George Zimmerman, the Florida man who claimed self-defense in the February shooting death of an unarmed Trayvon Martin, was scheduled to be arraigned May 29 on a second-degree murder charge following an initial court hearing.
Zimmerman, 28, charged yesterday, appeared today before Judge Mark Herr via teleconference for the alleged murder of Martin, 17. Handcuffed and wearing a dark-colored jumpsuit, Zimmerman said only “yes sir” to acknowledge his representation by lawyer Mark O’Mara during the five-minute hearing. The judge found sufficient evidence to support the charges, clearing the way to send the case to a trial court.
“I do find there was probable cause for charges as portrayed in the information,” Herr said at the hearing, held at a detention facility in Sanford.
While Zimmerman or his lawyers may enter a plea at the May 29 hearing before a circuit court judge, O’Mara may seek a separate hearing on bail beforehand. Zimmerman is being held in protective custody and faces as long as life in prison if convicted. O'Mara has said his client will plead not guilty.
Affidavit by State
In the affidavit Herr reviewed before ruling there was probable cause for the charge, state investigators said Zimmerman referred to Martin and alleged burglars in his community by several expletives, and called them “punks” while on the 911 call the day of the confrontation.
He chased Martin against the warning of a police dispatcher and struggled with the teenager before shooting him once in the chest, state investigators alleged in the affidavit.
State officials said Martin’s mother reviewed the tapes of other 911 calls and determined that a voice crying for help was that of her son Trayvon, the investigators said in the filing.
“They went through a horrible tragedy. They lost their son,” O’Mara said of Martin’s family at a press conference after the hearing in Sanford. He said he would seek bail as early as next week.
Under Florida law, the purpose of the initial hearing was to insure Zimmerman was informed of his rights and represented by counsel. Judges also are supposed to decide if there’s reason to hold an arrested suspect until a bail hearing can be held.
At the request of Zimmerman’s attorney, the judge ordered the case file sealed except for the probable cause affidavit.
“There is a certain amount of information in the court file that includes personal information about some witnesses, addresses, telephone numbers,” O’Mara said. “There is even some information about Trayvon Martin.”
State Attorney Angela Corey, who was present for the hearing, concurred with his request to seal the file.
Zimmerman stood in front of the microphone as the judge asked him if he understood that he was at a first appearance hearing, and he said that he did.
Zimmerman shot Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, a central-Florida town of 54,000 people north of Orlando. He told authorities afterwards that he shot Martin in self-defense.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law enables individuals who feel threatened in a public place to “meet force with force,” rather than back away, a statute that strengthens any traditional self-defense assertion, criminal attorneys said.
The law prevented police from arresting Zimmerman in February, officials said at the time, and may play a role in derailing the prosecution, according to Florida defense lawyers.
In his comments after today’s hearing, O’Mara, said his client is “tired” and “frightened.” The lawyer said he hasn’t seen the state’s evidence yet and “we’re not taking any possibilities off the table for how this case gets resolved.”
“It was a horrible intersection of two young men’s lives, and it ended in tragedy,” O’Mara said of the shooting. “We have to figure out how it happened, why it happened, and who might be responsible for it.”
Bernie de la Rionda, an assistant Florida state attorney, declined to discuss what factors led to the decision to file the second-degree murder charge.
“We charged what we thought was appropriate,” de la Rionda said.
Katherine Jess, who said she went to school with Martin’s mother and was fishing this morning on the waterfront near Sanford City Hall, said she doesn’t think Zimmerman should get bond because, if the roles were reversed with Martin, she’s not certain Martin would be released pending trial.
“It should have happened from day 1,” Jess, 45, of Sanford, said in an interview of the charge against Zimmerman.
Zimmerman probably should have been charged with something, though it’s not clear what’s appropriate because all the facts are not known, said Connie Johnson of Sanford, who said she owns a home-cleaning business and was walking this morning along the Sanford waterfront.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever know what happened because when one man is dead, the truth can’t be known,” Johnson, 51, said in an interview.
The case is State of Florida v. Zimmerman, 1712FO4573, Circuit Court of the 18th Judicial Circuit (Seminole County).