Seminole County Sheriff's Office
George Zimmerman's mugshot from Wednesday.
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.
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 Thursday.
"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.
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."
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(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.)
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.
Under Florida law, Zimmerman, 28, must be taken before a judge within 24 hours of his return to Seminole 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."
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.
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 proerty.
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."
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.