Shooter charged with murder of US black teen

JACKSONVILLE, Florida - US prosecutors have charged a neighborhood watchman with murdering an unarmed black teenager, a killing that sparked a tense nationwide discussion of race and criminal justice.

Florida state attorney Angela Corey told a press conference on Wednesday that George Zimmerman, 28, who claims to have killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense, has been charged with second-degree murder.

"I can tell you, we did not come to this decision lightly," she added after a weeks-long investigation into the February 26 shooting, adding that Zimmerman - who is Hispanic - was in custody in Florida.

Zimmerman stands accused of fatally shooting Martin inside a gated community in the central town of Sanford, as the teen - wearing a hooded sweatshirt on a rainy night - was heading home after buying candy at a convenience store.

Zimmerman described the teen as "real suspicious" in an emergency call before the shooting, according to police transcripts.

Martin's family and supporters say the teenager may have been the victim of racial profiling.

Zimmerman has made no public comment, but his family and supporters say Martin attacked first, breaking Zimmerman's nose before knocking him to the ground and repeatedly slamming his head against the sidewalk.

They insist Zimmerman's life was in danger and he fired in self-defense.

A controversial Florida statute, known as the stand-your-ground law, allows the use of deadly force when a person has a reasonable fear of death or serious injury, even if he or she could conceivably retreat.

A bond hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, Zimmerman's new defense attorney Mark O'Mara told CNN, adding that his client would plead not guilty.

Authorities booked Zimmerman into jail at the Polk Correctional Facility at 8:30 pm Wednesday (8:30 am local time).

The case has touched a raw nerve in the US public regarding race and violence, dominating cable news and sparking large protests. O'Mara said his client was "concerned about getting a fair trial."

"There has been a lot of information flowing. I think a lot of it has been premature and maybe inappropriate. I don't think a case like this should be tried here," O'Mara told reporters in Orlando, Florida.

Zimmerman "is troubled that the state decided to charge him," O'Mara said.

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