SANFORD, Fla. -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, removing the state attorney who had been considering the case.
Scott and Bondi appointed State Attorney Angela B. Corey, whose office handles cases in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
Also Thursday, Scott created a task force headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to review Florida's 2005 "stand your ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force if they think their lives or others' are in imminent danger or they face "great bodily harm."
Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Norm Wolfinger relinquished the investigation after a talk with Scott and Bondi, according to a statement from the Governor's Office. Wolfinger signed a letter requesting the special prosecutor, saying he was acting "with the intent of toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation."
The Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon in a gated community in Sanford by Neighborhood Watch coordinator George Zimmerman has ignited fierce public outrage nationwide and beyond. Zimmerman, 28, who said he shot the unarmed 17-year-old Miami boy in self-defense, has not been arrested.
"In the interest of the public safety of the citizens of Seminole County and to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, I would respectfully request the executive assignment of another state attorney for the investigation and any prosecution arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon B. Martin," Wolfinger wrote.
It's unclear whether a grand jury that was scheduled to meet April 10 will convene to consider the case. Pat Whitaker, chief of operations in the State Attorney's Office in Seminole County, said it's possible Corey will bring the case before the grand jury.
State Sen. Gary Siplin, a Democrat, applauded Scott's actions, calling them "the first step in making sure that Trayvon receives posthumous justice and respect, and that this type of activity is eradicated in not only Central Florida, but statewide."
Scott said he is creating the task force on the gun law because of the public outcry over the case.
Immediately after Corey's investigation is completed, the task force will conduct public hearings and make legislative and other recommendations to try to prevent a repeat of the tragedy and also safeguard the public's right "to feel protected and safe," Scott wrote.
The Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, will be vice chairman. Scott has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assist the probe.
Thursday afternoon, Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, and their attorney met with the head of the FBI's Tampa division, U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill and the deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
The FBI this week began its own investigation of the case. The Washington Post reported that the inquiry is a top priority for the agency, and one focus is whether Zimmerman muttered a racial slur seconds before shooting Trayvon as some have alleged.
Sanford police Chief Bill Lee Jr. stepped aside temporarily Thursday in the wake of mounting public criticism and a 3-2 vote of no confidence Wednesday night by the Sanford City Commission. Police had handed their findings to Wolfinger for possible prosecution.
Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive of the national NAACP, and Turner Clayton, president of the Seminole County NAACP branch, applauded the move but said they would not rest until Zimmerman is arrested and convicted.
Officials from the Department of Justice Community Relations Service arrived at the Sanford Police Department about noon Thursday, but they would not speak to media gathered in the lobby.
(Staff writers Rene Stutzman and Bianca Prieto contributed to this report.)
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services