The neighborhood crime watch volunteer who says he shot and killed an unarmed African American teenager in self defense in February has made his first court appearance in the U.S. state of Florida. The case has sparked a national debate in the United States about race, self-defense laws and gun control.
George Zimmerman's first court appearance before a Florida judge came a day after he surrendered to police in connection with the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
It was the first time the public had gotten to see and hear from George Zimmerman. The judge said he had found probable cause to move ahead with the case and told Zimmerman he will be formally charged during an arraignment May 29th.
Zimmerman did not enter a plea during the brief appearance. He turned himself in to authorities Wednesday night, just before special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges against him.
Corey told reporters she will fight for Trayvon Martin.
"It's V for victim -- that is who we work tirelessly for and that is all we know is justice for our victims," Corey said.
Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self defense after spotting the teenager in a gated community where Martin's father lives. He told police Martin attacked him during a confrontation.
The shooting sparked a national outcry and demonstrations led by Martin’s parents who insist their son was murdered. They also accuse Zimmerman of targeting their son because he was black. Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton.
"We just wanted an arrest and we got it," Fulton said.
Many in Sanford, Florida -- the city where the shooting took place -- welcomed the charges.
"All of us were wanting this to move on and get to this process where it is now into the justice system," one resident said.
"It was long overdue and I am glad they decided to do something," another said.
Police did not initially charge Zimmerman with a crime because of a Florida law that says a person has a right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force. Prosecutor Corey says she's prepared to argue the issue if Zimmerman uses the self defense law in court.
"If Stand Your Ground becomes an issue we fight it if we believe it is the right thing to do. So if it becomes an issue in this case we will fight that affirmative defense," Corey said.
Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, would not reveal his strategy, but he says his client is worried about getting a fair trial.
"There is a lot of information and there is a lot of ground swell of emotion on all sides of the issue. We need to calm this down and this case needs to be tried in a courtroom," O'Mara said.
If found guilty of the second-degree murder charge, Zimmerman could face up to life in prison.