Angela Corey, the controversial state attorney at the heart of the prosecution of George Zimmerman, has been facing tough criticism by some who say Zimmerman's acquittal proves she can't follow through on her characteristic bold moves.
Still, Corey uses the law to pursue the justice she wants. With the nation questioning her decisions, she fiercely defends herself against those who think her ambition eclipses the skills she needs to pull off such legal gymnastics.
Before Corey made national news by charging Zimmerman with murder for killing Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the state attorney was no stranger to calculated risks. She had already made a 12-year-old face first-degree murder charges.
She also put a woman in prison for 20 years for firing at, yet missing, an allegedly abusive husband, the prosecutor's office says. Now, a growing number of critics describe her as a desperate prosecutor who regularly overcharges defendants and is more interested in making a name for herself than in seeking justice.
"She had the worst reputation in Florida for overcharging and the worst reputation with professional responsibility," said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor explaining why Corey should not have tried the Zimmerman case. "There are some great prosecutors in Florida and across the country. She's not one of them."
Supporters of Corey say she is a solid attorney whose 32-year career as a prosecutor has led her to understand the law and how to effectively apply it to everyday situations.
Corey was elected in 2008 as the state attorney for the fourth judicial circuit in Jacksonville. But long before she became a household name, her supporters say she became known locally as a passionate advocate for victims.
"This lady cares," said Beverly McClain, who runs Families of Slain Children, a non-profit based in Jacksonville. "She's got a heart but she's got a job to do also."
McClain, whose son was killed in 2005, often works with Corey in helping families of murder victims. She said Corey has pursued cases in a way that has endeared her to many. Often Corey shows emotion in meetings not captured on camera or seen by her critics, McClain said.
Still, Dershowitz, one of Corey's most outspoken critics, contends that Corey gives prosecutors a bad name and published half-truths in an effort to convict Zimmerman. He adds that Corey has a reputation for firing her own employees who criticize her, and that in the aftermath of the phone call, a whistle-blower e-mailed him and said Corey was "trying to find something on you."
Corey, in an interview with USA TODAY, said she leads a team of prosecutors who focus on putting criminals away and getting justice for all parties involved in cases. She says she can't understand why people continue to attack her. She adds that she'll continue to aggressively push back and prosecute cases based on what she thinks is right.
"Every day we have great success," Corey said. "Every day, we have cases that don't work out the way we want."
However, some of Corey's critics claim the state attorney charged Zimmerman and others for personal gain rather than because the case merited a second-degree murder charge.
"She thought it would look great, look how tough I am," said former Florida state attorney Harry Shorstein, who fired Corey when she worked as an assistant state attorney for him. "Very simply, if you follow the law and the facts, there was no question about the verdict."
Shorstein told USA TODAY that he fired Corey in 2006 after a law school intern "complained very, very significantly about Angela Corey."
Corey has said she was fired because she had announced her intention to run for state prosecutor to replace Shorstein.
Meanwhile, Corey has continued to call Zimmerman a "murderer" and has used the opportunity to point to all the other cases she has won.
"George Zimmerman used excessive and deadly force and that's what made it a violation of Florida law," she said.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda, an attorney who works for Corey and who argued the Zimmerman case at trial agrees. "We were convinced that Mr. Zimmerman needed to be prosecuted."
Shorstein described the selection of Corey to lead the Zimmerman trial as a mistake and said the prosecution's case was "atrocious."
Dershowitz maintains that Corey overcharged Zimmerman and purposely left out in charging documents that Zimmerman had sustained injuries during a struggle with Trayvon.
Several legal experts during and after the trial say prosecutors had little evidence with which to work. There were no real eyewitnesses, contradictory statements from nearby neighbors, and experts who seemed to support Zimmerman's version of events. Still, some claim Corey and her attorneys did a poor job of executing their case.
Despite the back and forth, Corey's supporters paint a picture of a woman unfairly attacked by the public.
De la Rionda, who works closely with Corey, and McClain, who met Corey at a yard sale, both say she is a frugal woman who takes care of those around her.
