SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - George Zimmerman apologized to the family of the black Florida teenager he shot dead in a surprise witness stand appearance on Friday and moments later a judge agreed he could be released on $150,000 bail in the racially charged case that has captivated the United States.
“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son,” Zimmerman, dressed in a suit but still shackled around the waist and wrists, told the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, who were in the Sanford, Florida, court.
“I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not,” said Zimmerman, 28, the son of a white father and a Peruvian mother.
Moments later, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. set bail of $150,000. Zimmerman’s defense lawyer had requested bail of no more than $15,000 and prosecutors, who had opposed his release, suggested bail of $1 million.
Trayvon Martin’s parents, who divorced in 1999, left the court stone-faced and with arms locked, declining to answer questions from reporters.
“They are devastated” by the bail, family attorney Benjamin Crump told reporters, adding that Tracy Martin had tears in his eyes throughout the hearing.
“And it was devastating that he got to give a self-serving apology to help him get a bond,” Crump said. “They (the parents) were very outraged at that.”
The judge set a number of conditions including electronic monitoring that he said would prevent Zimmerman from being released on Friday.
His release would be a “several day process,” defense attorney Mark O‘Mara said.
Earlier in the hearing, Zimmerman’s wife and father told the court Zimmerman was a non-violent person and they would help ensure he does not flee should he be released on bail for a second-degree murder charge in Martin’s death.
“I’ve never known him to be violent at all, unless he was provoked, and then he would turn the other cheek,” father Robert Zimmerman testified under defense questioning.
‘STAND YOUR GROUND’
Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed Martin in what he said was self-defense following a confrontation in a gated community in the central Florida city of Sanford on February 26.
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of getting killed or suffering great bodily harm.
But a special prosecutor later assigned to the case charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder and he turned himself in on April 12 when he was booked into the Seminole County Jail.
Zimmerman had been in hiding for more than six weeks between the shooting and turning himself in.
Thousands of people had demonstrated in rallies in Sanford and around the nation to demand Zimmerman’s arrest and criticize the police. Civil rights activists say racial prejudice played a role in Zimmerman’s decision to view Martin with suspicion and in the police decision not to make an arrest.
Zimmerman’s relatives and supporters deny he is racist and say has been unfairly vilified. They say he feared for his life during his altercation with Martin and was justified in using deadly force.
According to 911 recordings, Zimmerman called police on the night of February 26 to report what he called “a real suspicious guy,” then followed Martin against the advice of a police operator.
Zimmerman told police he was walking back to his truck when Martin attacked him, flooring him with one punch to the nose. Martin then repeatedly slammed Zimmerman’s head against a concrete walkway, Zimmerman’s brother and father have said.
Zimmerman then pulled out a 9mm handgun he was licensed to carry and shot Martin once in the chest.
Reporting by Tom Brown, Barbara Liston and Chris Francescani; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Vicki Allen