Polite, apologetic, and with his hands chained firmly to his waist, George Zimmerman has publicly said “sorry” to the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager he shot and killed almost two months ago.
In a surprise appearance on the stand in Sanford, Florida, this morning, the defendant in what promises to be a highly-divisive murder trial said that he had wrongly believed that his 17-year-old victim was armed, when he decided to pull the trigger.
Zimmerman’s comments came shortly before a judge agreed to free him on $150,000 bail. He will be required to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet and remain indoors after dark. For his own safety, he may also be allowed to live at a secret location outside the State.
“I wanted to say that I am sorry for the loss of your son,” said 28-year-old Martin. “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am, and I thought that he was armed.”
His speech came towards the end of an unexpectedly lively two-hour hearing, in which the defence and prosecution sparred over some, but not all, of the claims and counter-claims that lie at the centre of the racially-charged case.
For one of the first times since Zimmerman became a national talking-point in the wake Martin's killing, on February 26th, the public heard from family members who helped to humanise him. His wife, Shellie, father, Robert, and mother, Gladys, testified via telephone.
They claimed that he was “absolutely not” violent or racist, and told how he had volunteered as a mentor for disadvantaged black youths. They also recalled that, on the day after Martin’s death, he had a swollen face, protective cover over his nose, and two large gashes on the back of his head.
Evidence of injuries may support Zimmerman’s claim that he shot Martin in self-defence after being violently attacked. Yesterday, ABC news obtained photographs which appear to show that he was indeed bleeding from the back of his skull following the incident.
The Defence did not have things all its own way, though. Zimmerman’s family members faced awkward questions about his arrest in 2005, for attacking a plain-clothes police officer in a local bar, following which he was forced to attend a series of anger-management classes.
Prosecutors later inquired about injunctions filed against him by a former fiancée, which they say further indicates a pattern of aggressive behaviour by Zimmerman, who wore a dark suit, white shirt, and grey tie during the televised hearing.
Dale Gilbreath, one of the investigators who filed Second Degree murder charges against Zimmerman revealed several new details about Martin’s death – among them the fact that the teenager was shot from close range, and had muzzle burns on his body. Zimmerman’s statements to police officers in the days after the killing appeared to vary significantly, he claimed, and contradicted physical evidence at the scene.
Zimmerman, who has spent a week behind bars, is expected to be freed over the weekend. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Maritn’s parents, said they were “devastated” by the bail, adding: “he got to give a self-serving apology to help him get a bond. They were very outraged at that.“