Zimmerman makes court appearance in Fla. shooting

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman made his first court appearance Thursday on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

During the brief appearance, Zimmerman stood up straight, looked straight ahead and wore a gray prison jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer “Yes, sir,” twice after he was asked basic questions about the charge against him and his attorney.

His hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee, which appeared consistent with his booking photo from the day before. He had resurfaced Wednesday to turn himself in after weeks in hiding.

Judge Mark E. Herr said he found probable cause to move ahead with the case and that an arraignment would be held on May 29 before another judge.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, attorney Mark O'Mara said he was concerned that the case up to now has been handled in the public eye, with details coming out in piecemeal fashion.

“It’s really supposed to happen in the courtroom,” O'Mara said, deflecting questions about evidence in the case and his client’s mental state.

Speaking earlier Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show, O'Mara said Zimmerman is stressed and very tired and hoping to get bail.

Meanwhile, Martin’s raised eyebrows with comments on “Today” about the accidental nature of the case, but she clarified what she meant in another interview later in the day. Sybrina Fulton told the Associated Press that she was referring to the chance encounter between Zimmerman and her son.

“Their meeting was the accident,” Fulton said. “That was the accident. Not the actual act of him shooting him. That was murder … They were never supposed to meet.”

Zimmerman was charged after a public campaign to make an arrest in the Feb. 26 shooting, which has galvanized the nation for weeks. Some legal experts had expected Zimmerman to face a lesser count of manslaughter and say a prosecutor will face steep hurdles to win a murder conviction.

The prosecutor and her team will have to prove that the 28-year-old Zimmerman intentionally went after Martin instead of shooting him in self-defense, to refute arguments that a Florida law empowered him to use deadly force.

Legal experts said Corey chose a tough route with the murder charge, which could send Zimmerman to prison for life if he’s convicted, over manslaughter, which usually carries 15-year prison terms and covers reckless or negligent killings.

The prosecutors must prove Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman’s lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence — a relatively low legal standard — that he acted in self-defense at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial.

There’s a “high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case,” Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby said.

Corey announced the charges Wednesday after an extraordinary 45-day campaign for Zimmerman’s arrest, led by Martin’s parents and civil rights activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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