New Prosecutor In Fla. Shooting Case; Protests Spread
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin spread across the country this week following the release of the recordings of 911 calls. Trayvon Martin was unarmed. He'd gone out to purchase candy. Thousands of people protested this week, donning hooded sweatshirts in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, who was wearing one when he was shot. Many called for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who says he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.
By Thursday, Sanford, Florida's police chief had stepped down temporarily, and yesterday, President Barack Obama expressed his sympathy to Trayvon's parents.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, if I had a son he'd look like Trayvon, and, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are gonna take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're gonna get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
SIMON: We're joined now from Sanford by NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thanks for being with us.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Sure. Glad to do it.
SIMON: And what's the latest?
ROSE: Well, the Florida governor has appointed a new special prosecutor named Angela Corey to take over the case. She was here in Sanford yesterday with her deputies and they say they've already started gathering facts. Corey is replacing the state attorney who was handling it before. Both he and Sanford police chief Bill Lee have now stepped aside, and they've both taking lots of heat for the way the investigation has been handled, especially for their decision not to quickly arrest George Zimmerman.
SIMON: Angela Corey, I gather is a state attorney in Jacksonville. What else do we know about her?
ROSE: She is a Republican, and she has a lot of experience prosecuting homicide cases. We know that she got a very big ovation here in Sanford the other night when her appointment was announced in front of the massive rally in support of Trayvon's parents. And I think people here took the appointment as a sign that the case is finally being taken more seriously by state officials, as well as at the federal authorities, but their patience may not last very long if they don't see an arrest in the case.
SIMON: And we should emphasize that George Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime. We also haven't heard from him directly. There is a lawyer who is advising him, who has begun to tell what is considered to be his side of the story. Tell us a bit about this lawyer and what has he said.
ROSE: Well, that's right. Craig Sonner, he's a defense attorney in the Orlando area. I was able to speak to him this morning. Sonner seems very interested in countering the impression that George Zimmerman - whose father is white, and whose mother is Hispanic - was targeting Trayvon Martin because he was black. And Sonner expressed some regret that this case has turned into what he called he called a racial battle. And let's listen to a clip from the interview.
(SOUNDBITE OF TAPED INTERVIEW)
CRAIG SONNER: Whatever transpired on that evening, I don't believe it was motivated by race. I don't believe that George Zimmerman is a racist, and I don't think that it was motivated by him wanting to kill a young African-American. I don't believe that was his intent at all.
ROSE: Sonner went on to say that George Zimmerman and his wife have acted as mentors to several young African-American teenagers, and Sonner reiterated what Zimmerman initially told police, which is that he was acting in self-defense. According to Sonner, Zimmerman suffered some injuries that night at the hands of Trayvon Martin, including a fairly serious cut and a broken nose. And Sonner expressed condolences to the family of Travyon Martin and saying to me that it was tragic that Trayvon's life was cut short.
SIMON: More demonstrations planned this weekend in the area, Joel?
ROSE: I don't think we're looking for one single big demonstration like we've seen during the week. I think there may be smaller ones all over the country. I know there are demonstrations scheduled for today in Tampa, Florida and as far away at Portland, Oregon. I think the next big demonstration here in Sanford may come on Monday. That's the night that the Sanford City Commission is scheduled to meet.
SIMON: NPR's Joel Rose in Sanford, Florida. Thanks so much.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.