JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman is being charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose death ignited nationwide protests.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey says that the 28-year-old Zimmerman is in custody. She wouldn't disclose Zimmerman's whereabouts for his safety, but said that he will be in court within 24 hours.
Corey says that authorities did not come to the decision lightly, nor was it based on public pressure.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Second-degree murder is typically charged when there is a fight or other confrontation that results in death and where there is no premeditated plan to kill someone.
Zimmerman has asserted since the Feb. 26 killing in Sanford that he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense after the two fought.
A second-degree murder charge in Florida carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. It is typically charged when there is a fight or other confrontation that results in death and where there is no premeditated plan to kill someone.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to disclose the information.
Zimmerman's arrest was delayed partly because of Florida's "stand your ground" law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat in the face of danger. The lack of an arrest had sparked outrage and rallies for justice in the Orlando suburb and across the country.
Zimmerman's shooting of the 17-year-old black teenager on Feb. 26 brought demands from black leaders for his arrest and set off a furious nationwide debate over race and self-defense that reached all the way to the White House.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, said the teenager attacked him. Martin's family argued Zimmerman was the aggressor.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman's lawyers announced they were withdrawing from the case because they hadn't heard from him since Sunday and didn't know where he was. They portrayed his mental state as fragile.
"He is largely alone. You might even say he is emotionally crippled by virtue of the pressure of this case," said one of the lawyers, Hal Uhrig.
The case has drawn the interest of the highest levels of the Obama administration, with the Justice Department's civil rights division opening its own investigation.
Tensions have risen in recent days in Sanford. Someone shot up an unoccupied police car Tuesday as it sat outside the neighborhood where Martin was killed. And a demonstration by college students closed the town's police station Monday.
Six weeks ago, Martin was returning to the home of his father's fiancee from a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman used his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up chasing the teenager and was returning to his truck. He told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman's father said that Martin threatened to kill his son and that Zimmerman suffered a broken nose.
A video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting as Zimmerman arrived at the Sanford police station showed him walking unassisted without difficulty. There were no plainly visible bandages or blood on his clothing, but Zimmerman may have had a small wound on the back of his head.
The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department, and Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down to let passions cool.
Civil rights groups and others have held rallies around the country, saying the shooting was unjustified. Many of the protesters wore the same type of hooded sweat shirt that Martin had on that day, suggesting his appearance and race had something to do with his killing.
President Barack Obama injected himself into the debate, urging Americans to "do some soul-searching." `'If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said March 23.
The local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take it over.
An official with knowledge of the case tells The Associated Press that neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman is in custody in Florida and will be charged with 2nd-degree murder in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
The shooting has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense all the way to the White House.
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, will be charged in the 17-year-old’s death, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey will announce charges against the 28-year-old Zimmerman at a 6 p.m. Wednesday news conference, the official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press. Corey confirmed that an announcement on the case would be made in Jacksonville but didn’t elaborate. The person said Zimmerman’s arrest is also expected soon.
The official didn’t know the charge and spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information.
Corey had said late Tuesday, after Zimmerman’s attorneys announced they were withdrawing from the case, that she would have an announcement on charges within 72 hours.
The two attorneys said they no longer were representing Zimmerman because they haven’t heard from him since Sunday.
“As of the last couple days, he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails,” attorney Craig Sonner said. “He’s gone on his own. I’m not sure what he’s doing or who he’s talking to.”
However, the person with knowledge of the case said law enforcement knows where Zimmerman is. His former attorneys have said he is in hiding and suffering from high levels of stress from the intense public scrutiny he is under.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder also said the Justice Department is conducting a thorough and independent review of the case after launching its own investigation three weeks ago.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, Fla., a gated community outside Orlando on Feb. 26. He said he was returning to his truck when Martin attacked him and that he shot the unarmed teen during the fight. He wasn’t arrested partly because of Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
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SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- The Trayvon Martin case took a bizarre turn Tuesday when George Zimmerman's attorneys quit, complaining that they have lost all contact with him and that he called the prosecutor and talked to a TV host after they told him not to speak to anyone.
The lawyers portrayed the former neighborhood watch captain as erratic and his mental state as shaky, and they expressed fear for his health under the pressure that has been building in the month since he shot and killed Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
"As of the last couple days he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails," attorney Craig Sonner said at a news conference outside the courthouse. "He's gone on his own. I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's talking to. I cannot go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I've lost contact with him."
The split came as special prosecutor Angela Corey neared a decision on whether to charge Zimmerman with a crime in the Feb. 26 shooting.
That decision could come later this week, as Corey released a brief statement late Tuesday saying she would make an announcement about the case within 72 hours. She did not specify what new development in the case would be released.
Sonner and colleague Hal Uhrig said they had not spoken with Zimmerman since Sunday. Since then, they said, they had learned that he spoke to Corey's office and to Fox TV host Sean Hannity without consulting them, in an attempt to give his side of the shooting. They said Corey refused to talk to Zimmerman without his attorneys' consent and Hannity wouldn't tell them what was discussed.
Zimmerman also set up his own website even as the lawyers were creating one for him at his request. Zimmerman said on his website that he wants "to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries." The site allows visitors to give Zimmerman money for living expenses and legal bills.
Sonner and Uhrig said that they still believe in Zimmerman's innocence and that they would probably represent him again if he contacted them and requested it. They said Zimmerman is in the U.S., but wouldn't say where because they fear for his safety.
They said Zimmerman has been under extreme pressure and is basically alone, having gone underground because of the furor.
"This has been a terribly corrosive process. George Zimmerman, in our opinion, and from information made available to us, is not doing well emotionally, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We understand from others that he may have lost a lot of weight," Uhrig said.
"To handle it this way suggests that he may not be in complete control of what's going on. We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety."
Ben Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said they are worried that Zimmerman might flee if he is charged.
"We're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him," Crump said.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.