Trayvon Martin: George Zimmerman appears in court

George Zimmerman makes his first appearance in court

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George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watchman accused over the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, has appeared in court.

During the brief hearing, a date of 29 May was set for a formal reading of the charges and a bail hearing.

Mr Zimmerman, 28, who turned himself in on Wednesday to face a charge of second-degree murder, stood up straight and wore a grey prison jumpsuit.

The 26 February killing of the 17-year-old has divided the US.

After the hearing, Mr Zimmerman's lawyer suggested that his client might apologise to Martin's parents.

"Understand that George fully well realises that he was involved in some way in the death of another young man," Mark O'Mara told ABC News.

"That weighed on him, I would imagine, more than the isolation, more than the last six weeks, more probably than the threat of what is to come in the system," he added.

On Thursday, Mr Zimmerman spent the evening in jail, after being arrested late Wednesday, according to his booking report. It had been 45 days since he shot the teenager in a quiet gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford.

Mr O'Mara expects a bail hearing for Mr Zimmerman on 20 April.

'Lot of hate'

During the hearing Mr O'Mara surprised onlookers by not seeking bail for his client.

He told reporters outside the court afterwards he had decided not to ask for a bond because "it might only arouse the fervour" around the case.

The attorney said earlier that his client would plead not guilty.

Key dates in the Martin case

  • 26 February: Trayvon Martin is fatally shot and police do not arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman
  • 16 March: Recordings of 911 calls made before the shooting are released to Martin's parents, they demand for Mr Zimmerman's arrest
  • 22 March: Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee "temporarily" steps down and Seminole County State Attorney Norman Wolfinger stands aside from the investigation amid mounting calls for the prosecution of Mr Zimmerman
  • 23 March: US President Barack Obama identifies with the Martin family and says if he had a son he would have looked like Trayvon Martin
  • 10 April: Mr Zimmerman's lawyers withdraw as his counsel and say they lost contact with him two days earlier
  • 11 April: George Zimmerman taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder

If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, told NBC's Today show that she did not think Mr Zimmerman had intended to kill her son.

"I believe it was an accident," she said on Thursday. "I believe that it just got out of control and he couldn't turn the clock back," she said, joined by Trayvon's father and their lawyer Benjamin Crump.

When asked what she would say to Mr Zimmerman if she could meet him face to face, Ms Fulton said she understood his family was hurting but that losing a teenage son was "very difficult to live with day in and day out".

"I'm sure his parents can pick up the phone and call him," she said, "but we can't pick up the phone and call Trayvon Martin anymore."

In a later interview with the Associated Press, Ms Fulton said she meant the meeting between her son and Mr Zimmerman was the accident.

"That was the accident," she said. "Not the actual act of him shooting him. That was murder... They were never supposed to meet."

Legal experts say that prosecutors must prove the shooting was rooted in hatred or ill will, while the defence, to prevent the case from even going to trial, have to prove by a relatively lower legal standard that its client acted in self-defence.

But court documents allege that Mr Zimmerman felt Martin "did not belong in the gated community" and, referring to the teenager, said: "these assholes, they always get away".

Mr Zimmerman's attorney said: "He is concerned about getting a fair trial and a fair presentation. He is a client who has a lot of hatred focused on him."

'Stand your ground'

Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced on Wednesday that charges would be pressed, telling reporters: "We did not come to this decision lightly. Let me emphasise that we do not prosecute by public pressure or petition."

Angela Corey: George Zimmerman's trial needs a 'fair jury'

The move followed a nationwide campaign of demonstrations demanding Mr Zimmerman's arrest, led by the dead teenager's parents and prominent civil rights activists.

The debate went all the way to the White House when President Barack Obama said last month: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

The case highlights Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law, which grants individuals leeway to use deadly force if they feel seriously under threat.

According to an affidavit of probable cause released by the prosecutor's office Trayvon Martin was walking home from a local shop carrying a bag of sweets and a can of iced tea when he was "profiled" by Mr Zimmerman.

The document notes that Martin was unarmed but Mr Zimmerman assumed he was a criminal.

The neighbourhood watch volunteer had told a police dispatcher he thought Martin, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, looked suspicious.

The dispatcher advised Mr Zimmerman not to go after the young man. But minutes later a confrontation ensued, leading to the fatal shooting.

The case has raised tensions around Sanford, where bullets were fired into an unoccupied police car on Tuesday not far from where the teenager died.

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