(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — Six weeks after the controversial shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, special prosecutor Angela Corey has announced that George Zimmerman is to be charged with second-degree murder.
Zimmerman is in custody after turning himself in, Corey confirmed in outlining the charges Wednesday at a news conference in Jacksonville, Fla.
“He is within the custody of law enforcement officers in the state of Florida,” she said. Sources told ABC News that Zimmerman was en route to Sanford, where the shooting occurred.
Zimmerman, 28, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, shot and killed Martin, who was unarmed, on Feb. 26 after following the Sanford, Fla. teenager for several minutes.
The second degree murder charge is similar to manslaughter in that it does not require premeditation on Zimmerman’s part.
If convicted of the charges Zimmerman could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
A bond hearing will be held Thursday when Zimmerman can apply for bail, Corey said.
Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s new lawyer, said Wednesday evening that he intended to seek his release at Thursday’s hearing and said that he spoke briefly with Zimmerman.
“He’s troubled by the fact that the state decided to charge him,” O’Mara said.
The lawyer also said Zimmerman is scared.
“I think anyone who is charged with second degree murder would be scared. Yes, he’s frightened,” O’Mara said.
Corey opened her news conference by saying that she had spoken with Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, when she took over the case last month and “we told those sweet parents” that they would get answers.
She also worried that the “overwhelming amount of publicity in this case” could complicate efforts to get an impartial jury, adding that there was “so much information on this case that was released that shouldn’t have been released.”
Martin’s parents said at a news conference Wednesday evening that they were grateful that Zimmerman has been arrested.
“We simply wanted an arrest,” Sybrina Fulton said. “We got it and we say thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus.”
Tracy Martin said, however, “This is just the beginning. We have a long way to go … and we will march and march and march until the right thing is done.”
O’Mara said that the case has become emotionally charged and that his client “is concerned about getting a fair trial. We need to calm this down and it needs to be tried in a courtroom.”
He also said he is worried about Zimmerman’s safety.
“If he was walking down the street right now he would be at risk,” O’Mara said. “I’m hoping we can keep him safe.”
The charges are certain to provoke controversy in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place, and across the country.
The special prosecutor’s ruling came one day after Zimmerman’s original legal team quit because they had lost contact with him, and suggested that the pressure of the case had “pushed him over the edge.”
Earlier this week, Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett said his city has become a “kindling box” due to the high emotions surrounding the case, and that he would “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
The case gained national prominence with rallies across the country demanding that Zimmerman be arrested and charged with murder. Zimmerman and his supporters say that the shooting had nothing to do with race and that he shot Martin in self-defense.
The U.S. Justice Department is also carrying out an investigation into the shooting.
Attorney General Eric Holder indicated Wednesday that the feds will have a higher bar to establish that the shooting was a hate crime.
“For a federal hate crime we have to prove the highest standard in the law it is something that was reckless, that was negligent … We have to show that there was a specific intent to do the crime with the requisite state of mind,” Holder said.
Corey declined to say where Zimmerman is being held out of concern for his safety.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire