Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET: After dismissing the use of a grand jury, the special prosecutor investigating the slaying of Trayvon Martin must now decide whether to charge shooter George Zimmerman with a crime or drop the case.
It will not be an easy task, said Don Mairs, a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville, Fla. He said the legal community in Florida has been closely watching developments in the highly-charged investigation and its outcome.
"The prosecutor will have to strip away the emotion of it and get down to what happened and from there see if it was justified or not," Mairs said. “She knows the eyes of the communities are upon her, watching to see what the government is going to do about this case.”
State Attorney Angela Corey, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the case, said her decision on Monday ruling out the use of the grand jury was not considered a factor in whether charges are eventually brought against Zimmerman.
"At this time, the investigation continues and there will be no further comment from this office," Corey said in a statement Monday.
Her announcement came a day ahead of when the grand jury, scheduled by a previous prosecutor, was set to convene in Sanford, Fla.
Martin, a 17-year-old from Miami Gardens, was shot to death by Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, at a gated community in Sanford on Feb. 26. Though Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, telling police Martin attacked him.
Corey’s office gave no indication when a decision on whether or not to file charges would be made. The case is also under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI.
If Zimmerman is charged, he could most likely face second-degree murder or manslaughter charges at the state level, Mairs said.
“Ultimately she has to prove it,” Mairs said. “She has to be the one to know whether a crime was committed and establish it.”
The case has led to protests and sparked debate nationwide about race and the laws of self-defense, particularly Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives Floridians the right to use deadly force to defend themselves in public places without first trying to escape. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
The Martin family and their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, have claimed the teen wasn't the aggressor, saying his race played a role in the fatal shooting. On Monday, the lawyer said he welcomed Corey’s decision.
"We are not surprised by this announcement and, in fact, are hopeful that a decision will be reached very soon to arrest George Zimmerman and give Trayvon Martin's family the simple justice they have been seeking all along," Crump said in a statement.
"The family has been patient throughout this process and asks that those who support them do the same during this very important investigation."
The case sparked protest in Sanford on Monday, forcing the temporary closing of the Sanford Police Department offices after six demonstrators blocked the entrance to the building, NBC reported.
"The city of Sanford hopes the actions of the students will be as peaceful and orderly as the previous rallies and marches have been," City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said in a statement.
No charges have been filed in the case.
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