George Zimmerman faces one of the most high-profile legal battles in recent history after being charged with second-degree murder in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin – and he may have already been convicted in the court of public opinion.
Zimmerman turned himself in to police on Wednesday and is being held at the Seminole County Correctional Facility, in Florida.
He is due to be arraigned on Thursday morning, but it is already being asked how he can receive a fair trial in a case that has gripped the country and provoked national hysteria since the unarmed black teenager was shot dead on February 26.
Jailed: George Zimmerman is pictured Wednesday night in a booking photo taken at Seminole County Correctional Facility
Fox News host Sean Hannity said on Wednesday night that State Attorney Angela Corey may have acted under intense pressure for an arrest.
Hannity said: ‘This has been my complaint from the very beginning here. We have members of Congress that said he was hunted down – meaning Trayvon Martin – like a rabid dog, you have people that say he was profiled – no evidence suggests that.’
He added: ‘People say he was killed because he was black, you have activists, you have a bounty on someone’s head. You’ve got so much surrounding this case’.
It was Hannity who was recently contacted by Zimmerman, against the advice of his legal counsel, who later dropped Zimmerman as a client.
The two had an off-the-record chat, though Hannity will not discuss the details.
Zimmerman’s brother Robert, appearing on CNN hours after the charges were announced, said he was proud of his brother for ‘doing the right thing’.
Robert Zimmerman told Piers Morgan: ‘There was no winner in this. Our brother could have been dead. He had to save his life by taking a life, and that’s no situation that anybody wants to be in ever’.
When grilled by Morgan about the police surveillance video that appears to show Zimmerman uninjured despite what he claimed was a brutal beating from Martin, Robert Zimmerman said:
‘People want to see blood, and they wanted to see blood’.
‘The reality is George nor any other neighbourhood watchperson goes out and becomes a neighbourhood watchperson because they are going to be… surprise attacked, punched so hard in the nose that their nose is broken, sat on their chest using their last available breaths to call and scream for help.
In a message to Trayvon’s parents, Robert Zimmerman said: ‘We’re confident that the truth will come out, and George has been telling the truth the whole time’.
He added: ‘In the name of peace, let the system do its job’.
Like last year’s blockbuster Casey Anthony trial, which was a daily media circus, Florida could be in store for more of the same with the Zimmerman case.
Zimmerman voluntarily turned himself in police on Wednesday – before it was announced that he would be charged with second-degree murder.
He was escorted under tight security to the Seminole County Correctional facility in Sanford on Wednesday night.
‘No public pressure’: State Attorney Angela Corey, appointed to prosecute the Trayvon Martin case
, said she charged Zimmerman with murder based only on her judgement of the law in Florida
Anxious: The parents of Trayvon Martin, Tracy Martin, second from left, and Sybrina Fulton, third from right, hold hands as they watch Corey’s announcement with the Rev Al Sharpton, top centre
Television cameras showed black SUVs pulling into a loading area at the facility, but Zimmerman himself wasn’t visible.
Corey opened her speech by discussing her first meeting with Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.
She said: ‘It was less than three weeks ago that we told these sweet parents that we would get answers to their questions no matter where those answers would lead’.
‘We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts on any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida,’ Corey said.
The Rev Al Sharpton, appearing with Trayvon’s parents after the charges were announced, warned against a ‘rush to judgment’.
Martin’s parents, who were in Washington when the announcement came, expressed relief over the decision to prosecute the killer of their 17-year-old son.
‘The question I would really like to ask him is, if he could look into Trayvon’s eyes and see how innocent he was, would he have then pulled the trigger? Or would he have just let him go on home?’ said his father, Tracy Martin.
Speaking out: Sean Hannity, left, on Fox News questioned how George Zimmerman could receive a fair trial while Robert Zimmerman, right, appeared on Piers Morgan’s show on CNN to defend his brother
Many legal experts had expected the prosecutor to opt for the lesser charge of manslaughter, which usually carries 15 years behind bars and covers reckless or negligent killings, rather than second-degree murder, which involves a killing that results from a ‘depraved’ disregard for human life.
Even some legal experts were stunned by the murder charge.
