SANFORD, Fla. — The special prosecutor leading the investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer is known for her tough tactics aimed at locking up criminals for long sentences and making it difficult to negotiate light plea bargains.

Angela Corey, 57, has handled hundreds of homicide cases involving the justifiable use of deadly force. It will be up to her whether to charge 28-year-old George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who says he was defending himself when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a scuffle.

Martin was unarmed as he walked from a convenience store, and the case has become a racial flashpoint with protesters across the nation calling for his arrest. Zimmerman’s father is white, his mother Hispanic.

Police did not initially charge Zimmerman because of a state law allowing someone to use deadly force if his life is in danger.

Corey, who also could call a grand jury to decide whether to file charges against Zimmerman, is known in legal circles as being passionate about victim’s rights and having clubby ties to law enforcement. She won the State Attorney’s Office seat after being fired from her job at the office a few years ago, beating the handpicked successor of the state attorney who fired her.

Corey was appointed the special prosecutor in the case by Republican Gov. Rick Scott after State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, whose district covers Sanford, recused himself.

Since she took on the case a dozen days ago, Corey and her team of two prosecutors and an investigator have interviewed witnesses in Sanford and visited the scene of the shooting. She also has instituted a media blackout, refusing to comment on any aspect of the case. Corey refused to take any questions about the Trayvon Martin case Friday.

Defense attorneys who have gone up against Corey in court say she is up for the job.

“She is a tough-minded prosecutor who is prepared, thorough and a very good advocate for the prosecution in the court,” said Ann Finnell, a Jacksonville defense lawyer who has faced off against Corey during a trial. Finnell also was on the legal team for Casey Anthony, the Orlando mother acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter.

As a courtroom prosecutor, Corey was an aggressive advocate. When she ran for the State Attorney’s Office in 2008, she made prosecuting juvenile criminals a top priority and celebrated her close ties to law enforcement agencies — so much so that in its endorsement of Corey’s opponent, The Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville wrote: “Is Corey’s relationship with the sheriff and the unions too close? Yes.”