20 Apr 2012

Zimmerman says sorry to Trayvon Martin’s parents

George Zimmerman made a brief appearance on the stand at his bail hearing in Florida – as the judge agreed to set a $150,000 bond for him to get out of jail.

George Zimmerman in court

Zimmerman appeared in court in Florida for the four- hour bail hearing, wearing a dark suit, with his hands shackled. In a surprise move, he took the stand, addressing the family of Trayvon Martin directly across the room. “I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son”, he said. “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know whether he was armed or not”.

The prosecution had argued for bail to be denied, or set at $1m. But today the judge, Kenneth Lester, set a bond of $150,000, although he said Zimmerman’s release would not happen today. He then set a number of conditions, including electronic monitoring, no access to firearms, and no further contact with the Martin family, although he could be allowed to leave the state.

I am sorry for the loss of your son. George Zimmerman

Earlier, members of Zimmerman’s family told the court by phone that they did not consider him a flight risk or a threat to the community. His father Robert spoke about his character.

“I’ve never known him to be violent at all, unless he was provoked, and then he would turn the other cheek”, he said. His mother also told the court her son had a history of defending others, describing a time when he had helped to track down a suspect who had beaten up a local homeless man.

His lawyer, Mark O’Mara, argued strongly for bail to be set: “He needs to get out. He should not be in jail … it should happen”. And he said that a number of potential safe houses were being prepared in the event of his client’s release.

The state investigator charged with looking into the events of 26 February, when Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old inside a gated community, also answered questions in court. Dale Gilbreath said he did not know “who threw the first blow” in the incident which provoked the shooting, adding that Zimmerman had contradicted himself when officers interviewed him.

Under a brief cross-examination, George Zimmerman was asked whether he had changed his story to police on the night the shooting happened. “Absolutely not,” he insisted.

But for Trayvon Martin’s parents, who sat quietly in the Sanford courtroom, it was a deeply painful experience. Their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said they had been shaken and upset by Friday’s events. “All throughout the hearing, Tracy Martin had tears in his eyes as he watched the killer of his son”, he said. “And it was devastating that he got to give a self-serving apology to help him get a bond. They were outraged about that.”

Most of the evidence is being kept for the full court hearing – which will put Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in the dock. However, the brief hearing has given clear indications of the cases which defence and prosecution intend to lay out: and all the signs point to a bitter legal fight over the tragic fate of a young teenager, whose death has divided a nation.

Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News