In a Wednesday evening press conference special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the state of Florida had arrested and charged George Zimmerman with second degree murder for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is expected to plead not guilty to the charge.
In the state of Florida second degree murder is defined as, “the 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.”
“Second degree murder is different from first degree in that that second does not require premeditation ,” says BJ Bernstein a trial attorney based in Atlanta who is not affiliated with this case in an interview with EBONY. “This statute covers a killing that is done “without regard for human life” and involves a firearm… It seems to encompass heat of the moment scenario.”
Zimmerman faces life in prison if convicted. “With use of a firearm a conviction for this offense has a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence,” said Bernstein.
Angela Corey had options in terms of what she could charge George Zimmerman with including less serious charges.
Bernstein says, “The prosecutor could have gone with aggravated manslaughter: essentially a killing without malice or premeditation of someone under 18 years old. That also carries a steep punishment or the traditional involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.” It is also possible that lesser included offenses like manslaughter are options once the case goes to the jury.
Considering the choice to go with the more serious charge of second degree murder it is even possible that as special prosecutor Angela Corey has evidence and information about the case that the public does not know. “I wonder what is it we don’t know: is it a witness, a tape, [or] forensics?” Bernstein said.
In yesterday’s press conference a very poised Angela Corey emphasized that this case is to be tried in a court of law and not in the media. “[She] made it clear that she is going with the evidence and facts she knows and was gathered. It truly seems like as many leaks that there were we don’t know everything which could explain her decision.”
The other reason Corey might have chosen to go with the second degree murder charge is that is carries a life sentence. “There is [a]lways a possibility [that] the prosecution pushes it on the highest level offense with a potential life sentence to obtain a plea or a conviction of a lesser offense. The new defense counsel [Mark O’Mara] certainly allowed today in his comments the possibility of a plea.” O’Mara recently replaced Zimmerman’s previous attorneys who quit this week claiming their client had become unreachable.
It is important to know that there are number of proceedings that need to occur even before we get to a trial with a jury of Zimmerman’s peers. “Long before we get to a jury is the unique pretrial hearing on the "Stand Your Ground" statute. The defense will file a ‘Motion for Declaration of Immunity.’ Remember "Stand Your Ground" is not merely a defense but rather that a defendant is immune from prosecution or a civil suit. This filing interestingly when filed triggers a hearing before trial in which the judge would determine if there is enough evidence to get beyond immunity,” says Bernstein.
That means that a judge will ultimately make the determination if the "Stand Your Ground" law applies to this case and whether Zimmerman is immune to the murder charges as a result. If Zimmerman and his defense were successful in this pre-trial proceeding then the case would be over and it would not move forward to a jury trial.
As far as overall impressions at this point, Bernstein says that, “Angela Corey seemed steadfast and confident in her case, although that is her job to do so if she makes one.” The "Million Hoodie" rallies and social media certainly played an important role in putting pressure on the governor who appointed Corey as special prosecutor and “clearly a special prosecutor would not have thoroughly looked at the case without it. At the same time, we need to let the courts have an opportunity to let the facts come out to the lawyers and the courts…I am not going to make a prediction."