George Zimmerman arrives shackled for his bond hearing at the Seminole… (Gary W. Green / EPA )
A Florida judge Friday set a $150,000 bond for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot an unarmed black teenager and touched off a firestorm of controversy about race and the American justice system.
Zimmerman, 28, appeared in court in a dark suit and gray tie, and, in a surprising move, took the stand. There, in a voice verging on meek, he apologized to the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old he admits he shot -- but only, he says, in self-defense.
"I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son," he said to the parents, who attended the hearing in the central Florida city of Sanford, where the shooting took place. "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."
Zimmerman turned himself in to authorities on April 11 after learning he would be charged with second-degree murder in the February incident. Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. set the bond after a sometimes-contentious two-hour hearing in which attorneys for the state repeatedly brought up two incidents from Zimmerman's past. The first was an arrest for assaulting an undercover officer during an underage-drinking crackdown; the second was an injunction filed by a former girlfriend who said Zimmerman struck her.
In the end, Lester decided that the arrest was a "run of the mill" incident in Florida, and that the injunction was "somewhat mild." He granted the bond, with numerous conditions, including an order that Zimmerman wear an electronic global positioning device so that authorities can track his location. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.
Zimmerman's attorney,Mark O'Mara, argued that his client needed to remain in a secret location due to threats on his life. O'Mara asked Lester if his client could leave the state. The judge told the attorney to see if he could work those details out with law enforcement authorities.
The hearing was also notable for the extensive grilling that O'Mara gave one of the investigators for the state attorney's office, Dale Gilbreath, who helped prepare the probable cause affidavit that was the basis for Zimmerman's arrest.
The affidavit says Zimmerman "confronted" Martin, after which a struggle ensued. In a likely preview of the defense strategy at trial, O'Mara questioned the use of the word "confronted."
"Do you know who started the fight?" he asked the investigator at one point.
"Do I know? No," Gilbreath said.
"Do you have any evidence that supports who may have started the fight?"
"No" Gilbreath said.
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