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Trayvon Martin's Killer Was Finally Charged With a Crime—Was It the Right One?

Justice served, right? Well, not so fast.

Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced yesterday that George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who killed 17-year-old black student Trayvon Martin in February, is being charged with second-degree murder. Justice served, right? Well, not so fast.

Before you go thinking the Martin shooting is an open-and-shut case, remember that Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law allows citizens to use deadly force against people they assume to be threats without having to defuse the situation. If the defense can show that Martin did indeed attack Zimmerman, it's possible that Zimmerman could go free. That said, the fact that Corey has decided to go with a murder charge instead of a manslaughter charge suggests that the state is confident Zimmerman wasn't provoked. The New York Times explained what second-degree murder means in Florida:

"Under second-degree murder, the jury must find that a death was caused by a criminal act "demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life," said Eric Abrahamsen, a Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer, reading from the state's standard jury instructions.

Prior to Corey's pronouncement, some analysts were predicting Zimmerman would face a manslaughter charge. In Florida, that's still possible. A jury who disagrees that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder could reject that charge and instead convict him of a lesser offense, like third-degree murder or manslaughter.

Regardless of the end result, it's abundantly clear that Corey is being sure to protect the Florida justice system's reputation throughout these proceedings. "You've got a very highly publicized case, you have people outraged, and you have a prosecutor sensitive to all that," says Danny Onorato, a defense attorney and partner at Schertler & Onorato in Washington, D.C. Onorato points to the fact that Corey forwent pressing charges via a grand jury, which might have let Zimmerman walk. By charging him herself, Corey ensured that Zimmerman wouldn't get off scot-free, thus protecting Florida's reputation from any further damage. "My thought is that she probably structured it in a way that they have cover publicly," Onorato says.

If all this hasn't become enough of a circus for you, just wait: Florida's so-called "sunshine law" probably means that the Zimmerman trial will be televised.

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