George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, made his first court appearance on Thursday in Sanford, Fla., and was ordered held pending formal arraignment.
Judge Mark E. Herr, appearing via closed-circuit TV link, set arraignment on the charge for May 29 in Circuit Court and referred all matters, including a plea and bail, to the higher jurisdiction.
Zimmerman, with a beard and mustache, wore a gray jumpsuit and showed no obvious emotion. His only comment was a “yes, sir” to routine questions.
The object of a national campaign demanding that he be arrested, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot the unarmed Martin on Feb. 26. Zimmerman has maintained he acted in self-defense.
Zimmerman, 28, turned himself in Wednesday after Florida special prosecutor Angela B. Corey announced the charge. Corey, who also appeared in court on Thursday, was appointed after local law enforcement officials in Sanford declined to charge Zimmerman in the shooting of Martin.
“He is concerned about getting a fair trial and a fair presentation,” his attorney, Mark O'Mara said earlier in a television interview. “He is a client who has a lot of hatred focused on him. I'm hoping the hatred settles down … he has the right to his own safety and the case being tried before a judge and jury.”
Speaking Thursday on NBC's “Today” show, O'Mara said Zimmerman is stressed and very tired and hoping to get bail. “He wants to be out [of jail] to be able to help with his defense, but overall he is doing OK,” O'Mara told NBC.
Corey, who has a reputation of being an aggressive prosecutor, chose to file a tough charge, second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison if Zimmerman is convicted. Many attorneys have said they expected the prosecutor to opt for the lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The most severe homicide charge, first-degree murder, is subject to the death penalty in Florida and requires premeditation — something all sides agreed was not present.
Zimmerman’s defense team will likely pursue a self-defense claim, which in Florida means a hearing before a judge who can dismiss the case even before a jury is selected. O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, has said that he will invoke Florida's “stand your ground” law, which defines the circumstances in which a person can use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
The confrontation took place in a gated community near Orlando, Fla., where Martin was staying with his father and his father's fiancée. Martin was walking back from a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him and called police. He followed the teenager despite being told not to do so by a police dispatcher and the two got into a struggle.
Zimmerman told police that Martin, who was black, punched him in the nose, knocking him down, and then began banging his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in fear for his life.
Sanford police took Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, into custody the night of the shooting but released him without charging him.
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