JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The man charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of an unarmed teen has arrived at a Florida jail after turning himself in.
George Zimmerman was charged Wednesday in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose death ignited nationwide protests.
He arrived Wednesday night, hours after a prosecutor announced the murder charge against him. He's expected to make his first court appearance Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
Zimmerman's attorney says his client will plead not guilty.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey says that authorities did not come to the decision lightly to charge Zimmerman, 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.
Corey said the decision to bring charges was based on the facts and the law, declaring: "We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition."
Zimmerman initially was not arrested in part 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.
Zimmerman's new attorney, Mark O'Mara, said he will invoke the "stand your ground" law in Zimmerman's defense.
The lack of an arrest had sparked outrage and rallies for justice in the Orlando suburb and across the country.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman's former lawyers withdrew from the case, saying they had lost contact with him and portraying him as in a precarious mental condition. But O'Mara said Zimmerman was OK: "I'm not concerned about his mental well-being."
Civil rights leaders meet with Martin family in DC
The father of Trayvon Martin told Channel 2 Action News he was confident prosecutors would find Zimmerman in order to charge him.
Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane caught up with Martin's family, who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
"I've been up and down, as if I've been on a roller coaster. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that justice will be served," Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, said.
MacFarlane asked Martin's father if he's worried Zimmerman would elude arrest somehow.
"Are you concerned federal authorities might not be able to charge George Zimmerman, because he's said to have disappeared?" MacFarlane said.
"I'm not concerned they won't be able to prosecute him. That's the government. They'll find him if they want him," Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, said.
Just a few miles away from where the D.C. news conference was held, the U.S. Attorney General confirmed there is was an "open, ongoing federal investigation" of the shooting.
He said if civil rights violations are found, "appropriate action will be taken."
Martin's parents had been in Washington all day Wednesday to meet with a group of civil rights leaders from across the country, including the Rev. Markel Hutchins of Atlanta.
Hutchins just filed a federal lawsuit to challenge a 2006 Georgia self-defense law that he said could lead to this type of shooting in Atlanta.
Trayvon's mother: ‘We just wanted an arrest and we got it.'
Martin's parents expressed relief Wednesday over the special prosecutor's decision to charge Zimmerman with Trayvon’s death.
"I would probably give him an opportunity to apologize," Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, told The Associated Press in an interview. "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. She remained stoic, and expressed faith that the justice system would work as it should.
Martin's father, Tracy, offered several questions that he would like to ask Zimmerman about the sequence of events that led up to Trayvon's death, but in the end he would want to know, "Was it really worth it?"
"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?" Tracy Martin said.
They watched special prosecutor Angela 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.
Before the arrest, Fulton said: "That won't bring Trayvon back, but at least that would give us reassurance that the justice system is working."
"We've always said that we want peaceful resolution, no matter what side you're on," Martin said.
"We don't want them to stop the protest and the rallies, we just want to make sure that they remain peaceful," Fulton said. "We're going through the process the right way, the proper way. We just ask that everybody that supports us do the same thing. Even the ones who don't support us, we want to make sure that they protest in a peaceful manner."
Atlantans react to Zimmerman arrest
As the announcement of George Zimmerman's arrest came in, a sense of relief went over the air and behind the mic at Altanta's urban talk station WAOK.
councilman and show host Derrick Boazman started fielding calls and getting reaction on his show as the news broke.
"I'm glad to see justice is taking a stance," said
a man named Larry.
"I'm blown away, I am happy they went with second degree," a listener named Tamela said.
Boazman took dozens of Atlantans to Sanford,
Fla. for a rally in support of Trayvon Martin last month. He's been pushing for an arrest, now he's urging patience.
"I'm glad and I'm thankful that he has been held to some level of responsibility. I've also been here before and seen cases like this go to juries and still no justice," Boazman said.
Also listening intently to the special prosecutor's decision was former Atlanta police officer and current defense attorney Jackie Patterson. He hopes calls to change Georgia's version of the Stand Your Ground law will now fade away.
"Modifying the stand your ground law is totally unnecessary. It's really about how you apply the law to each individual case," Patterson said.
"What I want is George
Zimmerman to serve time. A lot of time," Boazman said.
Patterson said he also believes the self-defense, or Stand Your Ground defense, will play prominently in any Zimmerman
trial, possibly bringing more calls for changes in the law.