George Zimmerman is under arrest, charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida special prosecutor announced Wednesday.
Zimmerman, 28, who’s been in hiding since news of Martin’s killing gained worldwide attention, turned himself in on an arrest warrant, called a capias, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey said at a news conference.
“I can tell you we did not come to this decision lightly,” Corey said in remarks broadcast live on TV and online. “We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts in any given case, as well as the laws of the state of Florida.”
So what is second degree murder?
Florida’s jury instructions (which are based on the Florida statute) spell out three elements that prosecutors must prove to establish second degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The victim is deceased,
- The victim’s death was caused by the defendant’s criminal act, and
- There was an unlawful killing of the victim “by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.”
The last element — an “imminently dangerous” act that shows a “depraved mind” — is further defined by Florida’s jury instructions. Three elements must be present:
- A “person of ordinary judgment” would know the act, or series of acts, “is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another”;
- The act is “done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent”; and
- The act is “of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.”
Note that prosecutors do not have to prove the defendant intended to cause death, Florida’s jury instructions state.
Compare that to a charge of first degree murder, which generally involves premeditation. Premeditation would mean the culprit planned and intentionally carried out the killing. (In Florida, only a grand jury can bring a first degree murder charge, according to prosecutors. Corey decided not to use a grand jury in Zimmerman’s case.)
George Zimmerman has claimed his killing of Trayvon Martin was justified, because it was self-defense. Florida’s justifiable homicide law — commonly known as “Stand Your Ground” — allows for a self-defense killing if a person reasonably fears death or serious bodily injury.
Now that George Zimmerman is under arrest, he is set to appear before a magistrate to face formal charges within 24 hours, Corey said. Zimmerman, whose former attorneys stepped aside Tuesday, has a new attorney named Mark O’Mara, AP reports. O’Mara told reporters that Zimmerman will plead not guilty.