Second-degree murder charges for George Zimmerman


Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey held a rather odd press conference on Wednesday evening, announcing that she would bring charges of second-degree murder against George Zimmerman, the shooter in the Trayvon Martin case:

The actual business of the conference was straightforward enough.  Zimmerman is in custody, after turning himself in to the police.  Corey properly refused various media entreaties to divulge more information about the case.  It was her remarkably cheerful attitude and strange verbal asides that gave the proceedings such an offbeat flavor.

For example, Corey taught us the stern alphabet of justice, in response to questions about the racial overtones of the case: “We only know one category as prosecutors, and that’s a ‘V’.  It’s not a ‘B,’ it’s not a ‘W,’ it’s not an ‘H’.  It’s ‘V,’ for victim. That’s who we work tirelessly for. And that’s all we know, is justice for our victims.”

Corey stressed her impartiality, and the difficulty of reaching the decision to indict:

“I can tell you we did not come to this decision lightly. In fact, this case is much like the many difficult homicides in our circuit and we have made numerous decisions in the same manner.  Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by pressure or petition.  We prosecute cases based on the relevant facts of each case and on the laws of the state of Florida.”

But later she thanked the Martin family lawyers, who have been happy to play the media in a fairly irresponsible manner throughout the case, and threw in a salute to all the people who have been sending “positive energy” her way:

We thank all of those who have sent positive energy and prayers our way.  We ask you to continue to pray for our team, as well as Tracy and Sybrina and the rest of Trayvon’s family.  We thank Mr. Crump and Mr. Parks for their daily assistance in communicating with our victim’s family.  We also ask everyone to refrain from any pre-judging this case before due diligence and due process takes its course.

She also said she prayed with the Martin family when they began their meeting.  This might not rest easily in the ears of those worried about Zimmerman getting a fair shake.  Prosecution has an adversarial relationship with defense, but this all seemed a bit more… open than what we’re accustomed to hearing in high-profile cases, particularly when such intense efforts have been made to politically influence this particular case.

Second-degree murder is pretty much the toughest charge that could have been leveled at Zimmerman, as murder in the first degree would require the prosecution to prove premeditation.  Under Florida law, second-degree murder charges require the prosecution to prove there was an “unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.”  You can also get hit with second-degree murder charges for being an accomplice to a felony crime in which someone is killed, which doesn’t seem applicable to this case.

The “depraved mind” part is going to be tough.  They’ll have to prove Zimmerman had a reckless disregard for human life – deliberately, if spontaneously, creating a situation that would lead to Trayvon Martin’s death.  That’s a very high hurdle given what is publicly known about the case, although of course the prosecutor might have evidence unknown to the rest of us at this juncture.  If the prosecution prevails, the maximum penalty for second-degree murder is life in prison.

Thursday afternoon, Zimmerman’s lawyer said at his bond hearing that he would not request bond.  “I think nobody would deny the fact if George Zimmerman is walking down the street today, he would be at risk,” he observed.  He said Zimemrman would plead “not guilty” at his May 29 arraignment.