Suspect George Zimmerman made his first appearance in a Florida courtroom Thursday, the day after he was charged with second-degree murder in the racially charged shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Mr. Zimmerman, flanked by a police officer and attorney Mark O'Mara, appeared calm and alert during the brief hearing at the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford, Fla., which was broadcast on closed-circuit television.
Wearing a gray prison jumpsuit, Mr. Zimmerman responded “Yes, sir,” when the judge asked whether his attorney was present. Those were his only words.
Judge Mark E. Herr set an arraignment date for May 29 before Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Jessica Recksiedler. He referred the bail and plea decisions to the higher court.
The brief, low-key legal hearing came in sharp contrast to weeks of protests and media scrutiny over the Feb. 26 shooting. Civil rights groups had accused Mr. Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic, of racial profiling while serving as a neighborhood watch volunteer and had criticized Sanford police for allowing him to go free instead of charging him immediately.
Meanwhile, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, retracted a statement she made Thursday morning. In an interview on NBC’s “The Today Show,” she said she believed the shooting was accidental.
“I believe it was an accident, I believe that it just got out of control and [Mr. Zimmerman] couldn’t turn the clock back,” said Ms. Fulton.
Later that day, she issued a statement saying that her comment was “mischaracterized,” and that “in NO way did I mean the shooting was an accident.
“We believe George Zimmerman stalked my son and murdered him in cold blood,” said Ms. Fulton in the statement. “The ‘accident’ I was referring to was the fact that George Zimmerman and my son ever crossed paths.”
Mr. O'Mara said in media interviews Thursday that he would invoke the “stand your ground” statute, which allows citizens to use deadly force in self-defense rather than retreat. He added that he hopes Mr. Zimmerman will be released on bond so that he can assist in preparing his defense.
“I’m concerned for his safety, and I’m truly hoping there will be a receding of frustration and anger now that the process is moving forward,” said Mr. O'Mara.
After Mr. Zimmerman left the courtroom Thursday, the judge agreed to a request by Mr. O'Mara to seal temporarily the majority of the case record, including documents that give witness names, addresses and phone numbers.
Mr. Zimmerman turned himself into police Wednesday and was arrested on charges brought by Florida State Attorney Angela Corey. The charge of second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.