‘I predicted manslaughter, so I’m a little surprised,’ said Michael Seigel, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Florida. ‘But she has more facts than I do’.
Zimmerman’s new attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Zimmerman will plead not guilty and will invoke Florida’s powerful ‘stand your ground’ law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat in the face of danger.
The lawyer asked that people not jump to conclusions about his client’s guilt and said he is ‘hoping that the community will calm down’ now that charges have been filed.
‘I’m expecting a lot of work and hopefully justice in the end,’ O’Mara said.
About an hour after Corey’s announcement, lawyer Mark O’Mara attorney revealed himself as Zimmerman’s new legal counsel in his own question-and-answer session with reporters.
O’Mara’s presence came less than a day after Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig said they were withdrawing as Zimmerman’s attorneys.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman’s former lawyers portrayed him as erratic and in precarious mental condition.
But O’Mara said Zimmerman was OK: ‘I’m not concerned about his mental well-being’.
He said his client will plead not guilty at his arraignment, which has not yet been scheduled – and that he will try and secure a bond that’s affordable for Zimmerman’s family.
O’Mara said: ‘He is troubled by everything that has happened. And I can’t imaging living in George Zimmerman’s shows for the last couple of weeks’.
He added: ‘He’s a client who has a lot of hatred focused on him right now. I hope the hatred settles down’.
Thousands of protestors have demanded Zimmerman face charges after the February 26 shooting of Trayvon, who was unarmed.
Video showing Zimmerman being escorted into the Sanford police station on the night of the shooting appear to show him unhurt, but an enhanced version showed what looked like welts on the back of his head
Zimmerman was handcuffed by police officers that night and questioned, though police released him after he claimed he killed the 17-year-old in self-defense after he was attacked in the gated community in Sanford, Florida.
ABC News reported last month that the chief police investigator wanted to arrested Zimmerman, but the local State Attorney’s Office objected, fearing prosecutors couldn’t win a conviction.
But on Monday, Corey announced that she would not empanel a grand jury to determine whether Zimmerman should be charged. Instead, she said she alone would make the decision.
Speaking with the Associated Press today, Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton said: ‘I would probably give him an opportunity to apologize.
‘I would probably ask him if there were another way that he could have settled the confrontation that he had with Trayvon, other than the way it ended, with Trayvon being shot’.
Her voice trailed off, and tears welled in her eyes.
Fatally shot: Some have said Zimmerman uttered a racial slur before pursuing and killing Trayvon, pictured here in 2009, in a 911 call he made to report a ‘suspicious’ black male
She remained stoic, and expressed faith that the justice system would work as it should.
Both of his parents watched Corey’s announcement on television in a room at the Washington Convention Center.
As soon as Corey uttered the words ‘second-degree murder,’ Martin and Fulton grasped hands, and their attorney, Benjamin Crump, placed his hands over theirs.
Fulton smiled slightly at the news.
Under Florida’s now-controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Zimmerman only has to prove that he had a reasonable belief that he would be killed or severely injured when he shot Trayvon.
In police reports, leaked to the press, Zimmerman told investigators he followed Trayvon February 26 because he didn’t recognize the hooded teen as he walked through the gated community where Zimmerman worked as a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Zimmerman called police to report the teen and got out of his truck and walked around the neighborhood on foot.
Dumped: Lawyers Craig Sonner (left) and Hal Uhrig (right) said today that they are dropping George Zimmerman as a client after they lost contact with him
That’s when Trayvon attacked him, he says. He was sucker-punched in the face and knocked to the ground.
Zimmerman told officers he opened fire after Trayvon threatened to kill him and bashed his head several times against the sidewalk.
The case has roiled race relations throughout the country, with many saying Trayvon was targeted because he was black.
Zimmerman, 28, is half-white and half-Hispanic.
If the case goes to trial, public interest could dwarf the last big Florida court case — the acquittal of Casey Anthony.
The shooting has been the subject of untold hours of media coverage and every available detail has been analyzed.
As such, lawyers for the case will no doubt have great difficulty finding jurors who have not made up their minds about the shooting — much less those who haven’t followed the case.
Zimmerman’s former lawyer, Sonner, urged the media and public Tuesday not to jump to conclusions about this case.
