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Zimmerman prosecutors face hurdles

Prosecutors face steep hurdles to win a second-degree murder conviction against a neighbourhood watch volunteer charged in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, experts say.

George Zimmerman was charged after a public campaign to make an arrest in the shooting that galvanized the US for weeks. Now the prosecutor and her team will have to prove Zimmerman intentionally went after Martin instead of shooting him in self-defence, to refute arguments that a Florida law empowered him to use deadly force.

Zimmerman, 28, who turned himself in at a county jail after prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charge, was to appear before a magistrate on Thursday and plead not guilty in the February 26 shooting of the 17-year-old that set off a nationwide debate about racial profiling and the rights to self-defence.

"He is concerned about getting a fair trial and a fair presentation," his attorney, Mark O'Mara said. "He is a client who has a lot of hatred focused on him. I'm hoping the hatred settles down ... he has the right to his own safety and the case being tried before a judge and jury."

Speaking on NBC's Today show, Mr O'Mara said Zimmerman is stressed and very tired and hoping to get bail. "He wants to be out (of jail) to be able to help with his defence, but overall he is doing ok," Mr O'Mara told NBC.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin's mother, who has campaigned with the rest of the teen's family for an arrest and prosecution, said she thought the shooting was an accident.

Asked on Today what she would say to Zimmerman face-to-face, Sybrina Fulton said she wanted an apology, then added: "I believe it was an accident. I believe that it just got out of control and he couldn't turn the clock back." She did not say more about how she thinks the shooting happened.

Legal experts said Corey chose a tough route with the murder charge, which could send Zimmerman to prison for life if he's convicted, over manslaughter, which usually carries 15-year prison terms and covers reckless or negligent killings.

The prosecutors must prove Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence - a relatively low legal standard - that he acted in self-defence at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial.

There's a "high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case," Florida defence attorney Richard Hornsby said.

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