A routine bail hearing for George Zimmerman took a surprising turn Friday, when the accused killer got on the witness stand and told Trayvon Martin's parents: "I am sorry for the loss of your son."
ATLANTA — George Zimmerman apologized to the parents of the unarmed black teenager he fatally shot while a judge set his bond at $150,000, offering the former neighborhood-watch volunteer a path to freedom after more than a week in jail.
Zimmerman remained in custody Friday, but his freedom was “being worked on as we speak,” said Jimmy Woods, a spokesman for Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney.
Zimmerman, 28, appeared for the bail hearing at the Sanford, Fla. courtroom with his hands bound by a chain circling his waist. Almost two hours into the televised proceedings, O’Mara said Zimmerman wished to take the stand.
“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son,” Zimmerman said, addressing the parents of shooting victim Trayvon Martin, 17, who were in attendance. “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am, and I did not know if he was armed or not.”
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Defendants often testify about financial assets at bail hearings, but it is highly unusual for them to address the charges, and rarer still to apologize.
Zimmerman turned himself in to authorities April 11 after learning he would be charged with second-degree murder for the February incident. He reported Martin to police as a suspicious character, and followed him after a police dispatcher told him that wouldn’t be a good idea.
What happened next, and in what sequence, is a matter of dispute, and at the heart of a case that has touched off protests and reflection about race and the American justice system. Zimmerman’s father is white; his mother is Latina. Martin was black.
Stray pieces of that puzzle have been trickling out, the latest being a photo obtained by ABC News that shows the bloody back of Zimmerman’s head. The photo was reportedly taken shortly after the shooting. Zimmerman contends Martin attacked him and beat his head into the sidewalk, after which Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.
Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. set Zimmerman’s bond after a sometimes-contentious two-hour hearing. Attorneys for the state repeatedly brought up two incidents from Zimmerman’s past, both from 2005. The first was an arrest for assaulting an undercover officer during an underage-drinking crackdown, and the second, an injunction filed by a former girlfriend who claimed Zimmerman struck her.
“It’s not somebody who’s never been in trouble with the law before,” said prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda. He added that Zimmerman was a heightened flight risk now that he was facing a life sentence. He asked the judge to either deny bond or set it at $1 million.
Lester determined the 2005 incidents were relatively minor. He granted the bond, with numerous conditions, including an order that Zimmerman not contact any potential witnesses — a group that includes Martin’s parents — and a requirement he wear an electronic global positioning device so authorities can track his location.
Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.
O’Mara argued that his client needed to remain in a secret location due to threats on his life. O’Mara also asked Lester if his client could be allowed to leave the state. The judge told the attorney to see if he could work those details out with law-enforcement authorities.
O’Mara called Zimmerman’s wife, mother and father as witnesses to vouch for his character. All three testified by phone, fearing a public appearance after reported threats against the family.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, dismissed Zimmerman’s apology as self-serving. Crump said that on a website Zimmerman established to help raise legal and living expenses, Zimmerman “never once said I’m sorry,” Crump said at a news conference. “Why today?”
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.