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Trayvon Martin: murder charges

April 11, 2012

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has been charged with murder for the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager. The case sparked national outrage in the US over claims it was racially motivated.

Civil rights activists and protesters gather on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall as they seek justice for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
Image: Reuters

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot dead unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin has been charged with second-degree murder.

Special prosecutor Angela Corey confirmed the charges on Wednesday, adding that 28-year-old Zimmerman had turned himself into authorities and was in police custody. She declined to disclose his exact whereabouts for fear of his safety, but said he would be in court within 24 hours.

Second-degree murder is ordinarily charged when there is no evidence that a killing was premeditated. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Zimmerman's defense lawyer said his client would plead not guilty.

Zimmerman shot Martin dead on February 26 while the teenager was walking to the home of his father's fiancee outside Orlando. Zimmerman followed him, informing police dispatchers that he seemed suspicious. A fight is believed to have ensued and Zimmerman pulled out his gun. Zimmerman alleges that he acted in self-defense.

At the time police declined to arrest Zimmerman on the grounds that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law permits people to use deadly force if they believe they are in danger of being murdered or suffering severe bodily harm.

Wednesday's developments come a day after Zimmerman's defense lawyers were forced to withdraw from the case after previously admitting that they didn’t know where he was. He was reported to have gone into hiding and was suffering from stress as a result of the high public interest in the case.

Public outrage

The Martin case has sparked a furious national debate about race relations and the right to self-defense. A Florida law that permits the use of deadly force when a person has reasonable fear of being killed or at risk of serious injury is now under serious scrutiny.

The case has seized the attention of the highest levels of government. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Justice Department was undertaking an independent review of the case after launching its own separate investigation three weeks ago.

ccp, sej/slk (AFP, Reuters, AP)