He said: ‘Put the facts together and I think you’ll see it comes together as a self-defence case’.
Both attorneys expressed belief that Zimmerman acted in self-defence in his encounter with Martin.
On Sunday, a website was set up with a statement from Zimmerman where he claimed he has been ‘forced to leave my home… and ultimately my entire life’ as a result of the media outcry over Trayvon’s shooting.
The site also features a number of quotations from writers and philosophers which are apparently used as justification for Zimmerman’s behaviour.
After the existence of TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com came to light on Monday afternoon, the site received so much traffic that it became difficult to access.
The site’s creation comes as it has been revealed that Zimmerman will not face a grand jury in the Trayvon case, with the decision whether or not to prosecute him left to a special prosecutor alone.
While his father and brother have spoken out to defend him, he has not granted any interviews himself.
His new website – whose authenticity has been confirmed by his attorneys – contains a statement referring to a ‘life-altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage’.
He continues: ‘As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life.
‘This website’s sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries’.
Zimmerman goes on to criticise other so-called ‘defence funds’, which he says have not provided any revenue to him.
The statement on the homepage concludes: ‘I have created a Paypal account solely linked on this website as I would like to provide an avenue to thank my supporters personally and ensure that any funds provided are used only for living expenses and legal defence, in lieu of my forced inability to maintain employment.
‘I will also personally, maintain accountability of all funds received. I reassure you, every donation is appreciated.’
The site also contains a section titled ‘The Facts’, in which Zimmerman insists that he ‘cannot discuss the details of the event on February 26th’.
Controversy: The website’s ‘album’ shows graffiti sprayed on to a black cultural centre in Ohio
Under the heading ‘My Race’, Zimmerman – who is half Hispanic, half white – quotes Thomas Paine saying: ‘The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.’
A section headed ‘Album’ features a photograph of graffiti reading ‘Long live Zimmerman’ which was notoriously painted on the wall of a black cultural centre at Ohio State University.
Every page of the site features Edmund Burke’s famous statement that ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing,’ as well as a link to Zimmerman’s PayPal account.
On the night of Martin’s death, Zimmerman, who was patrolling in the Sanford gated community, called 911 to report a suspicious person.
Protesters hold signs during a march and rally for Trayvon Martin on Saturday in Sanford where he was shot before demonstrating at the police station were Zimmerman was released
‘This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something,’ Zimmerman told the dispatcher from his sport utility vehicle.
He added that the teen had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes.
‘These a*******. They always get away,’ Zimmerman said on a 911 call.
But Martin, 17, was not armed. He was returning from a convenience store with an iced tea for himself and a bag of skittles for his little brother.
A neighbour said there had been several break-ins in the community in the past year, including one in which burglars took a TV and laptops.
Waiting: Trayvon Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton watch a broadcast of Angela Corey’s press conference where she announced the charge against Zimmerman
A dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his sport utility vehicle and that an officer would be there momentarily, but Zimmerman – for unknown reasons – got out.
Zimmerman told police he lost sight of the teenager and was walking back to his sport utility vehicle when he was suddenly attacked.
But Trayvon’s girlfriend Deedee, 16, who was on the phone with Trayvon in his last moments alive, later emerged to add more contradiction to Zimmerman’s story.
She told ABC News in a brief interview that Trayvon said he saw a strange man following him as he walked back to his father’s home.
‘… and then Trayvon come and said the man was still behind him and I said to him, “Run!”‘ the teen said.
Protests: The killing of Trayvon Martin has sparked numerous demonstrations across the country, like this one in front of the White House
He and Martin fought, according to witnesses.
Zimmerman said Martin punched him in the nose and slammed his head against the ground.
Zimmerman’s father Robert Zimmerman echoed those remarks on Wednesday night, telling WOFL-TV his son was being beaten by Trayvon, and the teen threatened him during the scuffle.
He told the network: ‘Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of “you’re going to die now or you’re going to die tonight,” something to that effect’.
He added: ‘[Martin] continued to beat George and at some point, George pulled his pistol and did what he did’.
Zimmerman told cops he acted in self-defense, and that he had yelled for help before firing the gun