George Zimmerman is in the Seminole County Jail, facing second-degree murder charges for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is expected to go before a judge for the first time Thursday.
Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch captain who says he shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense after the two got into a fight on Feb. 26. in a gated Sanford neighborhood.
WFTV talked with 28-year-old Zimmerman’s new attorney Mark O’Mara, who arrived at the jail late Wednesday night, hours after Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and booked.
O’Mara said he is ready to fight the charges, and will try to get Zimmerman released on bail after his first appearance before a judge on Thursday. A judge will decide either to set a bail amount or hold Zimmerman without bail.
Zimmerman turned himself in to authorities once special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the second-degree murder charge against him in Jacksonville Wednesday night.
A short time later, Zimmerman was transported from Jacksonville to Sanford by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
He covered his head as he was escorted into the jail for booking. O’Mara visited Zimmerman late Wednesday.
“I just want to visit him and see how he’s doing. I’m sure he’s scared,” he said.
Sheriff Don Eslinger told WFTV Zimmerman will be evaluated for physical and mental health issues, and said if he needs to be in special custody, he will be.
Zimmerman claims he killed Trayvon in self-defense. O’Mara said he will be pleading not guilty.
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If convicted of the charges Zimmerman could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
New inmates’ first court appearances are held every day at 1:30 p.m., but Eslinger said Zimmerman’s lawyer might get a hearing scheduled for him sometime Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s brother said he is actually relieved George is in jail.
Robert Zimmerman made another appearance on national television Wednesday night and said despite knowing George is facing serious charges, he’s just glad he’s safe.
“To somehow have to think that, well, at least there’s something good in all of that; that he can’t be attacked this way. He most likely can’t be hurt, killed, injured in a way that he’s been on the run and underground in the streets for quite some time,” said Robert Zimmerman during an interview on CNN.
Robert said he is confident George’s medical records will exonerate him, and prove his claims of self-defense.
Trayvon Martin’s parents were in Washington DC as they watched the announcement of the charges against Zimmerman.
Now, they say they’re just glad Zimmerman is off the streets and they can start the healing process.”We just wanted an arrest. And we got it, and I say thank you, thank you Lord. Thank you Jesus,” said Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton.
Trayvon Martin supporters gathered to celebrate the arrest at the Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford Wednesday night.
WFTV spoke with members of the community and found a unanimous sense of relief that Zimmerman is now in police custody.
“Justice has prevailed!” said supporter Tim Anderson.”It was long overdue and I was glad they finally decided to do something,” said Roxanna Scott, who came from Chicago to celebrate.
The service was planned before the church knew Zimmerman had been charged.
“It’s the wheels of motion beginning to turn,” said Turner Clayton, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Seminole County chapter.
Church leaders feared Zimmerman would not even be arrested.
Sanford city leaders also seem to be breathing a sigh of relief now that some action has finally been taken.
“We’ll be seeking healing for the city of Sanford and ask for the community support as we move forward,” said Mayor Jeff Triplett. City leaders spoke shortly after the announcement by the state prosecutor on Wednesday.
The mayor and city manager asked for civility.”We call for continued calm in the city of Sanford, its surrounding communities and across the nation,” said Triplett.
“We have a justice system in this country. It takes time. I understand the frustrations that people have had,” said City Manager Norton Bonaparte.
Bonaparte told WFTV he still has faith in the police department, and said Police Chief Bill Lee hasn’t been fired.
Lee has been off the job, with pay. The city manager did not tell us if he will be fired.
Now that Zimmerman is behind bars in Seminole County, WFTV is taking a closer look at whether the second-degree murder charge will stick.
Legal analyst Robert Buonauro said just because Zimmerman has been formally charged with second-degree murder doesn’t mean that’s the charge he’ll face at trial.But he did say that charging Zimmerman was only a matter of time.
“Because of all the pressure that has been brought on the state attorney’s office, the police department, the public outcry; there was no question in my mind that Zimmerman was going to be charged,” said Buonauro.
Buonauro said the judge will likely push for an immunity statute, which is like a mini-trial.
If reasonable evidence is presented that Zimmerman was defending himself the night that he killed Martin, the judge could dismiss the case.
Buonauro also said that a lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a 15-year sentence, would be easier for the state to prove.
Before the announcement was made that Zimmerman would be charged, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed there is an ongoing federal investigation into the Trayvon Martin case.
“Although I cannot say where our current efforts will lead us from here, I can assure you that in this investigation, and in all cases, we will examine the facts and the law,” he said.
During an event in Washington DC Wednesday, Holder said appropriate action will be taken if civil rights violations are found in Martin’s death.
Holder said the justice department is meeting with local law enforcement officials and community members about this case.
Because of the influx of calls from the public about the death of Martin, the city of Sanford has set up an information center to offer some answers and take public records requests. You can call them at 407-562-2778. The team will answer calls between 7 a.m. and midnight.