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George Zimmerman to plead not guilty to second-degree murder in Trayvon Martin case

Hours after Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced that George Zimmerman had been charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Martin's parents told NBC's Brian Williams that Zimmerman's arrest helps fulfill their goal of bringing their son's shooter to justice.

Updated at 7:09 a.m. ET: George Zimmerman is in custody in Florida and will be charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, authorities announced Wednesday. His attorney said he would plead not guilty.

"We did not come to this decision lightly," Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to re-examine the case, said at a news conference in Jacksonville.

Read the criminal information (.pdf)

Corey had previously said she wouldn't present the case to a grand jury, which took first-degree murder off the table. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.


Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara  — who took the case late Wednesday after Zimmerman's previous attorneys withdrew — said Zimmerman would plead not guilty and that he would seek Zimmerman's release on bond. Zimmerman was scheduled for an initial hearing Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announces that she will seek a second-degree murder charge against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

"I think he's troubled by the fact the state decided to charge him," O'Mara said. "I would think anyone charged with second-degree murder would be scared."

Corey said she decided last week to seek the charge but needed several days to make sure all details were in order. She said she had informed Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.

'A heart has no color'
In a brief statement in Washington at a news conference at a gathering of the National Action Network, Fulton said: "We just wanted an arrest, and we got it, and I say thank you. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus."

"I just want to speak from my heart to your heart, because a heart has no color. It’s not black, it’s not white. It’s red. And I want to say thank you from my heart to your heart," Fulton added, according to NBC News.

Trayvon Martin's mom: I believe killing was an 'accident'

(The National Action Network is a project of the Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC-TV's "PoliticsNation," who has played a prominent role in advocating for charges against Zimmerman.)

“I think they decided to review it based on public pressure," Sharpton said, according to NBC Miami. "Had there not been pressure there would not have been a second look."

“Tonight maybe America can come together and say only the facts should matter when you’re dealing with a loss of life," he added. "This is not a night for celebration. This is a night that should not have happened in the first place."

On NBC's Rock Center Wednesday evening, Fulton said that she found Corey professional. 

"I believe there is a human side to her," she said. "I believe she looked at the evidence, spoke with the witnesses and determined what (Zimmerman) should be charged with."


Kerry Sanders and Pete Williams of NBC News and NBC station WESH of Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report by M. Alex Johnson of msnbc.com. Follow M. Alex Johnson on Twitter and Facebook.


Ben Crump, the attorney for Martin's parents, said the decision was about "justice, justice and only justice." He said it was important that Zimmerman have a fair trial, even though "we believe in our hearts that he was wrong to kill Trayvon Martin."

Corey refused to discuss details of the case, saying she was committed to protecting the interests of both Martin and Zimmerman.

"So much information on this case has gotten released that should never have been released," she said.

Zimmerman, 28, arrived in a police caravan at the Seminole County jail about 8:20 p.m. ET. Under Florida law, he must be taken before a judge within 24 hours of his return to the county, where he has acknowledged he shot and killed Martin, 17, in the town of Sanford on Feb. 26. Corey wouldn't say where he was being held to protect his safety.

Scott, who appointed Corey after Seminole County authorities declined to bring charges, said in a statement that the matter "is now in the hands of the judicial system and I am confident justice will prevail."

Attorney doubts fair trial
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Peruvian, says he shot Martin, who was black, in self-defense after following him in a gated community in Sanford. Police questioned Zimmerman but decided against pressing charges.

The lack of an arrest or charges had sparked protests nationwide, with critics alleging that Zimmerman confronted Martin because of his race. Zimmerman's supporters deny that.

Trayvon Martin's parents say they're thankful there was an arrest but that 'this is just the beginning.' NBC's Ron Allen reports.

The decision whether to arrest Zimmerman was delayed for several weeks because Zimmerman had indicated that he would argue self-defense under Florida's so-called Stand Your Ground law, which shields subjects from prosecution if a judge determines that the shooting was justified to protect life or property.

Corey called the law "a tough affirmative defense to overcome," but she said, "If 'Stand Your Ground' becomes an issue, we will fight that affirmative defense."

O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, told reporters that he didn't think Zimmerman could get a fair hearing "today" because "the emotions are just running high in Central Florida."

"I am hoping the hatred settles down," he said.

A federal civil rights investigation is also under way, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Justice Department had to meet a "high bar" to bring any charges.

The main federal role is to "support the state in its ongoing investigation," Holder told reporters Wednesday morning in Washington. At the same time, he said, the Justice Department is conducting its "own thorough and parallel investigation" to try to resolve the case "in as fair and complete a way and as quickly as we can."

More on the Travyon Martin case from msnbc.com and NBC News:

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