The special prosecutor investigating the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer pleaded with the public Tuesday to give her team the time it needs to uncover the truth.
Angela B. Corey, a veteran prosecutor, said she is well aware of the public's demands for answers in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in what has become a racially charged case triggering nationwide outrage.
"We stepped into this case Thursday night," Corey told The Times. "We're asking -- we're begging people -- just give us a chance."
In a sign of how feverishly her team is working on the case, Corey said her probe could possibly result in state charges that bypass the need for the Seminole County Grand Jury, which is slated to convene April 10 to hear the case.
"It's possible that we’ll just make a decision without the grand jury," she said.
This much is clear about the Feb. 26 shooting. The unarmed teen was returning from a trip to the convenience store after buying Skittles and an iced tea when he crossed paths with George Zimmerman, 28, of Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman was carrying a 9-millimeter weapon. Minutes later, Martin was dead.
Police decided not to arrest Zimmerman, who said he shot Martin in self-defense and race had nothing to do with it.
It will be up to Corey to decide whether Zimmerman will face state charges in connection with the case, or whether race played a role. Friends -- see video above -- say he is distraught that he took another life and is suffering from insomnia,post-traumatic stress disorder and crying jags.
Critics, however, believe Zimmerman provoked the encounter after calling 911 to report Martin to the police as a suspicious black male.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey to the case as public fury was intensifying. Civil right activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were organizing rallies and protests. Just hours after her appointment, President Obama entered the controversy, calling it a tragedy in need of a thorough investigation.
But Corey, 54, a Florida native who has taken hundreds of cases to trial during her 26 years as a prosecutor, including dozens of homicides, says she does not feel political pressure to do anything other than follow the evidence.
She said Martin's parents, whom she met with Monday, deserve as much.
"The only commitment I made to our governor is that I will determine the facts and give Trayvon Martin's family the answers they deserve," she said. "But we want to give them complete answers," she added, explaining why some details in the case, such as official police reports and the autopsy, remain under seal.
Half-answers only lead to speculation, she said, and "I think that's adding to the family's grief. I want to give them the entire investigation, A to Z."
Corey said she is also immune to the public controversy swirling around the case, which is also being probed by the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.
"Controversy doesn't fit well with justice," she said. "Justice has to be determined from the truth.
"You've got to close out everything that is going on outside."
How does she do that? "I pray a lot," she said.
She called the case the most "intense fact-finding mission that has been done in a long time" in the state.
Corey declined to discuss criticism that the Sanford Police Department in Seminole County should have at least arrested Zimmerman and given prosecutors a chance to review the circumstances in Martin's death.
She did say, however, that in her Florida jurisdiction police and prosecutors work closely together on serious crimes from the onset, especially "if there's a potential that the victim will die."
Corey's jurisdiction includes Duval, Nassau and Clay counties. Although some have applauded her appointment in the Martin case, others are protesting it in light of her handling of another high-profile case, that of Cristian Fernandez.
Corey triggered controversy when she sought to have the 12-year-old tried as an adult for allegedly killing his 2-year-old brother. Critics say the move lacks sensitivity, and say the boy should be tried in juvenile court.
In the Martin case, Zimmerman's claim that he fired in self-defense, as well as Florida's "stand your ground" law -- which permits someone to use deadly force if the person fears death or great bodily harm -- adds layers of complexity to the investigation.
"I can tell you that this type of a homicide is complicated when justifiable homicide is put out as an affirmative defense," she said.
She said she will not shy away from addressing whether race played a role in the shooting. "Any sort of a bias ... could go toward evidence," she said. "Absolutely, the truth of that will be searched for and discerned."
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