SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Telling Trayvon Martin’s parents and a national TV audience “I am sorry for the loss of your son,” neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman took the witness stand in an extraordinary move Friday during his bail hearing, making his first public comments since fatally shooting the unarmed teenager.
A judge set Zimmerman’s bail at $150,000 and his attorney said he could be free in several days. Authorities and attorneys need to work out arrangements to allow Zimmerman to live outside Florida as he awaits trial on a second-degree murder charge because of threats made against him and his family.
Zimmerman claims Martin attacked him after he started following the teenager Feb. 26 because he thought the 17-year-old Martin looked suspicious walking around the gated neighborhood. Zimmerman has said he was punched in the nose and his head was slammed against the sidewalk.
Wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt and gray tie — but also shackled and appearing to have on a bulletproof vest — Zimmerman took the witness stand to deliver a short statement to Martin’s parents, who were in court.
“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. I did not know if he was armed or not,” Zimmerman said.
By going on the witness stand, Zimmerman opened himself up to a series of questions from a prosecutor who grilled him on whether he made an apology to police on the night of the shooting, and why he waited so long to express remorse to Martin’s parents. Zimmerman said he told police after the shooting that he felt sorry for Martin’s parents. He also said he didn’t say anything to the parents sooner because his attorneys told him not to.
Attorneys for Martin’s parents said the apology was disappointing.
“This was the most disingenuous and unfair thing I’ve seen,” said Natalie Jackson, one of the attorneys for Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. “This was the most unmeaningful apology.”
The lack of an arrest for 44 days spurred protests nationwide in which participants chanted and held signs that said, “Arrest Zimmerman Now!” Anger over a delay in Zimmerman’s arrest led to the Sanford police chief stepping down temporarily and the recusal of the prosecutor who normally handles cases out of Sanford, which is in central Florida.
Civil rights leaders said if the black teenager had been white, Zimmerman would have been arrested and charged the night of the shooting. Zimmerman’s father is white, and his mother is Hispanic of Peruvian descent.
Earlier, Zimmerman’s parents and wife testified by phone at the hearing because of worries about their safety. They said he was not a flight risk or a threat to the community.
“He is absolutely not a violent person,” his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, testified.