides in which an arrest was not made immediately. To us it did not seem unusual,” Corey said.
Trayvon’s mom, Sybrina Fulton, was overcome by emotion.
“We simply wanted an arrest - and we got it. And I say thank you. Thank you Lord. Thank you Jesus.”
His father, Tracy Martin, said, “This is just the beginning. We have a long way to go.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, hosting the parents at his National Action Network conference in Washington, D.C., said he believed the decision to charge Zimmerman was not based on public pressure.
“But they decided to review it based on public pressure. Had there not been pressure, there would not have been a second look,” he said.
Sharpton cautioned against celebration.
“We do not want anyone high-fiving tonight. This is not about gloating, this is about pursuing justice,” he said. “They have lost their son.”
Zimmerman, 28, had claimed self defense in the Feb. 26 killing under Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law, which allows anyone who feels threatened to use deadly force. Zimmerman's new attorney, Mark O'Mara, said the Florida man will plead not guilty.
The authors of the law have said it should not apply to Zimmerman because he actively pursued Trayvon.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman’s two former attorneys held an extraordinary news conference to announce they were quitting because they had no idea where their client was.
They said he had gone rogue, setting up a website to solicit donations and speaking with Fox News personality Sean Hannity and trying to reach Corey — all without informing his lawyers.
The attorneys said they had had no contact with Zimmerman since Sunday.
Attorney General Eric Holder also addressed NAN, promising a thorough federal review of the case.
“If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action,” said Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general.
Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles back from the store in an Orlando-area gated community on a drizzly Sunday night when Zimmerman, 28, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, shot him to death.
Zimmerman, who followed the teenager saying he looked suspicious, said Trayvon jumped him and claimed self-defense under Florida’s stand-your-ground law.
Police let him go.
In the subsequent furor, witnesses to the scuffle that have come forward differed sharply over who was the aggressor.
The spread of stand-your-ground laws became a major target of the activists, who questioned whether the black shooter of a white victim would be allowed to walk free so easily.
“I want to see the first black man who uses the ‘stand your ground’ defense and see if it works,” said Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree.