Video: Zimmerman in custody, charged with murder

  1. Closed captioning of: Zimmerman in custody, charged with murder

    >>> the armed neighborhood watch volunteer who shot an unarmed teenager named trayvon martin after a scuffle, has been charged with murder in the second degree. he has been free, released by police in sanford, florida . he was not arrested until just late today. after weeks of protests and national attention, the case of trayvon martin has now entered a decidedly new phase. our team is in place, and we begin our coverage of this still unfolding tonight with kerry sanders in florida . good evening.

    >> good evening. the special prosecutor has charged george zimmerman with second degree murder. george zimmerman , 28 years old, was taken into custody, according to the special prosecutor . he turned himself into the federal department of law enforcement. there was no issue in the fact that he was taken into custody. he is going to eventually be brought here within the next 24 hours to sanford, to the seminole county court where he will be read the charges officially and also have his first appearance where he can ask for a bond to be released from jail. this is what angela corey had to say just a few minutes ago.

    >> today, we filed an information charging george zimmerman with murder in the second degree. a capias has been issued for his arrest. with the filing of that information and the issuance of the capias, he will have a right to appear in front of a magistrate in seminole county within 24 hours of his arrest and thus formal prosecution will begin.

    >> the special prosecutor says that if zimmerman suggests he did nothing wrong because of florida 's stand your ground law, she will fight that vigorously. now, zimmerman 's new attorney said he's concerned about his client getting a fair trial .

    >> he's concerned about getting a fair trial and a fair presentation. there's obviously been a lot of information flowing. i think a lot of it has been both premature and maybe inappropriate. i don't think a case like this should be tried here, and it's not going to be.

    >> defense attorney marcos maris said when zimmerman is arraigned on the charges, he will plead not guilty.

    >> kerry sanders starting off our coveragesanford, florida , tonight.

By Reporter
updated 4/11/2012 7:53:19 PM ET 2012-04-11T23:53:19

Legal experts expressed surprise that a Florida state prosecutor is seeking a second-degree murder charge against George Zimmerman, the block watch volunteer who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a scuffle, given that he wasn't arrested or charged the night of the fateful altercation.

Zimmerman’s legal team is expected to invoke the controversial “Stand Your Ground” provision of Florida law as a key strategy in defending him against the charge, which was announced Wednesday evening by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey.

The lack of an immediate arrest or charges in the case had sparked protests in many cities around the country and inflamed debates about race and crime in America.

Martin was black. Zimmerman has a white father and a Hispanic mother.

Zimmerman could face up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara said his client would plead not guilty to the charges. He asked people not to jump to conclusions about his client's guilt.

Video: Facts ‘ambiguous’ in Trayvon Martin shooting

Zimmerman is likely to be tried before a jury in Sanford, Fla., where the killing took place Feb. 26, though defense attorneys may argue that the trial should be moved to another jurisdiction, according to NBC News. Two attorneys who earlier worked with Zimmerman quit the case on Tuesday.

"It seems like an enormous swing to be able go from not feeling you have enough evidence to arrest him, to charging him with essentially as high as you can charge him in second-degree murder," Richard Hornsby, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando, Fla., told "Second-degree murder requires him to have engaged in an intentional act with ill will, hatred or spite. It means he basically went and was looking to shoot Trayvon Martin."

Other legal experts have pointed out that no one has had access to all the evidence in the case, which the prosecutor has seen. Plus, a jury could decide to convict Zimmerman of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Video: Trayvon Martin’s father: ‘we have a long way to go’

NBC News legal analyst Kendall Coffey, a former federal prosecutor, called the charges "aggressive," and Corey's presentation of seeking justice in the case "masterful" for emphasizing that she was following the law. Shortly before the charge was announced, Coffey said prosecutors likely face a difficult time at trial.

“Bottom line is there is very big difference between a righteous prosecution and an easy prosecution,” Coffey told msnbc TV. “I think she believes in her heart and in her mind that this is a righteous prosecution and the chips are going to fall where they may.”

Critical to the defense is the 2005 Florida "Stand Your Ground" law, which says a citizen doesn’t have to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, legal experts say. The law also can let a judge, in an evidentiary hearing before a jury trial, determine that a defendant can’t be prosecuted due to the self-defense argument.

Corey will need to prove that Martin’s death was caused by a criminal act of Zimmerman, and that the act was “demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life,” NBC News reported.

“There’s no telling what happens here. Say what you will about the case, it’s not a slam-dunk in terms of the evidence,” Savannah Guthrie, chief legal analyst at NBC News, said shortly before charges were brought. “There’s conflicting evidence and in our system the tie goes to the accused. Innocent before proven guilty.”

According to legal experts, the first hurdle for prosecutors will be that special evidentiary hearing that is part of the “Stand Your Ground Law.” In it, Zimmerman can argue that he deserves immunity from the charges because he was acting in self-defense.

But to convince the judge, Zimmerman will have to present a "preponderance of evidence" that he acted in self-defense, which means he will have to show he had a "reasonable belief" that such force was necessary. Though the “preponderance” standard is less than “reasonable doubt” of a full trial, it is difficult to prove, criminal defense attorneys say, and many judges have frowned on deciding such cases on their own.

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