By: George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., was released from jail on bond shortly after midnight Monday morning and left for an undisclosed destination.
Zimmerman, who wore a brown jacket and blue jeans, was fitted with an electronic monitoring device before being released. He was carrying a bag as he left the facility with an unidentified man in a white BMW, according to news reports. During a court hearing Friday, Zimmerman’s bond was set at $150,000 bond. Because he had to put up 10 percent of that amount, only $15,000 was required to secure his release
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder and had been held in custody at Seminole County Jail in Sanford, Fla. after being arrested 45 days after the Feb. 26 incident. Police questioned Zimmerman after the shooting of the unarmed Black teenager, but released him after Zimmerman claimed to be acting in self-defense. Florida is one of more than 20 states that have enacted Stand Your Ground laws that give broad protection to citizens who feel their life is being threatened.
It was only after widespread protests, many led by students, Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders, that a special prosecutor was appointed by the governor. The prosecutor skipped impaneling a grand jury and filed the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman.
Attorneys for Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, have argued that Zimmerman was the aggressor, following the youth on a rainy Sunday night after being instructed by a police dispatcher not to trail the teenager. On one tape of a call Zimmerman made to police the night of Feb. 26, the dispatcher specially told Zimmerman not to follow the teen. He replied, “Okay,” but pursued him anyway.
After a physical confrontation, Zimmerman pulled his 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol and fatally shot Martin once in the chest.
While being questioned by his attorney Friday, Zimmerman apologized to Martin’s parents, who were in attendance at the bond hearing.
“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, and I did not know if he was armed or not,” Zimmerman said.
However, that directly contradicts what Zimmerman, 28, said on police tapes. There was this exchange:
Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks?
Zimmerman: … late teens.
Dispatcher: Late teens, OK.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Monday on “CBS This Morning” that Zimmerman would not have apologized to the Martin family Friday if O’Mara had known the family felt it was the wrong time.
Friday’s nationally-televised bond hearing raised as many questions as it answered.
Supporters of Trayvon were disappointed that Dale Gilbreath, one of state’s lead investigators, performed so poorly on the witness stand.
An affidavit of probable cause, signed by Gilbreath and another investigator, T.C. O’Steen, stated: “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.”
Under questioning by defense attorney Mark O’Mara, the investigator acknowledged that he did not know who initiated the fight. Gilbreath was also unable to defend his assertion that Zimmerman had profiled Trayvon.
For tactical reasons, prosecutors typically try to disclose as little information as possible during pre-trial proceedings, such as a bond hearing. However, because the state requested that Zimmerman’s bond be set at $1 million, they were expected to make a stronger showing in court. The defense requested a bond of $15,000, which is the amount he ultimately paid to secure his release early Monday morning.
The decision to put Zimmerman on the stand at his bond hearing could later be problematic for the defense. If a decision is made to not let Zimmerman take the stand at his murder trial, some jurors may hold that against him, though the judge will certainly instruct them not to infer anything from that decision.
Until his trial, Zimmerman will be out on bond but will have his whereabouts monitored via satellite by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. imposed a 7 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew on Zimmerman, lifted his passport, and said he cannot have access to guns or alcohol, and must not have any contact with Trayvon’s family. A GPS tracking device will be used to monitor his movements.
The teen’s parents placed a ‘‘Card of Thanks” advertisement in the Miami Herald’s obituary page on Sunday.
In the ad is a photograph of Trayvon wearing a hoodie, a garment he was wearing when he was killed. The parents said they “wish to express their heartfelt appreciation for all your words of encouragement, your peaceful rally support, the millions who signed petitions, poems, painting, music, video tributes, monetary gifts to our defense fund (Wepay.com) and all other acts of kindness shown to them during this difficult time.”