George Zimmerman appears before judge in Trayvon Martin case
(CNN) — Forty-seven days after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood, a solemn George Zimmerman made his first court appearance Thursday, wearing gray jail coveralls and speaking only a few words as his arraignment was set for next month.
Zimmerman faces a charge of second degree murder in the 17-year-old’s death.
Seminole County Judge Mark Herr, who spoke via a closed-circuit television connection during the four-minute hearing, set Zimmerman’s arraignment for May 29 and said all matters including bond and further motions in the case will be handled by Circuit Court Judge Jessica Recksiedler going forward.
As the conclusion of the hearing, Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, asked that records containing personal information on witnesses, including addresses and telephone numbers in some cases, be sealed. As nothing else besides the probable cause affidavit had been filed in court Thursday, Herr said Recksiedler will address a motion to seal the file.
O’Mara did not ask that Zimmerman be released on bond, although he said earlier in the day he wanted his client released as soon as possible.
He did note, however, that being out on bail could jeopardize Zimmerman’s safety.
“I think nobody would deny the fact if George Zimmerman is walking down the street today, he would be at risk,” he explained, but added that he is “truly hoping that there will be a receding of the frustrations or anger now that the process is moving forward.”
Zimmerman, 28, was in hiding until he turned himself in Wednesday after authorities said he would be charged in the case.
The development marks a turning point in a case that triggered a nationwide debate about race in America and about Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force anywhere they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury.
O’Mara said Zimmerman, who will plead not guilty at his arraignment, is worried about getting a fair trial in Sanford — where thousands have converged to join in protests calling for his arrest and decrying the police department’s handling of the February 26 shooting.
But O’Mara said earlier Thursday he does not share those concerns.
“Florida has a very good process in place to make sure we get a fair and impartial jury,” he told CNN. “Other high-profile cases have been able to do so. I trust that the system, the judge, the prosecutor and I will be able to, should the need arise, to get ourselves a fair and impartial jury to hear the case. It may not be in Seminole County.”
O’Mara said at a news conference after the hearing that he was “not taking any possibilities off the table” for resolving the case, but that it was premature to discuss the issue as he has not begun reviewing evidence.
Wednesday, Martin’s family expressed satisfaction that Zimmerman had been charged and was in custody.
“We simply wanted an arrest; we wanted nothing more, nothing less,” said the teen’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.
Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Martin’s family, said Thursday the family has only asked “for justice to apply equally for all. If a judge decides (Zimmerman) has a right to bail, then that’s the system, and we’ll respect the system.”
O’Mara said before the hearing that he planned to ask for bail for his client, but he did not make the request during the court proceeding.
Meanwhile, Martin’s mother Thursday released a statement clarifying comments she made earlier on NBC’s “Today.”
“I made a comment to the media that was later mischaracterized,” she said. “When I referenced the word ‘accident’ today with regard to Trayvon’s death, in no way did I mean the shooting was an accident.
“We believe that George Zimmerman stalked my son and murdered him in cold blood,” Fulton said. “The ‘accident’ I was referring to was the fact that George Zimmerman and my son ever crossed paths. It was an accidental encounter. If George Zimmerman hadn’t gotten out of his vehicle, this entire incident would have been avoided.
“My son was profiled, followed and murdered by George Zimmerman, and there was nothing accidental about that,” she said.
Earlier, Fulton told NBC, “I believe it was an accident. I believe that it just got out of control, and he couldn’t turn the clock back.”
She told “Today,” “I would ask (Zimmerman), did he know that that was a minor, that he was a teenager and that he did not have a weapon? … I understand that his family is hurting, but think about our family that lost our teenage son.”
Asked about Fulton’s comments Thursday, O’Mara said, “obviously, it was a horrible intersection of two young men’s lives, and it ended in tragedy.”