Sheriff John Rutherford publicly endorsed Corey during her election campaign to become state attorney. The two met in the 1980s when Corey was sent to the sheriff's office as an assistant state attorney to train officers on how to apply laws on the street. It was the start of a long friendship and one that led him to support her bid.
"She got very tough on the prosecutions," said Rutherford, explaining that Corey aggressively went after criminals once elected. "We now have the lowest crime we've had in 41 years."
Corey's office proudly touts that in her first fiscal year, conviction rates jumped to more than 90%. Corey also counts it a victory that she sends more people to prison than her predecessor. The tougher sentences, she says, decreases the number of repeat offenders who do short jail stints then commit more crimes when released.
A native of Jacksonville, Corey, 58, received a bachelor of science degree in marketing from Florida State University in 1976 and a law degree from the University of Florida in 1979. She later spent 25 years working for the 4th Judicial Circuit as an assistant state attorney. After Shorstein fired her, Corey still managed to become his successor.
But, Corey's actions since being in office have come under fire.
Many have turned their focus to the case of Marissa Alexander, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Alexander said she fired a "warning shot" at a wall during an argument with her husband, Rico Gray, in 2010.
Alexander had tried to get her case dismissed under Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force against someone else if they fear for their life and says people do not have to retreat if threatened or attacked. However, the court rejected the argument in Alexander's case saying she fired out of anger, not fear for her life. That's exactly how Corey's office sees it.
"People question us on every case we file," Corey told USA TODAY, adding that there has been plenty of misinformation about Alexander in the media.
For example, Corey's office says Alexander shot at her husband and her two stepchildren, ages 10 and 13. Her office also points out that Alexander was initially charged with three counts of aggravated assault, released on bond, and told to have no contact with Gray.
However, Alexander later went to Gray's home and beat him in the face, which caused her bond to be revoked, Corey's office says. Alexander then rejected a plea deal that would have gotten her three years in prison. Instead, she decided to go to trial and was sentenced under a Florida minimum-sentencing law regarding the use of firearms.
The questions don't stop there.
Corey's critics have pointed to her 2011 decision to charge Cristian Fernandez, then a 12-year-old, as an adult with first-degree murder in the beating death of his 2-year-old half brother.
Corey says she charged in the manner she did to ensure that Fernandez got enough time in the system to get the help he needed. "The juvenile system is not designed to handle a juvenile murderer," Corey said. "We were going to put him into adult court to seek a middle ground."
A plea deal reached in February placed Fernandez in a juvenile facility until 2018 for lesser charges. Fernandez will be 19 when he is released, though still on probation.
Henry Coxe, Fernandez's defense attorney, says his client was mistreated by Corey's charging.
"He was 12 years old," Coxe said. "He never intended that his brother would be hurt seriously, that his brother would die."
Of the murder charge, Coxe added: "We have never been able to fathom how that happened."
Recently, Corey has come under fire from the Florida Civil Rights Association, which says it aims to advance equal opportunity and diversity.
The association is calling for Corey to be removed from the trial of Michael Dunn, who has been charged with first-degree murder for shooting unarmed, 17-year-old Jordan Davis at a Jacksonville gas station. Davis, who was black, was sitting in a vehicle in November 2012 when Dunn, who is white, fired at the teen after an argument about loud music coming from Davis' car.
The group says a special prosecutor is needed in the Davis case "to quell racial tension" created by Corey and the state attorney office's "failed prosecution" of Zimmerman.
"Given her track record and how she handled the case to begin with, people would be better served if an independent prosecutor was appointed to that case," said Shayan Elahi, a civil rights attorney for the Florida Civil Rights Association.
In explaining his position, Elahi claims Corey was focused more on getting re-elected to her position than on the Zimmerman trial itself.
Gov. Rick Scott has rejected the association's request to remove Corey from the Davis case and Davis' family hasn't called for a new prosecutor.
Despite all the backlash from the Zimmerman case, Corey explains that she and her prosecutors will make no apologies for being tough.
"This office has been very successful under my leadership," Corey said. "I'm not sure why they (cases) are all being strung together."
And, the state attorney sums up her stance: "Generally, if people don't get their way, they think they can just go to the media and bully an elected official into doing something. We have never succumbed to that and nor will we ever."