Under the glare of protests and the national media spotlight, the Sanford police chief and the Brevard-Seminole County prosecutor both stepped aside Thursday in the case of a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, state attorney for the Jacksonville area, as special prosecutor to head the state investigation of the Feb. 26 slaying of Trayvon Martin, 17, of South Florida. Scott also announced that a task force headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will study Florida's "stand your ground'' law.
The government's statement suggested that Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Norm Wolfinger was forced out.
About 8,000 people joined a rally Thursday evening led by civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton in a Sanford park.
Scott's news was welcomed with boisterous cheers from the crowd. Flanked by Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Sharpton said police Chief Bill Lee's decision to temporarily step down was not enough.
"We didn't come here for a temporary leave of absence," said Sharpton, who attended despite the death of his mother. "We came here for permanent justice. Arrest Zimmerman now!"
George Zimmerman, 28, was the neighborhood watch captain at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a townhouse complex in the small town north of Orlando. A Hispanic former insurance agent with a history of reporting the presence of black men to police, Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest.
The killing came after Zimmerman called police saying he saw someone in a hoodie walking too slowly in the rain, peering at houses. After the shooting, he told police he was attacked and fired in self-defense.
A general studies major at Seminole State College, Zimmerman was kicked out of the school Thursday "due to the highly charged and high-profile controversy," the school announced.
The Sanford Police Department is under fire for its handling of the investigation and for accepting the shooter's self-defense claim.
Accused of lying to reporters and Trayvon's parents, protecting the shooter and ignoring key witnesses, Lee decided to step aside Thursday. His decision came a day after a 3-2 Sanford City Commission vote of "no confidence" in the chief.
Two captains will run the department until an interim chief is chosen, City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said. It was unclear whether Lee planned to return to the $102,000-a-year post.
On the job for just 10 months, Lee joined the department after a 27-year career at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office with a mission to clean up a department marked by internal turmoil and race-related scandals.
Martin's parents said that the chief's stepping down wasn't enough and that Zimmerman should be taken into custody.
"We want an arrest, we want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son," Martin's father, Tracy, said to fiery crowd of about 1,000 supporters in downtown Sanford.
Some people believed the police chief should step down for good.
"If they wanted to defuse a potential powder keg, he needed to resign," said pastor Eugene Walton, 58, who was born and raised in Sanford. "His inaction speaks loudly to the black community."
Scott said the task force led by Carroll will take a closer look at the 2005 "stand your ground" law, and other issues surrounding the case.
"After listening to many concerned citizens in recent days, I will call for a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how to make sure a tragedy such as this does not occur in the future, while at the same time, protecting the fundamental rights of all of our citizens — especially the right to feel protected and safe in our state," Scott said in a release.
The task force will convene after the investigation takes place, and will include public hearings.
In addition to Carroll, the Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, has agreed to be the vice chair of the task force. Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Legislature's Republican leadership — some of whom co-sponsored the "stand your ground" law — also supported the new task force.
The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and a grand jury will meet April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.
Before the rally, Martin's parents met with the U.S. attorney for Florida's Middle District, the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in Washington and the head of the FBI's Tampa office to discuss the investigation.
"We listened carefully to the concerns of the family and their representatives," Special Agent Dave Couvertier, an FBI spokesman, said in a statement. "We continue to extend our deepest condolences to Trayvon's family for their loss."
Information from the Miami Herald, Associated Press and Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.