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City celebrates as race-row gun killer of unarmed teen Trayvon faces murder trial

residents of the Florida city where unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead celebrated the arrest of the neighbourhood watch volunteer responsible for the killing.

The shooting of Martin (17) by a white and Hispanic man in February has fuelled national protests and cries of racism and focused scrutiny on Sanford, a city of 53,000 people that is dotted with Victorian-era cottages, brick office buildings and gated communities.

George Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder for shooting Martin in a gated community. Zimmerman's lawyer said that his client, who told police that he had acted in self-defence, would plead not guilty.


"Certainly getting to this point, now that there has been an indictment, does put a different spin on things," Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte said.

Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, who is white, made an appeal for calm and spoke of a "path toward healing" in the wake of the arrest.

"There is a little bit of relief," Triplett said. "This is an event that touched many hearts and many lives, and started conversations, but we hope that the atmosphere of civility will continue."

On the streets of the central Florida city, some celebrated Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey's announcement of the arrest and charge. "Hell, yeah!" exclaimed Terrence Bush, a 25-year-old black employee at a car wash near the jail where Zimmerman was held.

The shooting, Bush said, "was wrong. A lot of people around here are going to feel good about this."

Police originally declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of being killed or suffering serious bodily harm.

Albert Felder, a 49-year-old black instructor at the American Automobile Association, criticised the Sanford police department's handling of the case. "The problem here, we now know, is that the police didn't ask enough questions," he said.

Carlos Rodriguez (53) a retired office worker questioned Zimmerman's response after the growing outcry.

"If he isn't guilty, he shouldn't have gone into hiding," he said. "He should have come forward and explained himself publicly."


Others, however, said they saw little reason for authorities to reexamine the case.

"I think that if they didn't charge (Zimmerman) the first time around, I don't see how they'll get a conviction on a second degree murder now," said Sergio Fernandez, a 20-year-old Cuban-American and restaurant employee.

He said the case had tugged at race relations in Sanford.

"I'm Cuban but I look white and after those rallies, I'd get called a lot of names, like 'cracker' and things like that. It wasn't fun."

Bonaparte, who is black, said he hoped the arrest would allow the city and its residents to begin to move on.