Prayers for peace as Trayvon's killer appears in court at last
Zimmerman enters no plea, but is expected to claim he shot the black teenager in self-defence
The man who shot and killed the unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, almost seven weeks ago appeared in court for the first time last night on second-degree murder charges.
In the brief hearing, George Zimmerman did not enter a plea or request bail, and a date of 29 May was set for a formal reading of the charges, which carry a sentence ranging between 25 years and life in prison.
He is expected to argue that he acted in self-defence when he shot Trayvon, 17, in Sanford, Florida, and is therefore protected by the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows gun owners to use lethal force if they feel endangered.
Last night's hearing was not focused on the details of how Trayvon came to be shot dead as he walked from a convenience store to the home of his father's girlfriend, but was instead to consider the issue of bail. But Mr Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, said his client did not request bail because "it might only arouse the fervour" around the case. Mr O'Mara had earlier told reporters: "I think nobody would deny the fact if George Zimmerman is walking down the street today, he would be at risk. He's stressed. He's tired. He's been through a lot with the way this case has been handled."
Mr Zimmerman arrived at Seminole County Jail in Sanford late on Wednesday and was escorted inside with a jacket over his head. He appeared in court yesterday in a prison jumpsuit and looked straight ahead as he answered "yes, sir" to routine questions about the charges.
Mr Zimmerman's arrest has helped relieve tension in Sanford, a city of 38,000 people north of Orlando, which had been the focus of angry and racially charged protests and was described by its mayor on Tuesday as a "tinderbox".
In the poor and predominately black Goldsboro neighbourhood, just south of the city centre, dozens of worshippers had gathered around a television at the Allen Chapel AME Church, a focus of recent demonstrations, to watch prosecutor Angela Corey announce the murder charge on Wednesday. The news was met with joyful prayers and hymns.
Demetrius Smith, a resident, said he hoped the decision would "show people that justice is being allowed to happen, and end all the anger, and stupidity".
Outrage over the failure by white police officers to arrest Mr Zimmerman following Trayvon's death on 26 February had seen both militant black-power groups and neo-Nazi organisations on the streets. On Tuesday, shots were fired into an empty police car near the scene of the killing.
Teresa Ruffin, a pastor at the city's Faith Ministry Worship Centre, whose teenage son, Ikeem, was shot and killed in 2010 in circumstances that also sparked criticism of Sanford police, said: "When I see Trayvon's picture, on a shirt, on a poster, I see my son's face. This case, it's a door-opener."
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