Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By CURT ANDERSON and MIKE SCHNEIDER The Associated Press
SANFORD, Fla. - A routine bail hearing for George Zimmerman took a surprising turn into remorse and explanation Friday when the neighborhood watch volunteer got on the witness stand and told Trayvon Martin's parents: "I am sorry for the loss of your son."
George Zimmerman takes the witness stand Friday in Sanford, Fla., where he apologized to the parents of teenager Trayvon Martin.
The Associated Press
"I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. I did not know if he was armed or not," Zimmerman said, marking the first time he has spoken publicly about the Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed black 17-year-old.
The hearing wrapped up with a judge ruling Zimmerman can be released from jail on $150,000 bail while he awaits trial on second-degree murder charges. Zimmerman, who has been in jail for more than a week, could be out within days and may be allowed to live outside Florida for his own safety once arrangements are made to monitor him electronically.
Defendants often testify about their financial assets at bail hearings, but it is highly unusual for them to address the charges, and rarer still to apologize.
An attorney for Martin's parents, who were in the courtroom when Zimmerman spoke, spurned the apology. The parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, had no comment as they left.
"This was the most disingenuous and unfair thing I've seen," attorney Natalie Jackson said. "This was the most unmeaningful apology."
In a measure of how volatile the case has become, Zimmerman appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest under his suit and tie, and his parents and wife testified via telephone because of fears for their safety.
After the hearing, Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, acknowledged that putting Zimmerman on the stand was risky but said his client wanted to respond after Martin's mother said in an interview that she would like to hear from him.
"He had always wanted to acknowledge what happened that day," O'Mara said. "I was hoping that it could be accomplished in a private way. We weren't afforded that opportunity."
Stacey Honowitz, a Florida prosecutor with no connection to the case, said: "I think it was to sway public opinion. He's not incriminating himself. He is setting up his self-defense claim."
In agreeing to let Zimmerman out on bail, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said he cannot have any guns and must observe a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.
Zimmerman will need to put up 10 percent, or $15,000, to make bail. O'Mara said he expects the family to come up with the amount. Zimmerman's father has indicated he may take out a second mortgage.
Zimmerman worked at a mortgage risk-management company at the time of the shooting and his wife is in nursing school. A website was set up to collect donations for Zimmerman's defense fund. It is unclear how much it has raised.
Bail is not unheard of in second-degree murder cases, and legal experts had predicted it would be granted due to Zimmerman's ties to the community, because he turned himself in after he was charged last week, and because he has never been convicted of a serious crime.
Prosecutors had asked for $1 million bail, citing two previous scrapes Zimmerman had with the law, neither of which resulted in charges. In 2005, he had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman's friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused him of attacking her.
The hearing provided a few glimpses of the case being built by prosecutors.
Dale Gilbreath, an investigator for the prosecution, testified that he does not know whether Martin or Zimmerman threw the first punch and that there is no evidence to disprove Zimmerman's contention he was walking back to his vehicle when confronted by Martin.
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