George Zimmerman charged with murder of Trayvon Martin as Florida awaits showpiece trial

Zimmerman taken into custody and now faces sentence of 25 years to life – if found guilty

Sanford

And so, to court. Seven weeks after he shot and killed the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, in a case which sparked global outrage and highlighted the yawning racial schisms that still divide America, George Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with murder.

The 28-year-old neighbourhood-watch volunteer was in custody at a secret location in Florida last night, coming to terms with the fact that he faces between 25 years and life behind bars if a jury finds him guilty of second-degree murder, the crime he now stands accused of committing on the night of 26 February.

Angela Corey, the special prosecutor who took over the case amid simmering controversy over the police's handling of Martin's death, told a crowded press conference in Jacksonville that Zimmerman, who has spent recent weeks in hiding, had turned himself in.

"We did not come to this decision lightly," she said of the decision to charge him with murder. "We prosecute according to the facts of any given case, based on the laws of Florida."

Those facts, which will now be tested in court, remain hotly disputed. The jury will hear how 17-year-old Martin was spotted behaving in what Zimmerman presumed to be a "suspicious" manner as he walked home.

Zimmerman phoned police to report his presence, and then appears to have followed Martin through the gated community where he lived. At some stage, the duo became involved in a physical altercation, which ended only when Martin was shot.

The case will most likely hinge on whether Zimmerman was entitled to shoot Martin in self-defence. Under a "stand your ground" law enacted in Florida at the behest of the gun lobby, you can legally kill an assailant provided that you believe that your personal safety is gravely threatened.

Police officers who attended the scene of the killing appeared to think Zimmerman was protected by that law, and neglected even to arrest him. But in the days and weeks that followed Martin's death, amid allegations of racial bias by detectives, evidence emerged to suggest that they had overlooked crucial evidence.

For the second-degree murder charge to stick, Ms Corey's office will now have to convince a jury that Zimmerman, who is half-Hispanic, originally attacked Martin, rather than vice-versa. She did not say how she might build that argument, but said she was looking forward to outlining her case "detail by detail, piece of evidence by piece of evidence".

Zimmerman's first court appearance is due today, where attorneys will discuss the thorny issue of his bail.

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